THE APPEARANCE OF THE RISEN CHRIST TO HIS MOTHER
African Reading of Ignatius’ Text, (Spiritual Exercises, 218-225)
“It is to you that we speak, Muntu woman, who rightly aspires to be mother, only wife, and full citizen in your social, economic and political context, key figure in our civilization, minister of the circulation of blood and basic culture. — Is not the language we speak called ‘mother tongue’?”, (MZEE MUNZIHIRWA).1
The Gospels do not recount an apparition of Jesus Christ to Mary, his Mother. However, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits and author of the Spiritual Exercises, proposed to the people on retreat an exercise to contemplate on the encounter of the Risen One with his Blessed Mother!2 This reflection focuses on the supposed “Apparition to Our Lady”, (S.E., 218-225; 299). Let us read Ignatius’ contemplation against an African cultural background to judge its relevance and its meaning with arguments specific to African-Africa.3 For, in-line with the wisdom of Ignatius’ spirituality, the Exercises are presented, received and performed “differently” to be in keeping with the times, the people and the situation, because there is no experience, even spiritual, which is not conditioned by the context (historical, political, cultural, etc.).4
1. Ignatius’ text
After having meditated on Jesus’ entire life from birth to death, Ignatius de Loyola then suggested that the person also contemplate on the Risen Christ.5 Without referring to the testimonies written and reported in the New Testament, according to the Spiritual Exercises the first Appearance of the Risen Christ was reserved to the Virgin Mary. Herewith the text of the S.E.:
2181 The first contemplation: how Christ Our Lord appeared to Our Lady (299)
2 The usual preparatory prayer.
2191 The Preamble first recounts the history. It relates how, after Christ had expired on the Cross and the body remained separate from the soul, the divinity being always united to him, the blessed Soul descended into hell, likewise united to the Godhead;2 and, having drawn the righteous souls up, He came to the sepulchre, Risen, and appeared in body and soul to his Blessed Mother.
220. The second: shows a scene with the Holy Sepulchre and the place or the house of Our Lady; look at each room in turn, the bedroom, the oratory, etc.
221. The third: ask for a grace; such as, the grace to experience intense joy and the great glory and joy of Christ Our Lord.
222. The first, second and third exercises will be the same as usual, those we had for the Last Supper
of Christ Our Lord.
223. The fourth: to consider how the divinity, which seemed to be hidden from view in the Passion, now miraculously appears and shows itself in the Most Holy Resurrection, through its true and most holy effects.
224. The fifth: treats the office of consolation which Christ Our Lord comes to exercise. Compare it to the way friends try to comfort one another.
225. End with a colloquium or colloquy, depending on the subject proposed, and say a Pater Noster, [S.E., 218-225].
Ignatius offers this beautiful spiritual intuition — in-line with his predecessors 6— in the form of an affirmation of faith: Jesus Christ Risen appeared to several people, the first of whom was his Blessed Mother, [S.E., 219].
However, this raises some questions: Did the Risen Jesus really appear to Mary? In other words, is it plausible, and with what arguments? Why should the Risen Jesus have appeared to his Mother first? How can one uphold the veracity or better the possibility of such an Apparition in an African anthropological and cultural context?
2. An African reading of Ignatius’ text
To grasp the meaning of this Appearance as well as the arguments that seek to support it, we shall consider the role of women in traditional African societies and the relationship a woman has with her child in African society. “Traditional African society, despite the abuses inherent in all civilization, was designed to give woman her value, taking into account the sociological environment in which she lives”.7 Like every woman, but with her own cultural and emotional focus, her duty was that of wife and mother, and as such, she played an important role in the society in which she enjoyed special consideration.8 In the African sphere, a woman is first and foremost wife and mother.
An African woman, wife
The first identity (wife) puts her in a particular relationship, on the one hand, with her husband, her household and, on the other, with society. As a wife the African woman fulfils different tasks in the home. Indeed, even today, in several African countries, families survive thanks to the efforts and resourcefulness of the woman, wife and mother. Depending on the context, she cultivates the land, sells, searches, toils, etc.
