Monday, August 23, 2010

Mary, Mother of Priests

This was an accidental shot.  We were in the parish garden, having just taken some images of this photographer-priest, first getting some straight-on shots of him using his elegant, vintage camera, then trying for some artsy images reflected in the windows of the church.  As we played with the idea, the priest stepped back to stand next to the statue of Mary and instinctively, protectively put his arm around the statue, his hand coming to rest just above the Blessed Mother's own hand.  It was intimate, familiar, and utterly natural, and very moving when Steve finally finished with the cropping and the tidying of the shot--after all, a statue left in the elements has a certain proclivity for odd marks and discolorations. It takes some viewers a few moments to realize that one of the hands in the shot is not stone at all, but very much human.

This image speaks to the role of the priest on so many different levels.  Mary, Mother of Christ is also the Mother of Priests.  The tenderness she feels for her firstborn of necessity spills over to her sons His priests, and she embraces them as she embraced Him.  It is more than fitting for Mary to be a part of a project celebrating priests--after all, hers were the first hands to bring Jesus to the world.

 For a convert like me, knowing that I have a priestly father and a heavenly mother both looking after me and leading me to Jesus is of great comfort.  The coincidence of those two realities here is striking: that protective, fatherly hand touches the face of the infant Christ even as it embraces His mother.  As always, it is impossible for me to see Mary without seeing Jesus, and impossible for me to see the priest without seeing the Source of his priesthood and the mother of his vocation.  

The priest's hand conveys a sense of security and the Mother and Child are so clearly at peace.  I am reminded of  St. Joseph, another ordinary yet extraordinary man charged with the care of our Redeemer, with  keeping Him and His mother safe from harm.  As St. Joseph is also the patron of the Church, it is no accident that the hands of a parish priest evoke his memory in this image of Mary and Jesus.

Mary's hands may have been the first to bring Jesus to the world, but Joseph had his role as well.  Almost all of what he did is lost to history: the story of Joseph is a story of quiet fidelity in the background.  It is also thus with our priests.  So much of what they do is done without fanfare, in the background of other lives, embracing the service of Christ as this priest embraced a statue of His mother one afternoon in late November.