Proper Language

In the past few months I’ve been trying to make an effort to be more present on Twitter and Instagram. It’s been fun, challenging and sometimes tiring, but I think it’s been worth the effort. I’ve found some pretty incredible articles and resources that I would have missed or not known about had I not been using these social media tools.

As with all things, I have also stumbled across some things I wish I hadn’t, or read statements I do not agree with. Once such instance happened this past weekend that got me so riled up, I’m still thinking about it and maybe, if this post goes well, try to formulate my thoughts into an article that I could submit to a publication (hopes and dreams anyway).

I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across this tweet from a pro-life activist:

Lots of would be mothers regret their abortions.I dont know a single mom who regrets having a child
Proper Language, especially in pro-life ministry. Daily Graces.
Photo by 2008. via Flickr. CC. Modified by Kate Taliaferro 2016

Now, there are a few things that I take issue with in this statement, and I am pro-life. Regarding the 2nd sentence, I am sure that there are mothers out there, unfortunately, who go through periods of time that they regret having children. Maybe they regret a loss of independence or ability to work, maybe they are struggling to feed all the members of their family, maybe they regret the circumstances that lead to that child. While each child is a precious gift from God, we are a broken humanity who do not always recognize God’s gifts when we receive them.

But this is not my main issue. My main issue is the term “would be mothers.” Friends, if we ever, and I mean EVER, hope to bring about a cultural revolution for the culture of life, we have to first remove the log from our own eye before looking to anyone else’s. Consider the term “would be mother.” According to Merriam-Webster, “would-be” is defined as
used to describe someone who hopes to be a particular person or type of person
having the potential to be
So, based on this tweet and it’s language, a would be mother is someone who has the potential to be a mother, but isn’t. And you might say, of course. In this context, we are talking about a woman who had an abortion, so she isn’t a mother.
Or is she?
Here’s the kicker folks, by calling these women “would-be mothers” we are denying the fact that they ever were mothers. We are denying the fact that the life in her womb began at conception. Fr. Frank Pavone says it best:

A woman who is pregnant is not “expecting” a child. She already has one. The child exists and is living and growing in her womb. She is not about to bring the child “into the world.” The child is already in the world. The mother’s womb is as much in the world as the mother herself.

The pregnant woman is not “going to be” a mother. She already is a mother. By saying she is “going to be” a mother, we inadvertently reinforce the notion that motherhood begins at birth. This reinforces the idea that the child really is a child only at birth.

Theotokos. Using Proper Language to describe mothers. Daily Graces.
By MapperDB (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
So, what we say about the mother directly impacts what we know and believe about her child. The Church has understood this for centuries. The early Church held Mary in high esteem as the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Prior to the Council of Ephesus, 431, this term had been widely used for Mary. However, it wasn’t until the council that she was officially declared the Theotokos, the God-bearer. While this may seem like the emphasis is all on Mary, it is actually another way that the Church was protecting and promoting the belief in who Jesus is, in particular that he is both fully divine and fully human (the Incarnation).

Heresies and questionable teachings abounded in the early centuries of the Church. It was up to the councils to discern the Truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. One of the most hotly contested topics, obviously, revolved around Jesus. Was he truly God but only pretending to be human? Was he a super awesome human, maybe even divine-like, but not truly God? Was he a split, 50% God, 50% man, or some other ratio? Who was Jesus???

At the Council of Ephesus, a man named Nestorius began spreading doubt that Mary was truly Theotokos. He claimed she was the mother of Christ, the mother of the human Jesus, but not the mother of God. After all, how could God have a mother? Do you see how quickly things could have unraveled? If the Church had accepted Nestorius’ teaching, they would have been denying the totality of who Jesus was. For Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine, there is no way Mary could give birth to only part of Jesus. It’s all or nothing. If you want to read more, EWTN has a great summary here.

What we say about the mother directly impacts what we say about her child. Before we can ask others to see these precious little ones as fully, completely, in the here and now, children, we have to adjust the way we speak about their mothers.

Do you want to get involved in the pro-life movement? You can contact your parish or local diocese about events, the March for Life, peaceful protests and prayer vigils. You can also volunteer at a local pregnancy crisis center or see if they accept donations. If you are a rosary prayer, you can also add this simple prayer at the end of each decade following the O My Jesus prayer: “Jesus, protect and save the unborn.” Most importantly, you can pray for all those mothers and families who are faced with difficult situations and feel they have no other alternatives.

2 thoughts on “Proper Language

  1. I love, love, love this article! Well written & so true. If we don’t think about this stuff in our pro-life work, people will have a harder time taking us seriously… thanks for your writings! You have such a beautiful blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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