The African woman, yesterday and today, is still the person who sustains society — culturally, economically, religiously, etc.; — it is she who guarantees its survival and future. “We are women, we are much more than part of the population, we are responsible for the population of today but also of the population of tomorrow; the future of our nations rests in our hands”, as was rightly said to African interns staying in Israel.9 Bishop Christophe Munzihirwa, S.J., summed up the primary identity and function of women in the African culture very well: “She is both the mainstay and pillar of social life. A born educator, it is through her rather than through the male that customs and traditions are transmitted: To educate a man, it has been said, is to educate an individual, but to educate a woman, is to educate a people”.10 Since it is she who gives birth, supports life throughout its development in society, she is a Mother. We are going to plumb the meaning of this particular relationship which binds her to her children.
b. African woman: mother
In Africa, the woman is not only the spouse. She is also a mother. Africa values this irreplaceable quality of her daughters. Even a young woman who is not yet of childbearing age is sometimes called “mother-mamma” to accord her the respect due to the woman-mother. “In Africa”, Munzihirwa noted further, “it is neither well-paid employment, nor work, nor love, nor fortune, nor social rank, which give true value to women, but motherhood” 11. Although every woman receives particular consideration due to her innate motherhood — potential motherhood, even without having given birth — for “the peoples of Africa”, Marcel Matungulu observed, “the fact of not having offspring is a great humiliation, a misfortune that neither material wealth nor moral qualities can compensate”.12 This is why a childless couple very often ends up separating.13 Indeed, Munzihirwa added, “in ancestral Africa, the sterile woman was only tolerated, and even the celibate life, in our conception, was not justifiable. The woman is rich in humanity because she is admirably fulfilled by her motherhood and admirably balanced by her sense of hospitality”.14
In the African universe, therefore, woman is mother. One of the missions she received from God was to marry and have children.15 She, as the bearer of life, is mother to all men (homo not vir). The Black male thinks that since God did not want to be visible everywhere he created mothers to take care of the children. As yet we have not found more appropriate words than those of the Guinean poet and novelist Camara Laye (1928-1980) to express the secret of the baby African’s relationship with its mother.
c. Black child and its mother, emotional bond
The relationship between mother and child begins during gestation. The deep emotional bond cannot be explained with rational arguments. Every Black child, even when an adult, can be recognized in the well-known poem we are about to analyse.
1. To my Mother,
Black woman, African woman
O you, my mother, I think of you.
O Dâman, O my mother.
2. You who carried me on your back,
You, who nursed me,
You, who guided my first steps,
You, who first opened my eyes to the wonders of the earth,
I think of you….
3. Woman of the fields,
Woman of the rivers,
Woman of the great river.
Thou, mother-mine, I think of thee….
4. You, O Dâman, O my mother,
who wiped away my tears,
you, who delighted my heart,
you who patiently endured my every whim.
5. How I should like to be near you still,
be a child near you!
Simple woman, woman of resignation,
Thou, O mother-mine, I think of thee….
6. O Dâman, Dâman of the great blacksmith family,
my thoughts always turn to you,
while yours accompany me at every step,
O Dâman, mother-mine, how I should love to enjoy thy maternal warmth still,
and be a child near thee….
7. Black woman, African woman,
Thou, O mother-mine, I thank thee.
I thank you for everything you did for me,
your child, so far away, so close to you!16
1. The fact of affectionately calling her, “dama (mother)” immediately evokes the nine months between conception and birth. The period of gestation during which the child is carried, its life is intrinsically linked to its mother’s.
2. “You who carried me on your back” affectionately recalls the close tacit accord between a mother and her child. The Black mother carries the child on her back while she goes about her multiple tasks (housework, etc.) to support the household.17
3. and 6. In order that the life she has borne may blossom, the mother continues to nourish it with her milk but also by the many tasks that fill her day: “Woman of the fields, woman of the rivers”, woman of the market-place, woman in the office, (etc.); today we could add to the list the whole panorama of female resourcefulness in Africa.
4. However, the child may experience discontent during growth, be capricious, express discontent in tears. The Black child remembers, it is still and always to the mother that the child turns. She is the one who wipes away the tears, consoles and bears its whims as it grows-up.
