Spiritual Maternity

Last summer, we were introduced to a beautiful Catholic family. While meeting the children one by one, a Sister began guessing their names by the hints they gave her. “It starts with a ‘J’, and I’m not a martyr!” said the clever 8-year old boy. “John!” Sister was confident she’d pegged Jesus’ Beloved Apostle. “No…guess again!” “Hmmm…Joseph?” “Yes!” It was great fun, especially for 4-year-old Matthias, who wanted to “help” by blurting out the names of his siblings “accidentally”, happy to fight off their hands as they attempted to cover his mouth. “No Sister…the twins are Felicity and Anastasia!” Their mother held up her youngest for us to coo at, little Cyprian, all of 6-months-old, as he ferociously sucked on his dimpled hands. It seems the Roman Canon had been their “Baby Book”!

Sister stood up, and looking over this sweet Litany of Saints, caught sight of the eldest, Agnes, who was bright eyed and fourteen. After chatting a bit, she shared, “When I was your age, I thought I’d have a family just like yours.”

“You did? What changed your mind?”

“The Lord offered me every child to love, as if they were my own. Can you believe it?”

Delighted with the prospect, Agnes opened her arms and with a precious grin replied, “Well…that makes me yours!”

This encounter makes John Paul II’s words in Mulieris Dignitatum, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, n. 21, come alive:

“Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity. In marriage this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity this readiness is open to all people who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse… In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’(Mt 25:40).”

We wonder at the lived experience of spiritual maternity, its exquisite beauty, inexplicable intimacy and vast reach. Within His Divine plan, God chose to inspire, that is, to breathe into the heart of every woman the desire for love and its expression, to make the total and sincere gift of herself. These desires are intricately linked to her feminine identity. And so when a woman is presented with the invitation from God to the consecrated life, to become the Bride of Christ and the spiritual mother of souls, she comes to know and to believe that these deep felt longings will now be realized supernaturally. The renunciation of physical motherhood, which involves great sacrifice, “makes possible a different kind of motherhood, motherhood ‘according to the Spirit’.” (cf. Rom. 8:4) (MD, n. 21) Jesus said in St. Mark’s Gospel that there is no one who has left children for his sake, or for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold in this life, and eternal life in the life to come. (cf Mark 10:31)

One “yes” of a woman to her husband and a husband to his wife, made in love and mutual self-giving, can bring into the world an immortal soul, a new person bearing a unique imprint of the Divine. They become co-creators with Almighty God.  It is a great and holy privilege, the entrustment of new life to woman, as each person comes into this world beneath the beating heart of a mother.

As for the Spouse of Jesus and her Divine Bridegroom, this union of a spiritual nature consists in a daily, total receptivity to the Lord, to His love and His will for her. Her yeses made in love and trust are fruitful and life-giving in time and in heaven. She willingly makes sacrifices for those seen and unseen, known and unknown, born and unborn. The consecrated religious nurtures the life of Christ in the souls of those she cares for, laboring to bring them to that new birth our Lord explained to Nicodemus by night, one of the Spirit and unto eternal life. She calls upon the grace held out for her to imitate Jesus in loving unconditionally, inviting, teaching, and affirming those she serves.

As a mother kisses scraped knees and makes them better, a Sister spiritually tends wounds, and by her offerings made to the Father of all, scoops up the fallen ones, the weak, and the forgotten and cradles them within her heart by her prayers. To mother others is to make of your heart a home, a safe haven and refuge from the storms of life where those who approach feel they are seen, heard and safe. 

With her openness, she lives as if there is always “room at the inn,” perceiving Christ in every person. She receives those who are unexpected with joy; welcomes those whom she did not plan for, and engages those who elicit her attention and energies as images of God and children of God, sacred and beloved.

In this way, she makes reparation for the use of contraception and works against the influences of its mentality working within her- where anything or anyone that counters “my” plans is perceived as a burden, an inconvenience, or a threat to my identity, my freedom and ultimately, my happiness.

It is a love that is real, but inexplicable. Over and over, bonds will form, even though I have only just met you, even though there are marked differences of culture/background/experiences/ religious belief. There is an unspoken understanding of mutual entrustment and a sense of solidarity. I am entrusted to you and you, to me. We are together, walking hand in hand.

Cardinal O’Connor, our founder, said that the Sisters of Life are called “to mother the mothers of the unborn, to mother the unborn; to mother all of those who are frail, all of those who are vulnerable, all of those who are ill, all of those who are in danger of being put to death, all those whose lives the world considers useless.”

On this Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, give yourself permission to approach Mary as your Mother. Place yourself in a scene from the Gospels, perhaps the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Watch as Mary, obeying the law, offers her first-born Son to the Father…listen to Simeon’s prophesy about her, that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart that the thoughts of many would be revealed. And ponder it in your heart.

“ My Queen, my Mother, I give myself entirely to you, and to show my devotion to you… I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my whole being without reserve. Wherefore, good Mother, as I am your own, keep me and guard me as your property and possession. Amen.”