Some people find their stomachs in knots as Christmas draws near. The thought of being with certain relatives, the anxiety over whether gifts are well-chosen and well-received, the deadlines, the baking and travel…all part of life, and not just grist for advice columns in the newspaper.
As Matthew tells in the infancy narratives, Joseph was in knots over what he should do about his pregnant betrothed, Mary. The child she carried was not his. The text doesn’t say so, but I suspect Mary was in knots, too.
Pope Francis, then Father Jorge Maria Bergoglio, had been the provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina. The times were challenging, and when he was relieved of his duties, Father Bergoglio went off to Germany to continue his studies of chemistry, which had been his original area of expertise.
One day, Father Bergoglio happened to visit a church where he came upon a sculpture of Mary entitled “Mary, the Untier of Knots.” The sculpture indeed showed her untying the knots of a ribbon. The statue spoke to him personally, so he set out to find out more.
It seems that in the early 1700’s, a young German couple was struggling to keep their marriage alive. They prayed to Mary for guidance, and they did their share of the work. Eventually, they were able to reestablish their marriage in a warm, loving way. In gratitude they approached a sculptor named Johann Schmidtner. They told him their story and asked if he would create a statue of Mary that would symbolize their gratitude and portray the very real life situation in which they had found themselves. The statue spoke eloquently of Mary, the Untier of Knots.
Later, when Father Bergoglio returned as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he brought with his a replica of the original Mary, Untier of Knots, and placed it in the cathedral. People have come there in great numbers ever since to view this statue of Mary, that she might help untie the knots of their lives.
Afterwards, Archbishop Bergoglio wrote a reflection which gives us hope when we consider the messiness, the knots of our own lives.
“Mary is the mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that God can untangle the knots of our lives. She is our mother, but we can also say that she is our sister, our eldest sister.
Mary’s life was the life of a woman of her people. She prayed, she worked she went to synagogue. Mary lived her life in the thousand daily tasks and worries of every mother.
Mary is the prototype of all humans. She is the human mother, who had human wisdom, strength and faith that we should all try to emulate.
Mary is the friend who is ever concerned that wine is not lacking on our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who thus knows and understands our human pain.
As a mother of us all, she is a sign of hope, especially for people suffering the injustice, poverty, the loss of loved ones, separation and divorce.
To each of us she says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Am I not here - I who am your mother?’”
Knots happen in life. But as Christmas comes, no one can take hope from us.
~ Sister Joan Sobala