5 – 7. “How I should love to be near you still. Enjoy your maternal warmth, be a child near you”: Such an authentic recollection cannot but lead to the recognition and respect that some express with the simple but meaningful words: Thank you! “Thank you for everything you did for me”.
Nevertheless, despite the poet and novelist’s eloquent words in which each Black child, girl or boy, — even as an adult — recognizes him/herself, it is still difficult to actually express the deep bond that stems from the tacit accord between child and Mother especially in the African universe. Isn’t this one of the reasons why Black children always reserve a special place for their mother throughout life?
3. From African anthropology to Christian spiritual theology:
Mary, Mother and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ
From this cultural, anthropological approach, which scrutinizes the secret of the child’s relationship to its mother, the African reverses the “analogy”.18 That is to say, from its experience with its mother, the Black child, even having become a Christian, can well understand that Jesus would, doubtless, have shown himself to his Mother first. By putting himself in Jesus’s shoes, with his feelings (cf. Phil 2:5), the African readily admits the possibility of such an encounter. This would even seem natural.
In fact, Jesus’ life and ministry were linked to Mary’s life. She was both the Mother who bore Jesus (Mt 13:55) and his most faithful disciple. For example, as a mother, Mary had gone into exile to protect the life of her new-born infant (Mt 2:1-19). And when Jesus was twelve-years-old, his disappearance from the Temple upset her(Lk 2:42-52). She anticipated Jesus’ Hour at the wedding feast in Cana (Jn 2:1-11). And, ever as a mother but at the same time as a disciple, Mary followed her Son to the Cross. She was present at the Accomplished Hour when, from the height of the Cross, Jesus entrusted her to the disciple whom he loved, and to the disciples of all ages: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:25-27). In prayer, with the community of disciples, she awaited the Spirit who opened the Church to the proclamation of the Good News (Acts 1:14).
However, the Scriptures do not record an apparition of Christ to Mary. They recount the first apparition to the women at the tomb and the meeting with the Angel who announced the Resurrection to them. Then there is the face to face meeting with the Risen One who made them the first messengers of this Good News (Mt 28:9-10; Mk 16:6). As for Paul, he thought that He would have appeared to Cephas first, then to the Twelve, etc. (I Cor 15:5). In any case, Peter appears to be the criterion for the confirmation of the reality of the apparition and therefore of the Resurrection (Lk 24:24; Jn 20:2-7).
Starting from this “silence of the Scriptures” and meditating on the life of Jesus, Ignatius de Loyola deduced that there would have been an apparition of the Risen Jesus to his Blessed Mother. He was careful to justify this interpretation of the sacred text: “He appeared to the Virgin Mary; which, although not said in Scripture, is taken as said, since it is stated that he appeared to many others (500). Since Scripture assumes that we are intelligent, because it is written: “Are you also still without understanding? (Mt 15:16)”, [S.E. 299]. In other words, even if they do not relate an apparition of Christ to Mary, the Scriptures affirm that they do not relate everything that Jesus said, did and lived (cf. Jn 21:25). This allows room for us to understand that the reader and the listener of the Word have enough intelligence to imagine and link the revealed facts and the mysteries of Jesus’ life (Mt 15:16). As we know, the Spiritual Exercises often invite the person on retreat to use his/her imagination to visualise the places, contemplate on the people, on what they said, did and lived, etc. Now, it is up to us to apply the faculties of the soul (intelligence, memory and will) to the sacred text.
Western theologians seek to justify the “omission” of such an appearance in the Scriptures. They do not explain the “silence” of the sacred texts (or their implicit allusion) clearly, but query why we believe that the Risen Jesus would have appeared to the Virgin Mary first! Theologians have done well to link the various mysteries of the life of Christ. Moreover, since they start, like Ignatius, from the “silence of the Scriptures” to deduce that there would have been an apparition of the Risen Jesus to his Blessed Mother, this allows us to complement their argument with our proposal:-
Ignatius, like many Western authors after him, defended his interpretation of Scripture mainly with rational and deductive reasoning. However, from an African perspective the sustainable argument of this appearance would have been more of an affective type (the tacit intimate relationship of mother and child) by a natural process of induction. If the former often solved the dilemma by answering the question: “Why doesn’t Scripture relate Christ’s apparition to Mary?”, we, for our part, would have framed the question differently: “why would Jesus have ‘necessarily’ appeared to Mary first?”.
