As the year is coming to a close, let’s not write it off as something to be forgotten. Everything has the power to be redemptive, even 2020.
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!
This weekend has been the Catholic Moms Summit (if you haven’t checked it out you still have time! Hurry over, it’s all free, though if you want to be able to watch what you’ve missed later, as well as have access to the live events they held you will need to purchase the pass). I listened to a few talks, all of which were very good. My absolute favorite was by Beth Sri, Birthing 101. Beth is a Catholic wife and mom of 8. You can learn more about Beth here.
In her talk, Beth talked about the things she figured out after her first four births and wished she had known for them. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of the practicalities of birth here, you can head over to the Summit if you want that information – it’s worth it, trust me!
One of the things that really left me floored was something she said toward the end about the spiritual aspects of birth. She had a spiritual director tell her, when she would share about a new pregnancy, “Thank you for your gift to humanity!” As Beth says in her talk, this sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? But no! If we believe what we say we believe, if we as parents are truly participants in creation with God the Father, how could this new little person be anything but a gift?
Beth, of course, understands this also. She concludes her talk like this:
“You’re going to contribute in an indefinite way to eternity. Not only is your little person and your experience going to make a mark on the world, but it is going to make a mark on eternity. Forever, this new soul will exist forever.”
Wow, just wow. Taking this opportunity to announce we are going to be welcoming our 6th gift to humanity in March, I can honestly say I have not considered the indelible mark each of our children will have on eternity. On the world, yes. Ben and I have all of the usual hopes parents hold – we hope our children are faithful, brave, compassionate, truthful and cultivate all the other good virtues. We pray that they follow their vocation, that they listen to God’s Will in their lives and that they discover that happiness lies in self-giving love. But an indelible mark on eternity? I’m rendered a little speechless at that one.
Indelible means “not able to be removed,” or similarly, “not able to be forgotten.” By conceiving our children, heaven has changed forever. Every single child, whether they are born into this world or whether their mark is made only on our hearts, will make a new impression on eternity which cannot be forgotten.
God knows the number of hairs on our heads, even if your babies are born bald like mine. Not a single child is forgotten by their loving Creator, and heaven is all the better for it.
As August was coming to a close I began to update my planner for September. Typically, I will schedule events in the monthly overview and then once that month draws near I will write the events on their appropriate days in the daily spreads. I have a monthly sticker subscription (remember, if it’s pretty and took effort I’m more likely to use it) which I was also using to spruce things up for September. One of the larger stickers which serves as pure decoration and inspiration, no specific planning purpose in mind, had this quote:
Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go
I was so struck by this simple observation. While winter in the plant world is usually looked upon as a season of death, cold, solitude, isolation and barrenness, autumn has very different qualities. Autumn, for many plants, is about the process of dying or at the very least, a time of loss. But how beautiful is that process! The fall colors, vibrant in so many places with golds, oranges, reds, even purples. Whole forests become riots of color everywhere you turn. Our tables are laden with the fruits and vegetables of the harvest, while the plants which bore them are becoming shriveled, leaves withering as their last ounces of energy are given up to their produce. We look lovingly upon them all the same, thankful for the gifts they have given us. Where before satisfaction was found in a field bursting with life, those feelings have shifted to empty fields, the fullness to be found in bales of hay or well stocked barns. Days are shortening and the rituals of warm pumpkin spiced lattes, fireside evenings, read alouds and pumpkin patches beckon us to slow down and savor the daylight.
In a way, 2020 has had an Autumn spirit about it. Much has been lost this year – school days, work days, schedules, vacations, a sense of certainty about tomorrow. We are still grappling with loss, so many of our world have lost loved ones to coronavirus. Others have lost jobs without assurances of where work will come from next. Others, while still maintaining job security, have lost their routines which have been replaced with juggling acts of work, child care, virtual learning and e-grocery shopping. There are still thousands of assisted living and nursing home residents who are not permitted to visit with their families, to leave their facilities or engage in regular activities. This Autumn year has affected everyone.
As we enter into actual autumn, I am hoping to use the changing season to investigate my own heart and perceptions of this year. This has been an extremely difficult year and it is not going to get any easier. But when we look at the seasons, every single year has a difficult autumn. While we see the autumn colors and think to ourselves, “Wow, how beautiful!” what is actually happening is those leaves are dying. We are marveling at death.
Perhaps it is because we already know that the beautiful death we are witnessing is not the end of the story for those trees. We are able to see the beauty, and even take joy, in death because we know that after a time, spring will come. Where there was once death, life will once more burst forth.
This is the hope I have for 2020. We are living within an Autumn, and from where we are sitting, it is difficult to see the colors. But the colors are there! Change is extremely difficult and painful, but change is one of the most beautiful things to witness. Voices are being heard where before they were absent. People are perceiving the world with new eyes and recognizing where their community has thrived and where it has failed.
Right now we may feel as the inhabitants of Narnia felt in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where it is “always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.” The hope I see, the hope I hope you all can see, is that Aslan is coming. Spring will come again. It may be a different sort of spring that we are used to. There may be different flowers about, new vegetables to try, new routines and ways of life. But spring will come.
There are things in 2020 that we have learned to let go of. There are things we are holding onto so tightly it is clouding our vision of how to move forward toward spring. Rather than responding in anger to what we cannot control, let’s use this autumn season to pause and see the colors that surround us. Let us appreciate this season for what it is, rather than wishing for what it isn’t.
- What is something you have had to let go of this 2020 year? How did you feel in the moment you had to let it go? How do you feel about it now?
- What is something positive that has happened this year? Can you connect this positive moment with a loss preceding it which made it possible?
- What are you angry or upset about? Is it something beyond your control? What is one thing you can do, learn, or adjust that could help you soften your anger and think of a more constructive attitude toward the problem?
- What are you nervous about as September and the fall season are upon us? What is one thing you can do, learn or adjust in your life which will help you come up with a plan to tackle the days ahead with positivity and purpose?
The school year is upon us, and it is a vastly different school year than anyone can recall. Some of us are homeschooling for the first time, others are juggling virtual learning with daycare and working from home. Still others are participating in “regular school” but with the knowledge that things can change from one day to the next depending on the situation of the virus. Each family has had to make difficult decisions, and we all have come to different conclusions based on the knowledge available, the measures our communities have taken and what was offered by our local schools.
Our family is homeschooling this year, but for us this is normal. Our oldest is 9 and we have chosen to homeschool him and his siblings from the beginning. My husband is in the military and the variability of his schedule, plus the ever-possible duty station changes or deployments, led us to gravitate toward a school situation which gave us the maximum amount of control over our schedule. For those of you who have found yourself homeschooling for the first time, I hope that these 10 tips can help get you on the right foot, or to find the right foot if you feel off of it already.
To get the 10 Tips, head over to CatholicMom.com where this post was originally published.