Many years ago, when my husband and I were in Germany, we were given a…
Through the seasons of my life as a wife for 29 years and a mother of 9 children, Mary has journeyed with me. In her faithful companionship, I found the tender, wise, prayerful and loving mother my heart and soul longed for. Mary as my heavenly mother was a relationship that grew and blossomed so naturally and effortlessly. And then my journey took an expected and surprising turn and I was introduced to Mary as Bride and Jesus as Bridegroom.
Four years ago, words like bride, bridegroom, and wedding evoked in my mind and heart only images and feelings of sorrow, failure, heartache, and broken dreams. In October 2018, a judge declared my husband of 29 years and me divorced.
At that time in my spiritual journey, I had come to trust in and depend on Mary as my mother. I also had what I know now was a very limited understanding of her title “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”. It made sense to think of her as God’s Spouse if the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her and she had conceived Jesus, the Son of God, in her womb but my thinking of her as a spouse or bride did not go beyond the event of the Annunciation.
Jesus had plans to expand my mind and heart and He didn’t wait long at all. Just minutes after leaving the courthouse the evening the divorce was finalized, as I cried and prayed in the backseat of my father’s car, I asked Jesus, “Now what?” And to my surprise, in the heart of my heart, I heard Him answer, “Come be My bride.”
What? I could not have heard right. Was this really Jesus? How could He possibly want me, a failure at being a bride to be His bride? And what could He possibly mean by this?
The teachings of St. John Paul II, in particular his Theology of the Body, were my first guidebook on this new path. After several months of prayer and spiritual reading, I realized that actually I had been a bride of Christ since the day I was baptized. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.” (CCC #1617) Now, Jesus was proposing that I enter more deeply, more intentionally, into this intimate and profoundly healing relationship that He had always desired for us, for Him and me.
One statement from Pope John Paul II that made so much sense to me as I came to understand this spiritual spousal relationship was this:
“In the context of the “great mystery” of Christ and of the Church, all are called to respond – as a bride – with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church’s Bridegroom.”
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that as baptized Christians, and specifically baptized Catholics, we are each, what St. Bernard of Clairvaux called, soul-brides. At our baptism, we became members of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and therefore, we too are spiritual brides. But God wants more from us than simply knowing with our intellect that He sees us as brides, that this language of nuptial imagery runs throughout Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church. He desires that we allow this truth, Jesus is our Divine Bridegroom, to permeate our hearts and our souls and transform the way we pray, the way we live, and the way we love.
I often wondered, “How did I never hear about this amazing reality? Why doesn’t anyone talk about Jesus as our Bridegroom and Mary as the Bride of God? Wouldn’t knowing that we are called to love with spousal love that reflects their pure and perfect spousal love for us and one another, help us have holier marriages and families?”
In Jesus’ perfect timing, He had waited until the moment when my heart most needed His spousal love to reveal the truth that He is the Bridegroom of my soul, and yours… our one, true, and eternal Spouse and Healer of our hearts.
As I was led by the Holy Spirit more and more deeply into the profound mystery of the spousal love of God, Mary arose as the perfect model, the best teacher, of what it means to live out the identity bestowed upon me at my baptism. She was still and forever will be “my mother” but now she became “mother of the bride.”
And I knew I needed Mary, Mother and Bride, to teach me how to grow into my identity as a bride of Christ.
It is important to point out that biologically, Mary is the Mother of Jesus and it is a spiritual reality that is being described when she is called His Bride.
All souls, Mary included, are called to respond to the gift of God’s love as a bride responds to her bridegroom. Mary, perfectly responded to God’s love in every moment of her life and therefore she is the archetype of the Bride.
Pope John Paul II used 4 words to describe how men and women are called to respond with the gift of themselves to the love of Christ as spiritual brides: free, total, faithful, and fruitful. This is the language of spousal love – human and divine.
Think for a minute of the Mysteries of the Rosary, the events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. They gave the gift of themselves totally, freely, faithfully, and so fruitfully in every moment, every circumstance, every joy and every sorrow. At the Cross, Jesus the Bridegroom held nothing back. He gave every drop of Blood for His Bride, the Church, so that we, His brides, might have eternal life with Him, forever celebrating the wedding feast of the Lamb.
It was through the Rosary that Mother Mary began to lead me on the journey from my head to my heart. Several months after my divorce, my oldest daughter, who knew nothing of my desire to grow into my identity as a spiritual bride, sent me the book, Theology of the Body Rosary Meditations. What a kiss from heaven! Praying the Rosary with reflections from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that focused on Jesus’s role as the Bridegroom of the Church and our souls was to truly be the daughter of Mary, Mother of the Bride. In fact, Mary is our perfect mother who wants to teach us all we need to know to prepare for our eternal wedding, the wedding feast that awaits us in Heaven when we will see our Divine Bridegroom face to face.
I would take this book and pray in the Adoration Chapel or before the Tabernacle in the empty church several days a week. Like a rose slowly unfolding its petals in the summer sunshine, I could feel my broken and fearful heart gradually opening to the incomprehensible truth that Jesus was the One Whom my soul had been seeking and longing for and that He loved me with a faithful and trustworthy love.
