Motherhood is a vocation and a gift. It is a gift for the mother and for the child, and for everyone around them. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we take a look at some of the things great Catholic thinkers and saints have said about the beauty and gift of motherhood, both biologically and spiritually.
‘Woman’s destiny stems from eternity,’ Edith Stein once wrote. She said this in her essay The Spirituality of the Christian Woman, in which she explores the nature of the feminine vocation in its many facets and expressions.
One of the many beautiful things she says in this essay is that in a mysterious way the vocation of motherhood, both biologically and spiritually (although they’re not as separate as we think), mirrors the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit:
Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is deity, we find it again in woman’s destiny as “Mother of the Living”. The Spirit goes out of itself and enters into the creature as the begetting and perfecting fruitfulness of God; just so does woman bring forth new life from her life and helps the child to a most perfect development when he or she attains an autonomous existence.’
Mothers also have the special privilege of being ‘an essential organ of the fruitfulness of the Church,’ since they are able to impart ‘natural life and the life of grace’ upon her children.
St Thérèse of Lisieux loved her mother deeply. The death of Zélie Martin marked a profound change in the Little Flower, and she said in her autobiography that after that, ‘my happy character changed completely.’
Most of what she wrote is collected in her letters, revealing a deep thinker, a loving mother, and a woman whose soul yearned to be with the Lord. For her child, Zélie once said, the mother should be ‘a temple, a sanctuary, an altar, a tabernacle . . .’
In short, her life should be, so to speak, the life of a living sacrament, a sacrament in act, burying herself in the bosom of that God who has so truly instituted it and hallowed it, so that there she may draw that energy, that enlightening, that natural and supernatural beauty which He wills, and wills precisely by her means, to impart to the child she bears and to be born of her.’
The late Alice von Hildebrand grew up in Germany and, after fleeing the Nazis at the outbreak of World War II, eventually wound up in America where she married the famous German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. In their writings, we can find a wealth of reflection on the beauty of marriage and family, of sexuality, and of the immense privilege of being a woman or a man.
Alice von Hildebrand never had any children of her own. She once said, in an interview compiled by Plough, ‘If you don’t have children, for goodness sake don’t believe you have to give up on motherhood.’
‘Motherhood is not only biological maternity. It is spiritual maternity. There are hundreds of people all around who are desperately looking for a mother . . . I totally reject the idea that you are not a mother unless you have children of your own.’
From now on your daily prayer should be, “God, send me spiritual children and I will never turn any one of them down. The more the better.” Simple as that. Pray for the gift of spiritual children. It might very well be that in your beautiful desire to be a biological mother you have overlooked cases where you could have become a spiritual mother. Many of my students became my spiritual children, even though they were young adults already.’
She believed that motherhood was the very essence of femininity. ‘You are called to motherhood right now,’ she said. ‘Not next week, not next month. I’m absolutely convinced that God has placed people in your path and called you to motherhood . . . Your task is to love those that are weak, unhappy, helpless, and unloved.’
‘A number of people have come to me to tell me about their problems,’ she said. ‘I listen to them. And I love them. And I say very little. But they know that I care for them. In this sense, I have become their mother.’
A very happy and blessed Mother's Day to all mothers, and to all the special women whose love has formed and nurtured us over the years!
Christian Bergmann17 May 2022