The Glories of Motherhood: An Appreciation for Mothers
On Mother’s Day, women across America will wake up to breakfast in bed, overpriced (don’t tell my wife I said that) bouquets, and sappy cards made by Hallmark. For those who want to write their own card, Hallmark even has a list of ideas of what one can write in it. Some include:
Sorry if I drove you crazy sometimes—but you know I only do that to people I love!
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. Every day I’m thankful you’re mine.
You’re my mom. You’re my friend. You’re everything to me.
Mama, you often stood between me and the unfair stuff. Thank you for protecting my spirit.
Mama, your love speaks to each of us in just the way we need.
The great shame, of course, is that none of these will do justice to the task, cross, and adventure that is motherhood. It is all the more necessary to reflect on these in a modern society which too often wants to avoid motherhood and sees it as an impossible burden.
It is true that motherhood is a burden, but not an impossible one. Medieval writers often delighted in suggesting that women were naturally more inclined to God and Christianity than men. One reason for this is the way that sacrifice is written into a mother’s very life. The burden of motherhood is part of the glory of motherhood, in the same way the burden of the cross became the road to Our Lord’s glory. In the 20th century, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote:
A woman is capable of more sustained sacrifice than man. Man is more apt to be the hero in one great, passionate outburst of courage. But a woman is heroic through the years, months, and even seconds of daily life, the very repetition of her toils giving them the semblance of the commonplace. Not only her days but her nights, not only her mind, but her body, must share in the Calvary of Mothering.
A man is more likely to screw his courage up for one major act of sacrifice, but a woman is more likely to sacrifice herself in a hundred small ways every day. The endurance of pregnancy, the pains of childbirth, the struggles of motherhood, the slow days and the anxious ones: all are part of the small daily sacrifices mothers undergo. The spiritual mother St. Teresa of Calcutta once said that we cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Men need to be reminded of this, but every mother instinctively knows it.
Our Lady knew it from the beginning. The Angel Gabriel told her she would bear the Son of God, and her reply was simple and direct: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” God asked Mary to give Him a human nature. Every mother who bears a child today follows, in a sense, the act of Mary. This is because the bearing of a child is not only a natural act, but a supernatural one. Every mother co-operates with God in the creation of a human being, the mother conceiving and God infusing a human soul.
That human being, that child, is made for eternal glory. And a mother will see through that task at whatever the cost to herself. St. Monica is the famous example for all mothers. She brought her son into the world, but that son seemed destined for perdition rather than salvation. Nonetheless, she refused to give up on him, following him around the Mediterranean, no matter how hard he tried to escape from her. She prayed for him, wept over him, and suffered for love of him. A sympathetic priest once reassured her that a son of so many tears could never perish. He did not, by the grace of God, but also by the tears and prayers of his mother. She prayed and sacrificed for seventeen long years before he converted.
Like St. Monica, a mother is, to her children, an image of the mercy of God. Monica would not give up on her son. God will not give up on us. We know this by faith, but sometimes faith also needs a glimpse of sight. Mothers provide that sight: the love for their children regardless of their failings, and their mercy for their children, are only a pale but also tangible image of God’s love and mercy for His children.
An old story holds that a man visited three men at work in a quarry. The day was brutally hot and the work backbreaking. He asked the first man what he was doing. The man snapped at him, “What do you think I’m doing?! I’m cutting these blasted rocks in the blazing sun; it’s terrible work.” The visitor moved on to the second man and asked him what he was doing. The second man replied, a little wearily, “I’m moving these blocks and cutting them according to the supervisor’s instructions. It’s tiring work, but honest work. Supports the wife and kids too.” Finally, the visitor moved on to the third worker and asked what he was doing. The third worker replied, “Can’t you see man, I’m building a Cathedral!”
Mothers (and fathers) may sometimes feel like the first man. But every dirty diaper changed, every late night, every story read (sometimes three times too many), every Sunday Mass struggled through, is not the merely cutting of stones, but the building of a Cathedral: the development of a child into an adult who, God willing, shall one day wear the eternal crown of sainthood.