By Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle
How wonderful that holy Mother Church upholds the dignity of women and motherhood. This fact alone should help us feel at peace in our hearts and souls knowing that our womanly gifts are fully recognized and that our loving service to our families is encouraged for its intrinsic beauty -- for all that it entails -- with all its challenges, sacrifices, deep and inexpressible joy, and at times, when hearts are pierced with sorrow when a mother loses a child to miscarriage or at any time after their child’s birth. Every moment of mothering is overflowing with grace and blessings in one form or another. It’s a vocation of unquestionable blessedness to a faithful woman who embraces her vocation.
Our late dear Pope John the Great expressed his deep and brilliant understanding of the human heart quite often in his encyclicals, letters, and to his audiences. In describing the many faceted duties of parenthood, he said in Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women): “The eternal mystery of generation, which is in God himself, the one and Triune God (cf. Eph. 3:14-15), is reflected in the woman’s motherhood and in the man’s fatherhood. Human parenthood is something shared by both the man and the woman. Even if the woman, out of love for her husband, says: ‘I have given you a child,’ her words also mean: ‘This is our child.’ Although both of them together are parents of their child, the woman’s motherhood constitutes a special ‘part’ in this shared parenthood, and the most demanding part. Parenthood – even though it belongs to both – is realized much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who ‘pays’ directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs her energies of her body and soul. It is therefore that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No program of ‘equal rights’ between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account.”
Dear Pope John Paul II was certainly a hero to mothers! Isn’t it so wonderful that he has asked men to consider all of woman’s services to life and take all of it into account? Further, he says that men actually owe a special debt to women! I find those words uplifting and amazing! Pope John Paul II so beautifully recognized and expressed what it means for a woman to give her body to God and to her husband so that it can be used to bring new life into the world. I love that Pope John Paul II was not afraid to acknowledge the fact that it is the woman pays directly with the selfless gift of her life and her own body. She is subject to wear and tear of body and spirit as she gives her “Yes!” to God to new life and the special role of her motherhood.
We can certainly understand the physical wear and tear we mothers experience as we house our unborn infants within our bodies and stretch beyond the point we imagined our bodies could possibly extend, and as we are sometimes subject to morning sickness, as well as the kicking and poking of little feet up under our rib cages keeping us up at night, and even sometimes when facing precarious health issues.
What about the wearing down of our spirits too? Yes, we women “pay” for bringing forth new life and the mother’s role in parenting is realistically the most demanding position in many ways. To add to that, our braising culture batters and bombards women with many misleading and confusing messages causing them at times to doubt their divine purpose in their vocations of motherhood. Even during an economic recession when jobs are difficult to be secured, our society still looks down their noses mockingly at the role of a faithful mother who is dedicated to raising her family within the guidelines of holy Mother Church. Our society and much that comes through the secular media imply that mothers should be searching for something much more satisfying than dishes, demands, and diapers within the confinement of the walls of the home. We do know though know that a mother’s role at the heart of the home is immensely more than merely doing housework and caring for the myriad of demands that come with the territory of raising a family today. It is a mission that is actually responsible for raising little saints to heaven! What can be more important than this?
This is what Pope John Paul II was talking about when he said, “It is the woman who ‘pays’ directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs her energies of her body and soul.” As well, women pay directly and dearly when they are ridiculed for their faithfulness and dedication because they have more children than the standardized one child or two children sized family that our society expects.
Discovering the Holy in the Ordinariness of Life
Yet, today’s Catholic mothers can rise above the onslaught of mixed messages and the downright belittling criticisms aimed at them from an ungodly culture and rally together to encourage one another in their roles as the hearts of their homes – actually on a journey together towards Heaven. Today’s Catholic mothers have many God-given gifts that are meant to be shared. They can come together physically or even through the Internet to compare notes, share ideas, encourage one another, and relish in their Catholic camaraderie. Some ways that this can be accomplished is through everyday encounters within our family and community and also in gathering together to study and share the faith. We can look to our Blessed Mother as a model to follow and the saints to emulate their virtues. A deep prayer life will give us the strength and faith to accomplish all that God wants to do through us. When we open our eyes to a new day each day, we should give our entire day over to the Lord and ask Him to use us for His glory. He will do the work and sometimes will give us the glimpses of amazing transformations occurring.
Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about looking to the example of the saints to “provide a credible and comprehensive answer to the human and spiritual questions which give rise to the deep crisis of the contemporary world: charity and truth.” He also mentioned that to follow the saints’ example is not necessarily an easy task, but indeed a necessary one for authentic Christian life.
Especially during this month of September, when we celebrate Blessed Teresa’s feast day on the 5th and “inspiration day” on the 10th when she received her “call within a call” from our Lord to serve the poorest of the poor, I can’t help but be reminded of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s teachings about our own individual call to holiness. She told us again and again that “Holiness is not a luxury of a few, but a duty for us all.” How do we become holy? One certain way is by being faithful to the nitty-gritty details of our lives with prayerful and loving hearts. Blessed Teresa reminded us that small things done with great love are works of peace. As mothers, we know that our days are chock full of small loving acts, many times unnoticed by others around us. But we must be convinced in our hearts that these seemingly tiny acts of love are actually huge in God’s eyes. He is the one who placed us in the hearts of our homes. Every little act of love can be redemptive and holy.
Let us go forward, then, each day – confident in our vocations of motherhood, striving to satiate the thirst of Jesus in all whom God has put in our midst, starting first within our own families and when all are satisfied, reaching out into our communities. By doing so, we will be helping to sanctify our families and others by our examples of love.
Oh dear Lord, allow us to be YOUR love to our families and others and help to bring countless souls to You! Amen.
(This article first appeared in the TORCH website for homeschooling families and is used by permission.)
Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is a Catholic wife, mother of five, catechist, award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and Lay Missionary of Charity. She is the author of "Catholic Prayer Book for Mothers", "The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home", and "Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers To Be" (with a foreword by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). All were endorsed by Blessed Teresa and blessed by Pope John Paul II. Her latest books are "Catholic Saints Prayer Book", "The Domestic Church: Room By Room: A Mother's Study Guide", and "Grace Café: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering". They are available through her website: www.donnacooperoboyle.com and she offers daily inspiration at her blogs: "Daily Donna-Marie: A Dose of Inspiration", "Embracing Motherhood," "Moments of Inspiration with Your Favorite Saints" and "View from the Domestic Church." Her work can be seen in several magazines, newspapers, and Catholic websites. Her forthcoming books are: "Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship" (September 09) and "The Heart of Catholicism" (July 2010).