It’s no mistake that the modern celebration of Mothers’ Day occurs in May – the month of Mary. Our heavenly mother is the model of motherhood from whom all – men and women alike – take inspiration.
We’ve often joked that it takes mere seconds to conceive a child but years of sleeplessness and self-denial to raise one. While that’s no exaggeration for fathers, it’s not quite true for mothers; their biological contribution extends beyond conception into pregnancy.
Every woman has within her body a womb whose purpose is the nourishment and protection of new life. That biological reality is also reflected in her spirituality and the way she relates to others.
A woman has a particular capacity to create a nourishing space within her life for others. Her feminine sensitivity and intuition equip her for emotional connection that is the external expression of her interior biology.
Because of this capacity, motherhood doesn’t have to involve the conception and birthing of children, although for many women it does. It is also expressed through spiritual motherhood: the mentoring of colleagues, the care of elders, the spiritual adoption of priests or religious missionaries, or in our case, the accompaniment of couples in their relationships.
Although crucial, biological motherhood is just one aspect of motherhood and the call of some women. On the other hand, spiritual motherhood is as demanding and rewarding, and is the vocation of every woman.
Mary as Mother
Catholics have long viewed the mother of Jesus as the perfection of womanhood. Mary so opened herself to the Lord, that the Word of God was literally conceived within her.
Mamma Mary – as our grandchildren call her – models for us perfect receptivity towards the Holy Spirit. Her abandonment to the Lord allowed her to become the mother of God.
This receptivity is the essence of the ‘Feminine Genius’ – a term used by St John Paul to describe the unique spiritual character of woman. It’s an active attentiveness and responsiveness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In this sense, Mary is the archetype of humanity and models for us humility and receptivity before God. Man and woman alike – all are called to draw inspiration from her for our spiritual life.
This is one reason why the Rosary is such a powerful prayer. No one knew Christ as intimately as did Mary. Through the Rosary, Mary leads us to her son, illuminating the mysteries of his life, death, and resurrection through the lens of her motherhood.
Perhaps no one better appreciates the gift of mothers than do fathers. Neither of us have been perfect parents but one thing has become increasingly clear – Byron will never be ‘mother’; it is, literally, just not in his DNA.
The difference in how we parent is profoundly distinct. The way Francine ‘mothers’ is both complementary to Byron’s fathering… and a complete mystery to him!
Whether one’s mother was loving or neglectful, absent, or simply unknown, no mother is perfect. We all carry the wounds of inadequate mothering that can be deeply painful.
We also carry the gift of life that was our mother’s supreme gift. With tens of millions of abortions each year, let’s not forget this most profound contribution – every single one of us owe our life to our mother.
We celebrate Mothers’ Day not as a way of promoting some unrealistic ‘hallmark’ perfection of motherhood. Rather, it is about acknowledging the unique role that women play in the nurture and development of human flourishing.
So, this Mothers’ Day, let’s celebrate all mothers – biological and spiritual – and pray a Rosary for the one who gave us life.