Me and My House is a brand new video series for Catholic parents and families who want to grow together in love and holiness throughout their everyday life.
A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.
With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”
While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.
St. Julian of Norwich
St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.
Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.
Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.
When does motherhood begin?
After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.
Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?
What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.
Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:
“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”
The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m so pleased to share with you all these Advent Journals. As you may have noticed, Advent is quickly approaching and there are so many wonderful resources available to help deepen and enrich your Advent experience.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed a need for Advent journals that cover a few bases. 1. They are Scripturally based 2. They are simple 3. They are not time consuming but still powerful 4. They are free. I have 2 different journals this year so be sure to read to the bottom to hear about both. One is based on lectio divina, the other is a deeper look at the 4 Sundays of Advent.
Lectio Divina Journal
In the journal I’ve highlighted one or two verses from the daily readings for reflection. There is space to prepare yourself for lectio and think about what’s going on in your life that day. What’s joyful, stressful, exciting or bothering you? Your lectio experience is colored by what’s happening in your life and it is good to take a moment to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table. There is also a place for your Word or phrase that has been highlighted during your reading as well as your prayerful response to God’s movements in your heart. Finally, there is room to think creatively about what God is calling you to do or change as inspired by the day’s prayer.
The journal includes an overview of what lectio divina is, how to pray it and why it’s such a rich experience of prayer. As I said, I have chosen one or two verses for your reflection. However, maybe you already have a habit of reading the daily readings. Maybe a different verse stood out to you. At the very end of the journal is a blank page. It has all the formatting and different writing spaces, but the Scripture portion is blank. You can use this page to write your own verses in.
Remember, this is completely free and is a pdf. So you can print the whole thing if you are going to use the verses I chose. Or you can print that last page 30 times and fill in your own verse every day. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and already have a daily Advent devotional but want to give lectio divina a try – just print a week and see how it goes. Maybe every Sunday would work better. This is completely customizable to you.
4 Sundays of Advent Journal
This is the brand new journal and I’m so excited about. I was inspired by a few things. First by my long-term writing project on the Philippians 2 Christ hymn. In that project, I am doing a deep study of the hymn, looking at the historical, theological, ecclesial, and liturgical significance and why it is a piece of Scripture that we all should know inside and out. I was also inspired by Every Sacred Sunday and how their Mass journals encourage Catholics to spend quality time preparing for Mass. If you are looking for something long term to help you dig deeper into the Sunday readings all year long, I cannot recommend their journals enough.
My new Advent Journal works like this. The first and super important thing you need to know is that it starts on Nov. 26. Yes, that’s before Advent actually begins. But, if you are going to be preparing for the 4 Sundays of Advent, you’ve got to start before the first Sunday, right?
Ok, got that cleared up. Mondays we spend time with the First Reading. Tuesdays the Psalm. Wednesdays the Second Reading. Thursdays the Gospel. Each page has the reading as well as space for any notes, questions or insights you might have while reading. There is also space for a brief prayer or reflection on what you’ve read. Think of this as lectio divina lite.
Friday’s I offer a theological reflection on the readings. These include any historical information that is relevant, how the readings fit together, and what they can say to us today. It concludes with a quote from a saint that illuminates the overall theme of the Sunday.
Saturday encompasses how we can take what we’ve learned and grow in the week to come. I include another brief reflection, followed by questions or ideas meant to inspire you to apply the readings to your daily life and enhance your Advent experience.
Sunday is a simple page for homily notes or other reflections you have on these readings. Perhaps you have another Advent devotional you are doing side by side and want to write down a special quote or work through a new idea. Here is space to do it, especially in light of the Sunday readings.
I’m so excited for your Advent journey. It would be great to hear from you which journal you chose and why. I love feedback and want to keep developing these into quality, useful tools for you to deepen your relationship with God. Do please share with anyone you think would benefit from these journals.
That’s right! The FREE Lenten Journal for 2019 is here and ready for you to print and download. I’m so excited to share this one with you. I’ve made some formatting changes from previous seasonal journals to hopefully ease the print-load on your end.
Unlike Advent last year, I’ve only done one journal for Lent. This is the lectio divina based journal where each day I’ve prayerfully chosen one verse or passage from the daily readings for your prayer and reflection. For those who don’t know or aren’t familiar, lectio divina is an ancient way of praying the Scriptures. You select a verse to meditate on, reading it aloud a few times and letting the words really sink into you. Often, a single word or phrase will stand out in a particular way, drawing your attention to it. Spend a few more minutes pondering what God is speaking to you through this word, then respond in prayer to that message. Maybe God is challenging you to rethink a situation, or is offering you comfort during a difficulty. Perhaps He is revealing His generosity or the greatness of His mercy. After you respond in prayer, sit in silence and adoration, basking in the love God has for you.