In other words, by taking the entire anthropological relationship between mother and child into consideration one would conclude, on the one hand, that that Child could not but have visited his Mother and, on the other, that such a meeting deserved to be the very first.
So, taking the Black child’s experience as an “inverted analogy”, it could well have been thus for the Son of Mary, Risen after his Passion and death. Since, the Scriptures and Tradition do not explicitly state that Jesus appeared to the Virgin Mary studies have been carried out mainly in the West to explain this silence. At the end of our journey of reflection, we wish to strongly reaffirm that Ignatius’ intuition is in-line with the African approach: if Jesus, Son of God, is truly the Son of Mary, he could only have appeared to Mary first because she is his Mother (his mamma)!
It is true, as Santiago Arzubialde noted, that the apparition to Mary is among the questions of faith which may create confusion if it is approached a-critically, since it compares the field proper to exegesis with that of piety or devotion.19 But it deserves to be studied because of the prominent place Ignatius de Loyola assigned to it in the dynamic of the Fourth Week of the Exercises.
The aim of our study by means of Ignatius’ Exercise — read, experienced and lived in the African way — was to bring the person who undertakes the Spiritual Exercises to grasp the truth of Ignatius’ spiritual intuition through that “of the Black child with its mother”. In the case of this specific apparition, we have highlighted certain elements of African culture to arrive at a good understanding of this contemplation.20 It follows that African culture and, therefore also, the faith of the African, even having become a Christian, readily admits this extra-biblical spiritual intuition. One might say, if the Child of Mary appeared to others, He would certainly have shown Himself to His Mother, according to African wisdom. It does not matter then what Mother and Son said to each other!
May it please God that the respect and consideration that “the Black child” reserves for “its Mother” also be accorded to “every woman”: because women are all Mothers or potential Mothers.
(Ref: TELEMA, Revue de réflexion et créativité chrétiennes en Afrique, pp. 10-19), n. 152, 1/19, 2019.
1). Cf. Mzee Munzihirwa, “Aux racines du développement, le rôle de la femme”, p. 361.
2).Cf. I. de Loyola, Spiritual Exercises.
3). We are aware that, in the era of inter-culturality, it is difficult to speak of “an African culture”. One encounters the same difficulty in speaking of the “African woman”, because urban dwellers no longer have the same customs as the rural people or those in enclaves. However this does not prevent us from reflecting on what survives, or is recovered, of a part of African life which constitutes the substratum of African culture and that is still true of a large section of African women wherever they may be. Cf. J. Maquet, Africanité traditionnelle et modern, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1967; A. Thiam, La Parole aux Négresses, Paris, Denoël-Gonthier, 1978; AA.Vv., La civilisation de la femme dans la tradition africaine (Symposium in Abidjan, 3-8 July 1972), Paris, Présence Africains,1978; AA.Vv., Des femmes écrivent l’Afrique, 3 vols., Paris. Karthala, 2007-2010.
4).Cf. G. Malulu Lock, “Les Exercises de saint Ignace et l’Afrique. Propos sur deux prioritiés de la Compagnie de Jésus”, 486; J.-C. Guy, “Le livre des Exercises”, in Saint Ignace de Loyola, Exercises Spirituels, Paris, Seuil, 1978, 20.
5).It is the subject of what he calls the “Quatrième semaine”, namely, the last stage in the sub division of the themes in the booklet on the Spiritual Exercises, cf. [E.S., 4]
6). If one consults the Patristic Tradition there is in fact, apart from exegesis, a devotion on Christ’s appearance to Our Lady. See for example: S. Arzubialde, “Una lectura teológica de la aparición del Resucitado a Ntra Sra. sobre dos traducciones catellanas del siglo XVI”, in Man. 64 (1992) 71-86; Jean Chrysostome Homélies 88 in Matt. (PG. 58, 777); Albert le Grand, In Evang Marti (16, 9), “Christus Matri apparuit, non ut probaret resurrectionem, sed ut eam visu suo laetificaret”, in Opera Omnia (Ed. Borgnet), n. 21, 755.
