In this fair month of May when we celebrate motherhood in a special way, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I have been realizing and experiencing my own maternal nature and instincts. It wasn’t until quite recently that I have thought of myself as having motherly qualities and indeed being a mother in spirit. It has come with my maturing in the faith, with understanding who I am and who God created me to be, with learning what it truly means to be a woman, with developing a closer relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary and taking her as my model, and with coming to a real appreciation for how very precious life is and how very good God is.
For many years, I had no wish to be a mother. In fact, I was often quite hostile to the idea. There was a time when I would sooner have had a abortion than had a child. And yes, I would have considered it my right, the safeguard of my freedom. How very deceived I was! How very ignorant and at war with my own nature.
Now everything is so different. I see womanhood and motherhood being so intrinsically linked. I may not have children, but I still have many ways of expressing, exercising, and exploring my own motherhood.
I am not one of those people who think that animals can substitute for children, but I have learned some valuable lessons from caring for my two cats. Lessons of joy and being childlike of course. Also lessons of selflessness, patience, and forbearance. There’s nothing like coming home after a long, stressful day and just wanting to kick off your shoes and collapse into your favorite chair… only to find a great big yucky hairball on your favorite chair. And better yet, to get one mess cleaned up only to have another pop up somewhere else. But you look into those little green eyes and somehow you manage to just overlook the messes and the tiredness and the drudgery. Poof! They vanish.
Oh, and the expenses these little furballs can incur–I often feel that I spend more money on them than on myself. That can cause some dismay… for a moment. These little ones have nobody else on whom they can depend, apart from the good Lord Himself. When I think of how well He has provided for me, who am I to begrudge what I have, even to lesser creatures? God is much more superior to me than I am to my cats. At least the cats and I share the status of corporeal, mortal, finite creatures. If God loves, has mercy upon, and provides what is so small, should we not do the same?
Sure, animals aren’t people. But in our interactions with them and attitudes toward them, we can learn how to be human, how to love, how to be motherly and fatherly. As I wrote to one of my friends/commentors on another post, if we can’t love in small ways, how will we ever learn to love in great ways? The smallest acts of steadfastness, patience, self-giving, tenderness, empathy, and intuition can bear good and lasting fruit. They can grow and flourish and spill over into our relationships with other people, and with God too.
How often do I meditate upon the Incarnation and the Nativity of the Lord and picture my Lord, God, King, and Savior as a tiny, helpless babe. How often do I long to cradle Him in my arms. Or even when meditating upon the Passion and gazing upon the Crucifix, how often do I wish I were strong enough to bear away some of His pain and agony. Of course, it’s all I can do just to bear the much smaller and fleeting discomforts of my own unarguably comfortable life. Oh, and nothing is so dear to me as receiving Him in Communion! How often am I lost in wonder at the blessed union! For those precious moments, I can experience bearing Him in my own body just as the Blessed Mother did! All I want is to offer Him a good, pure, and loving place within me. No filth of sin, no weakness of constitution. Just a beautiful, firm, and worthy sanctuary within.
I think back also to October 2007, when I spent time caring for my parents. It was truly such a privilege for me. It was an act of filial love, but also drew upon my maternal instincts as well. I was actually quite nervous going into the situation. Worried that I would be inadequate. I mean, me caring for the two people who have always cared for me and given so greatly and freely of themselves to me my entire life… that was a huge deal, and a huge first. But something within me responded… something graceful, peaceful, and self-assured. A well of calmness and understanding. It bore me up whenever I felt overwhelmed.
I feel it stir within me pretty often, when I think about it. I often lie awake late into the night, thinking of family, friends, and other people in my life. Sometimes I feel consternation because I don’t know what I can really do for them… other than pray. So I do pray. And that well comes bubbling up, reassuring me that I am doing something for them, that my love and concern are not bound by the material world with its time and space, they are not limited to sheer physical action. And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply entrust our loved ones to God. After all, none of us belongs entirely to each other; we all belong to God. I have learned this from my own parents. My own mother and father have been in situations when they could only pray and trust in God. Situations I put them in. And pray and trust they did. And their prayers have been answered, perhaps more abundantly than they ever expected. Their prayers and trust in God have helped to give me new life, and I trust that my prayers and trust will do the same for all of my loved ones.
Since returning to the Church, I have developed a particular love for our priests and seminarians. I’ve been blessed to get to know and interact with a number of these gentlemen, each his own unique person, yet all of them among the brightest, kindest, most dedicated, most courageous, and most generous people I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be impressed, and really quite proud! I certainly regard them as my fathers and brothers in spirit, but I also feel a certain kind of affection, concern, pride, desire for their success, and longing to provide them support which I can only describe as “maternal.” With priests, of course, a lady must observe a certain prudent reserve, out of respect for their consecration to the Church and for the sake of their purity and good reputation, as well as her own. I suppose it is not too different from the more reserved love and admiration a mother feels for an adult son. Oh, I would be so happy to see any biological, adopted, or spiritual son of mine join the ranks of the priesthood! In the meantime, it gives me joy to support all of our current and future priests (as well as those who may be in Purgatory) with prayers, letters, attention, and when possible, the odd bit of material assistance.
Last but not least, there are the souls of the little innocents, those tiny victims of abortion. Since becoming more involved in the pro-life movement, I have thought a great deal about those little ones. I sense their presence around me sometimes, like little starbursts of pure light and life and love and warmth. No poor, unhappy, desolate souls, these! They live in the presence of God and His mother, amid the angels and the saints. It’s a marvelous example of God transforming evil into good. We may mourn, but they do not. Still, I feel like they do love, appreciate, and respond to the maternal and paternal love of we who live on earth. They love being loved by us. They love being regarded as the eternal children they are. And what joy they give in return, and what encouragement! This blessed army of little souls will help lead us to victory. And they will plead on our behalf when we reach Heaven, just as we’ve tried to plead on their behalf on earth.
Wow. Taking time to write all of this has made me even more aware of how very rich and blessed my life is. When my dear Patrick passed away a little over 4 years ago, I thought my life was over. Part of mourning my loss of him was mourning my loss of ever becoming a mother. Motherhood was narrowly defined as conceiving and bearing and raising a child of my own. But as you see, motherhood is something much greater than that. It is something every woman has simply because she is a woman. Of course, having children of one’s own is a very special blessing. But we needn’t feel bereft or inferior or desolate if we don’t have biological children. There are so many people who need our special kind of love and devotion and nurturing and womanly genius, and even other creatures and God Himself are not beyond the sphere of motherly love!
Oh… life and love and humanity are truly wondrous and endless treasures! We have only to open our eyes, hands, and hearts!