May 11, 2017
Every May, our country is given the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate a tremendous blessing that God has bestowed on humankind: the gift of motherhood. Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s a day to celebrate and honor not just our own mothers, but the capacity that is present in all women to be life-giving, spiritual mothers.
Motherhood is indeed “life-giving” in two fundamental ways: in both a spiritual and physical sense.
First, the spiritual sense. We all have experiences of “mother figures” in our lives that illustrate why spiritual motherhood is so critical to human flourishing. Perhaps the foremost aspect of spiritual motherhood is that wonderfully mysterious and extraordinary power of empathy. This ability to deeply understand and journey with another person in a profoundly personal way is multifaceted, whether it be in shared rejoicing in our successes, offering true comfort when we are hurting, or challenging us to be more of who we are. Mother figures are the ones that make us feel comfortable in our own skin, and make the world feel like a more restful and cozy place. They are the ones that gaze at us in wonder and affirm us for who we are, reminding us of how good it is that we simply exist, which is a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us.
Mother figures are everywhere, enriching our lives in limitless yet often overlooked ways. They are the grandmotherly neighbor who lovingly coos at our newborn child on the sidewalk; the friendly station manager lady that greets each commuter with a personal and genuine smile; the female friend who knowingly listens to our relationship woes with real pathos; the lady across the street who bakes a fresh batch of chocolate-chip cookies to make us feel welcome in our new neighborhood. Without this kind of spiritual motherhood permeating everyday life, society would disintegrate into savagery.
Physical motherhood is life-giving in a more obvious sense, but no less mysterious. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of a child cannot help but be in awe of the magnitude of the moment and its hint of the eternal; a brand new human life, once hidden and silent behind a veil of skin, suddenly there in front of you, wriggling, bloody, pink, and wailing. This illuminates a wonderful paradox of motherhood—it is at once fierce in its labor of love as the mother toils relentlessly through one contraction after the next to propel her child into the world, and yet soft, warm, and tender as she cradles the new life she has delivered.
This motherly fierceness/tenderness never ceases; think of the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her cubs or the Italian mother giving a piece of her mind to anyone foolish enough to wrong her son. Now think of the tenderness that only a mother can bestow; the gentle doting that we gratefully soak up when we are sick, the kisses and caresses we receive just for being a son or daughter, the hurt that our mother feels just as much as we do when we are suffering—mothers suffer not just beside us, but with us, helping us to navigate restless waters.
Mothers are therefore essential to building a culture of life. They nurture life in the womb and in their families and lovingly cultivate their homes, which in turn cultivates society. Mothers bring people alive by giving them an encounter with the Source of love, which is Christ—who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—the life-giving presence in all of us.
Mary, the mother of Christ, further illuminates another crucial aspect of motherhood in the Gospels. Luke 1:38 illustrates her example of gratitude and trust in the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” In saying this, Mary recognizes and acknowledges the Source of her child, entrusting him to God the Father.
Her trust is tested further in Luke 2:34-35 with Simeon’s prophesy regarding her son and herself: “This child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The unimaginable faith that she possessed to endure her own innocent son’s torture and crucifixion, at the very foot of his cross, no less (John 19:25), is a testament not only to the fierce lengths to which mothers will suffer with their children, but also to the trust they place in knowing that their children’s fates are ultimately in the Lord’s hands.
In the same way, all mothers are called to ultimately let their children go, entrusting them to the Father. Think of all the mothers who have lost their children to miscarriage, abortion, or untimely death, and of all mothers who are suffering because of their children’s estrangement from them. Even though their children are beyond their reach, they are mothers nonetheless who are called to follow the example of Mary and entrust their children to the Lord.
The unique, God-given capacity for motherhood that all women possess is something that our utilitarian culture tends to downplay and even treat with derision. This is tragic. When gender differences and the unique facets of humanity that emanate from womanhood (and manhood) are tamped down because of political correctness, everyone loses. The motherly instincts of women should instead be celebrated for the countless ways that they enrich all of our lives.
This Mother’s Day, let us thank God for the boundless blessings of all the mothers in our lives, both spiritual and physical.