Daughter of Your Son

by José Miguel García

Dante’s Hymn to the Virgin begins with this paradoxical expression, “Virgin mother, daughter of your Son.” In order to speak of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Dante uses, we could say, contradictory expressions. He recognized that Mary is the faithful reflection of the Mystery. Thus, the paradox present in the Mystery made flesh, and which has always scandalized men of this world—finite–Infinite; temporal–Eternal; creature–Creator; man–God—shines out in her, too. Mary, God’s most perfect creature, is the one who reflects most the Christian paradox.
Part of Fr Giussani’s Letter to the Fraternity is an imposing comment on the first paradox: “Virgin mother.” In the Gospels, there are various passages that clearly illustrate the second, “Daughter of your Son.” These help us to understand better what Dante means when he uses this expression in his Hymn to the Virgin.

Our Lady’s sister (Jn 19:25)

In his account of Christ’s death, St John the Evangelist seems to offer very brief information about Mary’s family. In naming the women who were on Calvary near the Cross, he writes, “There stood near the Cross of Jesus, his Mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala.”
The strange thing about this information is not only that Jesus’ mother had a sister, who is not mentioned anywhere else in the Gospels, but the fact that two sisters, Jesus’ mother and the wife of Cleophas, bear the same name, Mary. It is not rare for authors to get around this difficulty by saying that the women listed are in fact four: Jesus’ mother, a sister who is not named, Mary of Cleophas and Mary of Magdala. In our opinion, there is no doubt that stylistically the number three is to be preferred, as reflected by the better Greek manuscripts.
Fr Mariano Herranz has recently shown that the terms “brother” and “sister” are used to indicate Jesus’ intimate collaborators during His preaching in Palestine. If we keep this fact in mind then the strangeness in John’s account disappears because the Evangelist would be alluding not to Our Lady’s sister, but to her fellow worker. The Gospel text, translated correctly, would read, “There stood near the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister-fellow worker, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala.”
Now then, why did Our Lady have a fellow worker? In what way did this Mary work together with Mary the mother of Jesus?
To answer these questions, we have to remember that, at the end of the account of the wedding feast at Cana, John says that Jesus went to Capernaum with His Mother and His disciples. The fact that, once the marriage was over, Our Lady did not go back to Nazareth, but followed Jesus and His disciples to the town He had chosen as a base for His itinerant preaching in Galilee, would be easy to understand if, during Jesus’ public ministry, Mary did not stay alone in Nazareth, but followed Him and His disciples, accompanied certainly by other women, as Luke 8: 1-3 informs us, to serve her Son and His companions in their material needs—since all those in the group had abandoned families and homes, and were left without the help of their families to face the needs of everyday life such as buying and preparing food, laundry, and repair of clothes.
So Mary is a decisive collaborator in her Son’s work. With her daily attention to the material needs of her Son and His friends, she makes Jesus’ mission possible. However, it is not difficult to understand that Mary’s work does not consist only in this material aspect; she is a true disciple of her Son. So Our Lady did not belong to the group of her Son’s followers because she had given birth to Jesus and breast-fed Him, but because she was the most faithful disciple, who listened attentively to His word and kept it in her heart, as Jesus Himself affirmed on one occasion before the crowd gathered around Him (Lk 11:28). In the following Gospel passage we shall look at, Our Lady’s greatness comes out clearly.

Jesus’ relatives
In our view, in Mark 3:20-35 we have the narration of a single episode, in which Mark distinguishes three moments or scenes. It begins with a brief and synthetic account of how it was impossible for Jesus and His disciples to eat, since they were surrounded by the crowd. Then there is Jesus’ discourse to the crowd about how it is absurd to claim that He casts out demons through the power of Beelzebul, prince of demons. The account concludes with the arrival of Jesus’ mother and brothers.
The scene presents the reader with many perplexities. The account is situated inside a house, not a very large area, but, surprisingly, Jesus and His disciples are surrounded by a crowd. These circumstances prevent them from eating during the day. As soon as His relatives hear of it, they decide to go and fetch Him, thinking He has gone mad. This seems an exaggerated reaction. Why should the fact of not having been able to eat for one day give rise to so much alarm? At the end of the account, we are told about the arrival of these relatives, His mother and His brothers. Now, if these relatives live in Nazareth and Jesus is not near the town, how did they come to know what had happened so quickly? No less surprising, as we said, is their reaction, so sudden and out of proportion. The believers’ sensitivity is offended by the fact that Mary, His mother, should think that Jesus had lost His judgment. All these difficulties vanish if we keep in mind the Aramaic account that underlies the Greek text. Here we offer a translation of the verses that concern us.

20 And He began to go home, but the crowd gathered again, when they had been able to eat nothing, not even bread.
21 And as some of those who stayed with Him [=who worked with Him] knew this, they brought [bread, food] to strengthen Him, because they said: He has no strength.
31 And His mother came and some of His brother-disciples, and at the edge of the desert, staying where they were, they sent Him a message to call Him.
32 And a crowd stood around Him and they say to Him, “There is your mother and some of your brother-disciples and some of your sister-disciples at the edge of the desert; they are looking for you.
33 And in reply He said to them: Who are Mother and brother-disciples to me?
34 And looking at the people around Him, He said: Here are my mother and my brother-disciples.
35 Who does the will of God is for me brother-disciple, or sister-disciple, or Mother.

As regards Jesus’ answer in verses 33-35, we have to say that He uses here the names of His mother, His brothers, and His sisters by way of a parable, through which the people who hear Him understand the meaning that hearing and accepting Jesus’ preaching as the will of God has for them. This little flock, this crowd, which here and in other passages of the Gospel surrounds Jesus, are called by Him His collaborators in His work. And here we can deduce that, in a hidden way, through the parable of His Mother and His brothers, Jesus comes to say that in His Church, bearers of light to the world are not only those who govern, but all the faithful. After a short time, Hebrews or pagans who had not had the chance to know Jesus directly nor hear his word will know Him through this flock, or His Church.
In this flock, Mary emerges above all, not so much because she is the mother of Jesus according to the flesh, but because she is His first disciple. As we have already said, Mary did not stay alone in Nazareth. In the Gospels, Mary is presented as a woman who puts her whole life at the service of Jesus’ person and work. She stays with Him, physically follows Him, lives with Him and for Him. The Mother is transformed into the first follower of Her Son. Her whole life is centered on the Event of the Mystery made flesh, it affirms and serves the Event. And in this obedience she is generated by her Son: her moved sequela of Jesus coincides with the generation of her personality, as Fr Giussani affirms in his Letter to the Fraternity. Thus, she becomes the daughter of her Son.
Paradoxically, all the same, it is this gratuitous, moved love for Jesus that constitutes her as Mother, as Jesus Himself says before the crowd. In other words, only someone who recognizes Him gratuitously and follows Him with a moved love is generator of the Event. Only someone who recognizes Jesus’ presence, and who affirms Him with simplicity and wonder, is an effective sign of the Mystery manifest to men, is the presence of the Mystery. “Virginity is motherhood.”
Since she is daughter of her Son, Mary is transformed for all of us into a model of Christian faith. In accepting the will of God made visible in Christ, in being a faithful follower of that Man, Jesus of Nazareth, she “is the method we need for familiarity with Christ.”