Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Review of The Heart of Motherhood
The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home
WRITTEN BY Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
Review by Lorraine Williams that appeared in "Catholic Insight" a Canadian magazine
The search for a meaningful present for a daughter, granddaughter, relative or friend can be daunting. However, the good news is the search is ended with this delightful and deceptively simple book. How often does a reviewer get to read a book by an author whose writings have been endorsed both by our late Pope John Paul II and blessed Mother Teresa? Yet Cooper O’Boyle, a Lay Missionary of Charity, was able to obtain their blessing on her works when she submitted portions of her manuscript for their comments. Her devotion both to the Holy Father and to Mother Teresa shines through the pages of her book.
Just what is it that Cooper O’Boyle is trying to tell us? Her reflections on mothering are really applications of St. Theresa’s (The Little Flower) Little Way---the offering to God of every single moment of the chaos, rewards, sufferings, satisfactions, joys and disappointments experienced in the average home where parents are raising children. And it is evident from the narration that Cooper O’ Boyle knows all about it. This is a young wife and mother raising five children and having to content with the influence of the outside world on what she describes as her personal “domestic church.”
She first of all challenges modern parenting myths. “Remember that we are parents, not the best friends” of our children. This means that one is always ready to be open and listen to them, but must always “hold tight to our values and teachings of the truth about God … We have the immediate duty to instill the proper teachings into our children.” She adds a cautionary note---we are not to water those truths down!
Throughout this book, the author reminds mothers to turn to Mary when days are difficult. She quotes from the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity---”Indeed, while leading a life common to us, one filled with family concerns and labours, Mary was always intimately united in Christ, furthering the work of the Saviour.” She quotes from saints such as Bernadine of Siena and Louis de Montfort who remind us that “Mary’s holy feet crushed the head of the Serpent.” Thus Satan can never have power over us if we pray. By inculcating our children with a love for the recitation of the Rosary, we can be assured of Mary’s help in times of temptation. She is the best role model a mother can have.
Cooper O’Boyle warns that prayer with children should never be forced to the point where they turn against it. This delicate balance requires judiciousness and patience on the part of the parents.
The text is sprinkled with quotes from Bless Mother Teresa. One that informs the author---and the reader---about how Mary models to us the concept of selfless love is the episode when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth: “Our Lady, the most beautiful of all women, the greatest, the humblest, the most holy, the moment she felt she was full of grace, full of Jesus, went in haste---and here she is a model to all women---by sharing immediately what she had received.” Thus, the author points out, is how God has fashioned a woman’s heart---to be nurturing and giving.
Cooper O’Boyle stresses the need for personal and family prayer. It is in this way that the family can become a “holy family” unto its own. Again she quotes Blessed Teresa as to how to turn action into prayer. “Love cannot remain by itself---it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service. How do we put the love for God into action? By being faithful to our family, to the duties that God has entrusted to us.” Was there ever sounder advice? Establishing the routine of making a Morning Offering every day transforms our actions into prayer. As Cooper O’Boyle puts it, “our life becomes a prayer.”
Helping our children individually realize the enormity of God’s love for us is accomplished one person at a time. Blessed Teresa is again an example for mothers, as she extended loving hands and a selfless heart to each person she met. Very seldom did she address mass crowds.
The chapter dealing with Family Prayer is very beautiful. It talks about the importance of children seeing their mother and father at prayer. “By praying with and in front of our children, from an early age we will lay down a very important foundation that ill remain with them throughout life.” This complements Cooper O’Boyle’s belief that establishing Family Nights once a week will lead to the fulfillment of Pope John Paul’s sentiment that “if the family is the place where children first encounter the world, the family must be for children the first school of peace.”
This little book is sprinkled with concrete suggestions as to how to foster all the above virtues that build one’s personal “domestic church.” There is also realistic attention paid to the fact that we all can experience the “splinters of the Cross” in our role as parents. Again, faith and love will carry us through these moments of trial and suffering.
At the conclusion of the book, the author reminds mothers (and all parents) that “When we draw our dying breath in this earthly life, we will not be judged by how many projects we completed, how far up the ladder we managed to climb, or how many careers we succeeded at; rather we will be judged only and explicitly by how we loved.”
Though this book in parts seems repetitious, it is never tedious or condescending. It reiterates truths that need to be heard over and over, because mothering can be so all-consuming at times, that one can lose touch with its spiritual side. Another helpful component of the book’s structure is that each of its ten chapters ends with prayers echoing the theme of that chapter. As a mother of five, I’m grateful for this book, because even though my children are grown and out of the house, I can still apply the principles so clearly delineated here.