Lectio Divina is a beautiful way to slow down during your day and to spend intentional time with the Lord. The word or phrase you encountered during your prayer could serve as a mantra or focus for your day, something you continue to meditate on even after your dedicated lectio time is over.
Please, please share this post with everyone and anyone you think would like to have a quality, solid and free Lenten resource. There are so many options out there, but not many of them are so easily or readily accessible.
I would also love to hear your thoughts on this journal. If you happen to have downloaded my journals in the past, it would be great to hear how you felt this one compared to the others. Feel free to email me (in my profile bio along the side), comment below or reach out on social media. Here’s that link one more time.
In related news, I think I’ve found my word that will be guiding my Lenten season. My word for 2019 is officially “Follow-Through” and I’ve been working hard on embodying that. Responding to emails in a timely way, remembering to return library books on time, actually getting out of bed when my alarm goes off (mostly, this one is so hard people, seriously). I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m feeling better already about myself and in my self-respect.
Inspired by this, my word for Lent is going to be “Presence.” Part of following through on things is making sure I’m ready and able to be present when and where I need to be. If I promise to be at someone’s house for a playdate at 10, then in order to follow through on that I need to have the presence of mind that morning to leave the house at the right time. I can’t be worrying about yesterday, fussing about tomorrow, or getting caught up in too many tasks. Follow through also means my actual presence is usually required in some matter for something. Emails won’t write themselves. Library books don’t walk back to the library for me (wouldn’t that be awesome!) In order to follow through, I need to be present to that situation.
So, the way I’m going to practice being fully present is by not yelling through the house for my kids. And this is going to be really tough because we have a long, winding house which, long story, used to be two houses that are now joined in the middle. It’s super fun but also challenging when the person you need is on the other side of the house. Instead of shouting for that person, (which is usually followed by the unfair chastisement that they ought to come talk to me instead of shouting through the house….like I just did), I’m going to get up, or pause what I’m doing, and go seek that child out. I’ll make eye contact, speak calmly and have a moment of true presence with them. At least, I hope. A fast from yelling, I’m not sure how it will go, but I think it’s worth a try. I’m still working on how my word of “Presence” will factor into prayer and almsgiving, but there’s still some time yet.
What are you hoping for this Lent? Will you try the word or phrase idea for focusing your Lenten practices?
Our base parish has been so thankful these past two weeks. Last April, our active duty priest assigned to our base retired and we have been without an assigned priest since then. A very kind priest from town has been coming to help fill in, but has to basically fly in, say Mass and then zoom straight back to his parish to make the times work. We were grateful for the gift of the Sacrament, but there wasn’t much time for pastoral care. After much prayer, a civilian priest volunteered to come fill the void and his homilies the past two weeks have been very, very good.
His main point this week was so good, I had to take a minute and share it with you all. He asked us a question at the start: “In all our readings today, there was a man before God. Was he chosen, though unqualified for the work? Or was he qualified, and then chosen?” The answer, of course, is that Isaiah, Paul and Peter were all chosen by God for extraordinary work, but at the time of their calling they were unqualified, unworthy or unclean in some way. They did not have perfect track records (remember Paul’s persecution of the early Christians). They were not holy men (Isaiah said he was a man of unclean lips living among people with unclean lips). They were not righteous men, living ascetic lives in the desert (Peter calls himself a sinful man and works as a lowly fisherman).
What makes these men great is their engagement in their call. Each one was called, and though knowingly unworthy, each responded in some way. Their response is what propels them along the path of grace which God had laid out for them. It changed them, moulded them into individuals uniquely qualified for the role God had called them too.
Isaiah’s lips were purified with the burning coal so that he could be a prophet to a people desperate for God’s presence. Paul credits his complete 180 to the grace working in and through him. Peter hear’s Jesus command to lower the nets and even in his doubt he is obedient. Through that obedience, a catch so large nearly capsized his boat.
What does it mean for you and I? It means that we all have been chosen for some work in this world. It also means that we probably aren’t qualified fully for it. None of us are perfect, we all have places of brokenness, fear, doubt, anger, etc. But those are exactly the places that God wants to work on, to improve, to qualify, so that we can fulfill His mission for us. We are each a unique chosen son and daughter of the Almighty, and nothing can take that away.
I, personally, see this especially in parenthood. These children that have been placed in my lap were chosen for my husband and I to raise. More often than not we feel hugely unqualified for this position. Books upon books upon blogs upon podcasts will try to tell you that you are qualified, that you’ve read all the answers, and it’s just not true. Because your children were not handed to you and your spouse unattached. They belong to God, and He is raising them right along with you. He chose you for them, unqualified though you are. When we lean into the grace He provides we discover the way forward which we couldn’t have found on our own.
So on the days you are feeling less than qualified for the work God has placed at your feet, take comfort and inspiration from Isaiah, Paul and Peter. They may not have been qualified, but they were willing. Are you willing to take the next step into your calling as a chosen son or daughter of the Father?