Happy Mother’s Day!
From my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious:
The maternal mission is also the basis of a particular responsibility. The mother is appointed guardian of life. It is her task to accept it with care, encouraging the human being’s first dialogue with the world, which is carried out precisely in the symbiosis with the mother’s body. It is here that the history of every human being begins . . . with an exclusive and unmistakable plan of life.
-John Paul II, Angelus Message, July 16, 1995, 2-
Understanding my mission as a guardian of life grew in my esteem when I fully understood it as a gift of my maternity on two levels. First, maternity is a universal gift imparted to women with the innate dignity and beauty of their creation. Women are not burdened with child bearing as much as they are gifted with child bearing. Second, it is also a unique gift when sperm and ova meet and a particular human zygote implants into a mother’s womb. The depth of that unique gift immediately comes to the fore whenever I talk to a woman burdened by infertility, or one who laments childlessness due to other reasons. These women, too, possess the gift of maternity, being predisposed to its potentiality in their creation, yet a myriad of circumstances may thwart the biological reality of having a child of their own.
Nothing in my professional resume could have ever prepared me for becoming a mother, except maybe the long hours I sometimes worked. But from the very beginning I had the sense that I was on a mission. Physical mothering is not limited to the prenatal months and the birth and breastfeeding experience. Raising children requires the hands-on work of a mother’s love and physical engagement. It also extends to all the future feeding, raising, and educating of the child. Physical motherhood requires vision and verve, patience and prayer, and a commitment to putting another’s needs ahead of one’s own on a regular, on-going basis until the little ones begin to do more for themselves over time.
Every mother of a family is a physical mother. While some family circumstances may not have led to a mother’s birthing of her children, she is still ordered to motherhood in her blessed design. Mothering is a physical assignment, a tangible and bodacious vocation that honors God and the dignity of the human persons in her care.
Motherhood from the outside might look messy and busy and challenging and complicated, but living it from the inside out brings many rewards––not always immediate, but in the long term through the blessing of Baptism and ongoing life with God. The paradox of parenting that I’ve found is that it is intensely joyous as it breaks your heart, while it completely saves your heart by breaking it open wider still, challenging you to love even more. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:7–8).
We’ve already touched on the blessing of Baptism. When we bring our children to the church for baptism, we bring them to Christ. We bring them to receive the grace to initiate a relationship with Christ, and through him, with the Blessed Trinity. Witnessing our children’s Baptism reminds us that parenting is not all about just maintaining their physical needs but seeing to their spiritual needs as well. This means we will have to help our children grow in communion with Christ and with one another.
This is a bodacious mission: to raise saints for heaven. Physical motherhood affords the privilege of training true disciples and future saints. In the best of circumstances, Christian mothers, in partnership with fathers, make their home a holy place, or as Vatican II taught, a domestic church.
Finally, Christian spouses . . . in Matrimony . . . signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church. . . .
They have their own special gift among the people of God. From . . . wedlock . . . comes the family, in which new citizens . . . are born, who . . . in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God. . . . The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should . . . be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them.
-Lumen Gentium, 11-
One thought about the raising of saints: it helps if that is a desire of your own heart to be a saint. Recall your own Baptism, your heavenly destiny. When you accept the blessing of your own Baptism, you’ll find that the raising of the children you have now, or may have in the future, will call you forward and higher in your own faith, and remind you of your own need for grace. As you love and serve more and more, you’ll yearn to provide a better example for them. If your children are already raised when you come into a deeper relationship with Christ, you can become a champion of prayer and a spiritual mother for your adult children and your children’s children.
We can’t give what we don’t have. So the onus is on us as parents to grow in holiness and to foster and integrate a way of life that reflects the values of our faith. For myself, once my responsibilities included raising children, I read more deeply about the teachings of the Church, or at least as much as I was reading the parenting books, and filling the gaps in my knowledge for both.
The ways we parent, in words and deeds, should come from the relationship that we enjoy with Christ. To that end, the basics of conscience formation that we talked about earlier come into play in the lives of our children. So, think of it this way: the better you strengthen your relationship with God and with your spouse, the better you will strengthen the relationships with your children, and the deeper you will form their conscience in knowing God and the law of love.
The above text is taken from Chapter 8, in Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious.