As the surrounding trees lost their golden leaves, my sister-in-law swayed near the group of our family, gently rocking my infant nephew in her carrier. The rest of us warmed ourselves by the fire pit, and I had to step away to behold the beauty of this young mother and her tiny new child. At one time, the baby Jesus was as small as my nephew, and his Blessed Mother shared my sister-in-law’s glow.
There’s something so beautiful, almost palpable, about that love between a mother and her baby. And why is it that we look at this new, wrinkly, helpless creature and find him beautiful too?
In other contexts, such helplessness and vulnerability seems unattractive; it’s seen as a bad thing, something to avoid at all costs. Christ became helpless and vulnerable on the cross, yet we don’t feel the same surge of warmth looking at a crucifix as we do when looking at a crib.
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A difference must be that we trust that the mother will respond to her dependent baby’s needs. We trust that she will give him good things, even as we failed to give those good things to Christ. Jesus reflected this trust when he asked, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” (Lk 11:11-12)
Babies are beautiful; we see their dependence and know they should have goodness and love. Even better, we can feel great hope that they will indeed have it. We have reason to trust that they are loved.
The truth is, we don’t grow out of our infantile dependence. Even as we grow in maturity and age, we still depend on God for everything, whether we recognize it or not. And yet, we stop seeing our dependence on God as something beautiful. We stop trusting that our needs will be met by the One who loves us. We view our limitations as flaws to stamp out. We do our best to discard the very part of ourselves that keeps us connected to God.
What we can learn from mothers with their babies is the way God sees us in our helplessness. He loves us. He wants to give us good things. Our limitations are his means to show us love, since his “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
What do mothers want to do for their children? To shower them in kisses, keep their bellies full, make them smile, hear them laugh, watch them sleep. In the same way, God delights to shower us in grace. He delights to nourish our souls to the point of his passion. He feeds us physically through creation and spiritually through the Eucharist. He loves to make us smile, hear us laugh, even watch us sleep. He delights in our joys; he hurts when we struggle. He wants us to have peace, the peace that only he can give.
The mother-child bond, therefore, mirrors the bond between God and man. Just as a mother delights to give her child good things, so, too, does the Lord delight in blessing us. Moreover, motherly love is a preview of heaven, where everyone is responded to with love and is given what they need.
The cross, on the other hand, is a reflection of Earth, where sin exists. Here, sometimes those who ask for a fish are handed a snake, and those who ask for an egg are handed a scorpion. We do not respond to each other the way a mother responds to her infant child or the way God responds to his people. We do not see each other’s limitations as beautiful or as opportunities for the divine.
In our sinful nature, we handed Christ a cross when he asked us to love as his father loves. We whipped him and nailed him to a tree. Yet the Father still looked on his dependent, broken son and loved him.
When we feel broken, weak and utterly wrecked, God looks at us with that deep love. He does not hand out scorpions or stones. He does not ask us to deserve an egg or bread. He hands it to us willingly, happily, because that is who he is. He looks at us — even in all of our sinfulness and brokenness — and loves us, even more than a mother loves her baby.