Here was a young girl, praying, with hands open and empty, ready to receive the graces bestowed upon her.
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!
Sitting at an intersection with my observant and forthright 6 year old went something like this recently:
“Mommy, why aren’t we turning?”
“Because we have to wait for a break in traffic. The cars going across us don’t have a light or stop sign so we have to wait for both sides to be clear so we can turn safely. You didn’t put ‘Get hit by another car’ on your plan for the day, did you?”
“I don’t have plans for today.”
“Really, no plans??”
“Nope, I just wanna have fun.”
Her last statement was said in a very matter-of-fact, no-nonsense tone of voice. Had she been older, the addition of, “Duh Mommy,” would not have been out of place. I had to suppress my laughter as we finally had an opportunity to turn and move on with our day.
From the mouths of babes, am I right? I just wanna have fun — when did we lose this outlook on life? When did it all become plans, tasks, goals, and deadlines? In an adult life, these things have purpose and are in many cases, necessary. But what is their ultimate aim – do they get us through the day, or do they help us enjoy the day?
While visiting my parents, my mom introduced me to her new afternoon coffee drink. She often looks for a little caffeine in the afternoon, as many of us probably do. Usually she turns to tea, but lately she discovered a version of a Korean instant coffee drink (rather than hauling out the mixer, she puts the water, sugar and coffee in a small sealed container and shakes them until foamy. You can’t dollop it on top as the recipe shows, but the effect is pretty similar and still delicious!) She calls it her Afternoon Delight.
I love the choice of word: delight. Delight can be both a verb and a noun, meaning to please someone, or simply a great pleasure. The example of the noun is “the girls squealed with delight.” I love this! You can hear little girls squealing — not laughing, not giggling, squealing really is the right word for the sound that explodes from them when they take great delight in a puppy, a new doll, or the idea of piggyback rides on Daddy.
When is the last time you, “squealed with delight?” The first time I sipped my mom’s new afternoon treat, I didn’t necessarily squeal out loud, but that same feeling bubbled into my smile. It was … delightful! It caused me to think about why I hadn’t felt this feeling in a long time, and challenged me to consider how to allow more delight into my day.
I came up with a list, one that I’m working on adding to, of things that bring me that same feeling of delight.
- The coffee drink
- Caramel apple dip, especially in the fall
- Good quality, soft yarn
- My 17-month-old’s smile
As we transition from fall to winter, and from Ordinary Time to Advent, it is a unique time to consider what brings us delight. This burst of energy and glee can make a big difference in an otherwise dull day spent indoors because of bad weather, cold, or in this particular year, Covid-19. Advent is a time of waiting, yes, but we also hear about the delight of Mary and Elizabeth as the children in their wombs leapt for joy upon meeting one another. This moment of delight can inspire us to look out for our own moments of delight. And like Mary and Elizabeth, we ought to savor them, not hurry over them to the next task or plan.
As adults we have plans, we have responsibilities. We cannot, as my daughter wishes, just wanna have fun and expect the laundry to be folded, zoom meetings attended, dinner prepared and the kids in bed on time. We can, however, intentionally seek out little opportunities of delight. These moments are opportunities to deeply feel God’s loving presence within us. We know that God delights in all He made: this includes us. As creatures made in God’s image and likeness, we glimpse a small piece of God’s great delight when we allow ourselves moments like these.
How long has it been since you experienced delight? What is something or someone you can take delight in this week, today even? If you can, make a list of regular or reliable sources of delight and see if you can increase your opportunities to experience them this Advent season.
This post was originally published at CatholicMom.com.
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.
In the Gospel today, religious leaders tried to put Jesus between a rock and hard place. They wanted to know if they could trick Him into upsetting someone, no matter how he responds. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Option A: Jesus says yes. Now the people are upset because Jesus openly admits to supporting the Roman regime which has conquered the area and is ruling the people.
Option B: Jesus says no. Now the officials and those in the community who support the local governance are on high alert. Jesus has labeled Himself as a revolutionary.
Option C: Don’t people know yet there’s always an option C? “Show me the coin,” Jesus says. “Whose image is on it?” Can you hear the mumbled reply, the looks on their faces as they realize just how quickly the tables got turned? Jesus’ definitive response: “Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
As citizens of our countries, we have duties and responsibilities to our governments and fellow citizens. One of the primary ways we in America pay back to Caesar is through full and active participation in our elections. I’m not going to begin a political debate or lecture you on which side to vote for. I’m simply asking for your full and active participation in the process. Vote!
Ok, that aside, how do we know what belongs to God? God doesn’t have a coin for us to reference, but Jesus’ measure of what is owed to Caesar can still be applied. If the coin which bears Caesar’s image on it belongs to him, then it would stand to reason that whatever bears God’s image ought to be returned to Him. The question then follows, “What (or who) bears God’s image?”
US! We, His most prized creations, are made in His image. While we live on this earth, and we participate in civic life, social and cultural movements, family and workplaces, we do not owe our lives to the world. We owe ourselves to God. When we place our lives in His care, He generously returns us to even fuller participation in the world He created for us.
I know, it’s a bit convoluted and confusing. Think of it like this: The more you take away from the ground, the larger the hole you’re making will become. The more you dig, the greater its capacity to hold whatever you need it to hold. The more we give ourselves to God, the greater our capacity to do the work in the world He has laid before us.
As Advent is approaching – yikes! – now is a great time to look at what you give to Caesar, and what you give to God. If you would like to learn more about being a fully active Catholic citizen, take the time to read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, a document written last year by the US Bishop’s Conference about public responsibility.
Also, be on the look out! The free Advent Journals are in their final stages and I’m so excited for this year! Be sure you are signed up to receive emails when I post new content so you can get your copies for this year. There’s a new page at the top which has all of the Advent Journals from the previous years in one place.