Mary Mother of God

When He looked up at her face smiling at Him, the mirror neurons in His infant brain fired. And then He tried to smile like her and they fired again.

“Let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!”

In the mid-1990s an Italian neuroscientist found in the premotor cortex of macaque monkeys a class of neurons that fired not just during their own movements, but also during the observation of the same kind of movements in other monkeys. Subsequent research confirmed that human beings, like these primates, also have this mirror neuron system that duplicates or simulates in our own brains the actions of others and through which system we learn to execute the same actions with our own bodies. Our bodies physically not just conceptually learn from watching others.

The operations of imprinted patterns in these mirror neurons begin immediately. As soon as forty-two minutes after birth infants begin to imitate the facial gestures of their parents.

Now, St. Thomas Aquinas makes wide and fulsome claims about the knowledge and other virtues of our newborn Lord Jesus Christ and rightly so. As the teacher and cause of divine grace and spiritual truth in other men, the role of a student does not befit our Lord and Master even in His infancy. However, this concern pertains to the knowledge possessed by Jesus as it resides in His soul.

In the helpless, immature body of the Divine Infant Who slept in that manger two thousand years ago, the muscles, the brain, the neural pathways and synapses, all needed to develop and form. “To ransom those under the law” our Lord did not exempt Himself from the normal bodily conditions which all of us here today were subject to at our birth for He was like us in all things but sin. Before the Almighty could stand, His weak muscles needed to strengthen; before the Word could speak, His inarticulate mouth cooed and stuttered; and before the Splendor of the Father could smile and let His face shine upon us, He had to watch His mother smile.

When He looked up at her face smiling at Him, the mirror neurons in His infant brain fired. And then He tried to smile like her and they fired again. He probably tried a few more times and then, exhausted from the effort, yawned because babies don’t need to learn to yawn; those synapses are pre-programed. Not only did Jesus have His mom’s jaw, eyes, and mouth but He had her smile. All the brain programming He needed to smile without effort and habitually, He discovered by gazing at her beaming face.

A baby’s body doesn’t only learn how to smile from his mom, but also how to feel its emotions. The unborn and newborn infant syncs its heart rate and cortisol levels with its mother’s. The parent's responses and interaction with their child develops the physical ability in his body to feel and regulate his anger, desire, sadness, and other passions according to all the particularities of the patterns of his parent’s emotions. On a physical and neurological level your body feels love the way your mother’s body does. She trained it to do so.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus which Fr Charles so compellingly described a few weeks ago as beating, pounding, and throbbing for love of us was modeled on the pure heart of His Virgin Mother. The movements of her intense, visceral love in her holy body formed that same love in the body of our Savior. “If Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” perhaps we can say in a kind of veridical hyperbole ‘Heaven has no passion like this woman’s love.”

Julian of Norwich once lamented: “For some of us believe that God is Almighty and may do all, and that He is All-Wisdom and can do all; but that He is All-Love and will do all, there we stop short. And this is that which hindereth most God's lovers as to my sight.”

If in this new year in our struggles, sufferings, self-doubt, and sins we stop short before the Word’s ineffable majesty, fearful of His wrath or blind to His love, let us look to the tender Virgin. Let us recall that Jesus’ heart beats with the same tender and relentless intensity as that which surges in the breast of His and our gentle mother. As she reminded us near the end of last year at Guadalupe: “My little son, hear me and understand well that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here?”

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