As I learned more of the theology of Christ as Bridegroom and Mary as Bride and as my heart began to heal, I was ready to dive into The Song of Songs. All of Scripture resounds with nuptial imagery. God calls His people His bride, His wife throughout the Old Testament. And John the Baptist and Jesus Himself, refer to Him as the Bridegroom. But it is in The Song of Songs that God has used the beauty of poetry to describe His perfect and everlasting spousal love for each soul-bride and in the figure of the Bride helps us to understand how He desires for us to respond as bride to His gift of love.
Naturally, after my experiences with fallen, less than perfect and pure spousal love, I was hesitant, actually rather terrified to begin journeying into The Song.
And then 8 months after my divorce, Jesus sent me to Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio for a three day private retreat. I brought a slim journaling edition of The Song of Songs with me. On my first evening there, Mother Gabriella knocked on the door to my poustinia and handed me a copy of the book that is now at the heart of the Hope’s Garden Ministry, The Cantata of Love: A Verse by Verse reading of The Song of Songs. She said, “I think Jesus wants you to have this.” Wow, was she right!
As I have studied The Song, I have learned so much about Christ’s spousal love for us and how much He longs for us to become all-teachable and let Mary show us how to respond to His love. There are two events in Mary’s life that best exemplify her role as both Mother and Bride: The Annunciation and the Crucifixion. Scripture tells us about these two pivotal moments in the life of Mary. We can see how her response to God’s love was free, total, faithful and fruitful as we study the Gospel stories and meditate on the corresponding Mysteries of the Rosary.
When the Archangel Gabriel proposed to the young virgin of Nazareth on God’s behalf, Mary, as the ambassador of humanity, said “Yes.” She became the bride of God and conceived Jesus, the God Who is Love, within her most holy womb.
The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation teaches us all that is necessary to enter into this spousal relationship with God. Our Consent. Our Fiat. Our Yes. Like Mary, we can open our arms and our hearts and respond to God’s invitation to be one with Jesus by saying, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” She gave her free, total, faithful “yes” to the will of God with the gift of her body, heart and soul – her entire being and life. She held nothing back. And look at the fruit of her bridal response, truly the fruit of her womb, Jesus!
When we say “yes” to God’s will, “yes” to receiving His love and grace, and “yes” to loving Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we become like Mary and Jesus is conceived again, in the womb of our hearts.
We, too, are called to birth His love into this world that is thirsting and hungering for His pure love and living water. St. Ambrose said, “If there is only one mother of Christ according to the flesh, all are begetting Christ according to the faith.” Each of us is called to open the womb of our hearts to the Holy Spirit and allow a spiritual annunciation, incarnation, and nativity to occur within us. In this way, our spousal relationship with Christ becomes free, total, faithful, and fruitful.
In the Annunciation, Mary, so perfectly exemplifies for us, her daughters, the virtues of humility, docility to the Holy Spirit, submission to the will of God, trust in God, and the feminine gift of receptivity. She shows us how blessed we are when we open our hands and our hearts to the love of God and receive all He offers us as grace and gift. These same virtues of Mary, exemplified at the moment Jesus’ Sacred Humanity began, are also evident at the moment when His Sacred Humanity was crucified.
Mary, the ever-faithful Mother and Bride, stayed at Jesus’ side until the very end. At the Annunciation, she was the trusting, hopeful Bride who gave the gift of her virginal womb and heart to God and became the Mother of Jesus. At the foot of the cross, she is the ever-faithful, trusting and still hopeful Bride whose heart was the purified and emptied chalice that received the Bridegroom’s gift of self, the Blood and Water flowing from His Side, on our behalf. At the foot of the Cross, Mary became the Mother of redeemed humanity and Mother of the Church.
We too can stand with Mary, Mother and Bride, at the foot of our Bridegroom’s Cross and lift the chalices of our hearts to His Wounded Side. As His Precious Blood and Living Water flow upon us and our thirsting hearts receive His life-giving gift, we are spiritual brides who become spiritual mothers. We conceive the love of Jesus within the womb of our hearts, again and again, and birth Love into our little piece of eternity. Love always begets love even when It appears to be crucified. His Love is stronger than death and so is ours when we unite our hearts to His.
In the book “Beholding Beauty”, Father Gregory Cleveland writes, “Mary experiences grace as an openness and receptivity to receive the Lord’s gift of self and to give herself in return. God, as the Bridegroom of his people, is the supreme lover who gives himself totally, Mary, representing the bride, receives his love completely and reciprocates it with her gift of love. Her experience of complete surrender to her loving Lord is meant for us all.”
Mary’s destiny is your destiny. You are a beloved daughter of God the Father, a beautiful bride of Christ the Son, and through the power of the Holy Spirit a spiritual mother of Jesus. The Holy Trinity desires to be one with you in Heaven for all eternity and has given you Mary, Mother and Bride, to lead you to the eternal wedding feast.
Closing Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, make my heart like unto thy virginal womb, and pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Copyright 2022, Laura Ercolino