When I was a kid, I loved looking at pictures of my mom from when she was little. Not only could I see hints of who she would become–those eyes, that smile…those knees…. That spunk! I could also more easily see the ways I looked like her. I could compare pictures of the two girls, little Mom, and myself, and see our similarities, or look at a picture of her a few years later than the one before and see what I might be like in the future. In my mother’s stories of her childhood this was also true. Her heart was like my heart and so much of what had happened to her happened to me too, in one way or another, and she felt the same way about it as I did. Plus she could share her lessons and tell me how it all turned out. There was a lot of wisdom and comfort in those pictures and stories of my mom.
Every November 21, the reflective Heart of the Church presents to us in the quiet marking of a minor memorial, our own Little Mother in Christ, dancing, it is said, up the Temple steps when she was dedicated by her parents to the Lord. Even the solemn old priests had to smile as they watched her, this girl, who, unknown to them, would one day teach God His prayers.
It doesn’t matter whether this very old story of Mary happened just like this or not. It’s true, anyway. It points us to who Mary is and what she did in her life. In this ancient snap shot we can see our own baby picture of the Christian soul with a child’s pure heart free for God. Mary is our mother. Her life reflects our life and spiritual development as we grow in Christ.
The little Mary also models beautifully the Kingdom virtues we should cultivate, strive and pray for in the present: love, purity of heart, poverty of spirit, authenticity, and the Christian ideal of spiritual childhood; the wisdom given to the little ones that confounds that of the world. These are some of the things we see as we look into the eyes if this child and she looks into ours.
Who is she? Speaking to St. Bernadette, Mary herself answered this question in an interesting way. “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This is how she identified herself. We should think about that.
The Church gives us the Dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (CCC 490-493) to enlighten us on the graces Mary was given from the beginning, and that she guarded, amazingly, all her life.
What were the graces of the child Mary and what was it like to be her?
Bl. Pope John Paul II said in his Theology of the Body that Adam and Eve originally had the “peace of the interior gaze.” When they looked at one another they could each see the inner truth of the other.
As the New Eve, it seems that Mary would have seen people this way, too. Undoubtedly this kind of sight is a Gospel way to view other human beings. Jesus, in His teachings, was trying to get us to see this way, to live as if we did see this way. This leads us to that vision, by believing it in faith and love, even though we don’t actually see it on earth, as we will in Heaven.
With this gracious core of love, understanding and acceptance, how could Mary have failed to love or be merciful toward anyone? If we all could see within one another and understand each other we couldn’t hate any human being. We would be utterly merciful and forgiving. We would love one another as Christ loves us. As first among the redeemed, and free from original sin in a unique way, I think Mary would have seen the beauty and Godly purpose in every human being she saw, as we were all meant to do from the beginning, and that Jesus asks us to grow into. Like Mary, we are to be in this fallen world but not of it.
Where Eve’s and Mary’s paths part is that Mary trusted and chose God every time, no matter what, even when she didn’t understand what was happening, which she obviously did not at times (such as when the young Jesus was lost for three days.) Mary had the natural emotions of any human person. She had free will. But her heart was in tune with God’s will, even when she experienced suffering. This is what we are working on and praying for in ourselves: a heart in union with God’s will in love.
Mary was a child of God par excellence, aware of her littleness, and that all her shining gifts were God’s incomparable graces poured into her. I like to think of Luke 1:48 like this: “He has looked upon me, His handmaid in her littleness; all ages to come shall call me blessed.” She didn’t deny her gifts. As John Paul II said of her, when speaking of the Visitation, “She is amazed at her own glory,” even as she knows well her nothingness, littleness, and complete dependence on God. “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.”
I wonder…. what did Little Mary see at the top of the Temple steps that made her ascend them so quickly, dancing with happiness? I think she saw what is promised to the pure of heart, not in the same way she later would in glory, but as she could on earth as the littlest and most clear-eyed of God’s children. Eve could see and talk to God originally. Mary reasonably could have too. Jesus offers this sight to us, when we believe and have hope that what we see dimly now we will see face to face as perhaps Mary did in that moment she looked up the Temple steps.
Since she would have been free of pride and selfishness, she would have been transparent and authentic, a childlike quality we tend to lose as we grow up. St. Edith Stein said we should be before everyone the way we are before God. This is what Mary did. She had the joyful playfulness to dance when everyone else was solemn–and make them smile!
“Do you want to see her?” Jesus asked St. Julian of Norwich.
“Can you see in her how you yourself are loved? It was for love of you that I made her so high, so noble, and so good. And this brings me great joy – and I want it to bring you joy, too.”
St. Julian reflects: “… in all this I was taught… to want to understand the virtues of her soul – her truth, her wisdom, and her love. Through understanding this I can learn to know myself and reverently praise God.” ~ From St. Julian’s book, Showings
Maybe we can remember our Little Mother and try to “grow down, instead of up” as Shel Silverstein put it. Maybe we should carry this picture of Our Lady’s childhood close to our hearts that we may remember who we are and where we are going, that we might enter the Kingdom of God in the same way she ran up those steps. If the Kingdom is within us, why not start now? Ready, set… GO!
Last one up is a rotten egg!
For a history of the devotion to the Child Mary in the Church, see
you might also like to see mariabambina.org