In his moving musical composition Like Winter Waiting, John Foley, S.J., has Joseph sing about Mary, “Who is this woman?” For many people (and, of course, maybe for Joseph too) the question is really, “Who is this woman to me?” These two questions are very different in character.
Consider the first one: who is this woman? The traditional answer to this question is that Mary is the Mother of God.
This answer can be hard to understand. All Christians agree that God is without beginning. It seems that a God without beginning can’t be born. And so it seems that God can’t have a mother either.
But Jesus is fully human and fully divine. As man, God can be born. And so, after all, God can have and did have a human mother.
The woman who was that mother is Mary.
And that is why if it is taken as the question Joseph sings in John Foley’s music, “Who is this woman?,” the answer to the question is this: Mary is the Mother of God.
But the more pressing question remains: “who is this woman to me?”
The answer to this question depends on the life and love of each person who answers it, doesn’t it?
Think about it this way. For every person who reads this website, John Foley is the Jesuit priest who is the editor of this website and the composer of very influential liturgical music. But the answer to the question, “who is John Foley to me?” depends on the person answering the question. To me, he is a dear friend. But that is because the history of my life includes care for him and commitment to him.
And this is how it is for each person and Mary too. What Mary is to you depends on you, on your own care for her and commitment to her.
But, you might think, how much care and commitment should I have for Mary?
Isn’t that a backwards way to think about relationship with any person, though, Mary included? Maybe this is a better way. Elizabeth said to Mary, “who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) Maybe what we should ask is, “what are we that the mother of our Lord should come to us?” What Mary is to me—or to you—depends on how you answer Elizabeth’s question.