7). Mzee Munzihirwa, “Aux raciness du développement, le rôle de la femme”, in Zaïre-Afrique, n. 196 (June-July, August 1985) 349-361, 351. To substantiate this point we have borrowed from the writings of Bishop Christophe Munzihirwa, martyr of Congo: “Aux raciness du développement, le rôle de la femme”, and “Le Zaïre face à l’avenir des familles”, in Zaïre-Afrique, n. 206, (June, July, August 1986) 337-339.
8). Concerning the role of women, her place and identity in African society, we have borrowed from our article published in Congo-Afrique: G. Malulu Lock, “La femme dans la poésie négro-africaine d’expression française. Quels gages pour une culture de la lutte contre les violences faites aux femmes?” in Congo-Afrique, 521, (Jan 2018) 78-83.
9). Mzee Munzihirwa, “Aux raciness du développement, le rôle de la femme”, 349.
10). Ibid., 351.
11). Ibid., 352.
12). Matungulu Otene, Célibat consacré pour une Afrique assoiffée de fécondité, Kinshasa, St. Paul Afrique, 1979, 16.
13). Cf. Matungulu Otene, Fidèle au Christ et à l’univers négro-africain. Ebauche d’une spitirualité, Lubumbashi, Saint Paul Afrique, 1980, 53.
14). Mzee Munzihirwa, “Aux raciness du développement, le rôle de la femme”, 351.
15). We have paraphrased Mzee Munzihirwa’s text. He based his argument on the Ntu proverb: “Women resemble God because they bear their infant on their back”. Cf. Mzee Munzihirwa, “Aux racines du développement, le rôle de la femme”, 351.
16). Camara Laye. L’enfant noir, Paris, Plon, 1953. The added numbering is to help in the analysis. In the musical score the song “Mama” by R D. Congolese Singer Papa Wemba (1949-2016) is also a classic in praise of the “Mother”.
17). Cf. A.Kéita, Femme d’Afrique. La vie d’Aoua Kéita racontée par elle-même, Présence Afriacaine, 1975; Ch. Obbo, African Women: Their Struggle for Economic Independence, London, Zed Press. 1980.
18). We mention the reversal of the elements of the analogy because the analogatum princep is the relationship between Jesus and Mary.
19). Cf. S. Arzubialde, “Una lectura teológica de la aparición del Resucitado a Ntr Sra. sobre dos traducciones castellanas del siglo XVI”, in Man. 64 (1992) 71-86, 72. Yves Congar is among those who objected to this apparition on the grounds that it is biblically debatable; Mary had no need of an apparition. And this casts a shadow on the proto-vision attributed to Peter. Cf. Y. Congar, “Incidence ecclésiologique d’un thème de dévotion mariale”, in Mélanges de Science Religieuse 7 (1950) 276-292.
20). In this way, we believe that the African Christian would little by little measure up to the height of Christ, which Meinard Hebga speaks of, without necessarily experiencing contact with other cultures. Fr. Hebga’s genial idea has been successfully taken up by Oscar Bimweny Kweshi in his thesis. Cf. M.P. Hebga, Emancipation d’Eglises sous tutelle. Essai sur l’ère post-missionnaire, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1976, 158; O. Bimweny Kweshi, Discours théologique négro-africain. Problème des fondements (for doctoral thesis to graduate with the qualification of Doctor of Divinity), Louvain, Catholic University of Louvain., 1977, 188.
21). Cf. G. Malulu, “La femme dans la poésie négro-africaine d’expression française”, in Congo-Afrique, 521 (Jan. 2018) 83.
The Daughter of Africa
3 bis) Women’s sustained extenuating effort to surmount the primaeval mind-set inherent in Nature to realize their potential in every field life offers, from education, welfare, to science, technology, etc., is hailed. Indeed, such an important evolution should never be underestimated. Women enhance the intrinsic bond, no longer constrained by implacable necessity to protect the infant but as an appreciated partner with full dignity.