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March 7, 2011

In the sunny window of my mother's kitchen hangs a fragile, blown-glass vessel. Inside its clear outer globe are a number of tiny angelic figures, all facing inward.

However, it is only when I turn the glass and examine its many facets that I see the image of the Eucharist appear at its centre. It is only when the sun shines through this delicate prism that the colours hidden in the light refract and shimmer on the walls and ceiling of the room.

The Mother of God is like this little prism, revealing our salvation in the depths of her being. Hidden within Mary is the centre of our faith, the Eucharistic Jesus who embodies the Father's love for us.

Reflected in the events of her life, we find "the image of the unseen God" in the person of her Son (1 Corinthians 1.15). Through the transparent faith of Mary, God reveals the light of Christ, who sacrificed himself on the cross to restore our relationship with the Father.

As we enter the Lenten season, the Church begins to focus on the events of Christ's passion and death. Jesus' last words "Behold your mother" turn our eyes towards Mary as she stands beneath the cross.

These words point to Mary's role as our mother and the Mother of the Church. But the prism of her life also magnifies the word "Behold," bringing into focus the sacrifice of her Son.

In English, "behold" means "to look at, to contemplate, to ponder, to discern and to witness." The Old English explanation of the word "beholden" also means "to keep or belong to." When one is beholden to another, it is said that one is "bound in gratitude."


Sacred Scripture uses the word "behold" more than 1,000 times, often to announce something awe-inspiring. Psalm 119 prays "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." The word "behold" opens a window into the divine as heaven draws back the veil that separates us from God.

In Scripture, God uses the word "behold" not only to draw attention to the mother, but - more importantly - to reveal her divine Son. Christ's words from the cross, "Behold your mother" point to the mystery of salvation through the events of Mary's life.

God's announcement of his love for the world accompany her as she gives her assent to all that God asks, even to her presence at the cross. With Mary, it is here that we see the fulfillment of God's saving mercy in the sacrifice of his Son.

But God's revelation also asks something of the beholder. In the Bible, when God says "behold," he not only reveals himself but he also invites us to respond to him.


Hidden within the ancient Hebrew language are signs that indicate this response. For instance, the fifth letter of its alphabet is a pictograph which looks like a human figure with hands upraised, pointing to a wonderful sight. In Modern Hebrew, this pictograph has evolved into the letter he, which resembles a little window and means "to reveal."

Jewish mystics claim that this letter, pronounced "hey!," refers to the breath of God himself. So the letter, the word and the idea of "behold" in the Hebrew language are signs which draw our attention to God's marvellous works. They also teach us how to respond.

Thomas Merton compares Mary to a 'clean window pane which vanishes entirely in the light which it transmits.'

Thomas Merton compares Mary to a 'clean window pane which vanishes entirely in the light which it transmits.'

In the Bible, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion, we find Mary always responding to God's revelation. Like the little figure in the Hebrew pictograph, Mary becomes the personification of the word "behold." Her words, her womb, her heart and her soul all point to a wonderful revelation.


When we contemplate the many facets of her being, we unveil a perfect window that opens onto the life of God.

Thomas Merton compares Mary to a "clean window pane which vanishes entirely in the light which it transmits." St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, once said, "I can only look at Mary, and say 'Jesus!'"

The encyclical, Mother of the Redeemer, tells us that the Church has always looked at Mary through Jesus, just as she has beheld Jesus through Mary. It is only with the eyes of Christ that we can discover the significance of his mother. And it is only through beholding his mother that we can truly understand who Christ is for us.

During Lent, we are invited to gather with Mary and the Church beneath the cross of Our Saviour. In humble obedience to Christ's words, "Behold your mother," look to Mary to reveal the profound meaning of her Son's sacrifice. If we ponder with Mary, the spotless lens of her life will disappear in the light of Christ and we can make her transparent faith our own.

(Anne Marie Posella is a graduate theology student at Catholic Distance University. She educates her children at home and works as an instructor at St. Clair College in Chatham, Ont.)