This Sunday is Mother’s Day, which means some 113 million cards will be sent throughout the country to thank the moms who gave us life and were, for many of us, our first tangible encounters of sacrificial love.
Of course, the Blessed Virgin is the perfect example of motherhood, and is the mother entrusted to all of us by Christ at his crucifixion.
As you celebrate the mother figures in your life this year, The Pillar brings you this Mother’s Day reading and watching list:
‘The human family is built upon mothers’
In his 2019 homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Francis reflected on the need for “maternal tenderness” to counter the type of avarice that puts profit ahead of people. He pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as an example of this tender maternal gaze:
A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is shortsighted. It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children. It will make money, but not for everyone. We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters. The human family is built upon mothers. A world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as mere sentiment may be rich materially, but poor where the future is concerned. Mother of God, teach us to see life as you do. Turn your gaze upon us, upon our misery, our poverty. Turn to us thine eyes of mercy.
‘We lived only for them’
St. Zelie Martin, canonized alongside her husband Louis in 2015, is perhaps best known as being the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux. Zelie raised at least one saint - another of her daughters also has an open canonization cause - and was a saint herself, but much of her life was consumed with the ordinary tasks of motherhood. Writings from Zelie during her life show her worrying about getting household chores completed on time and fretting about her children’s difficult behavior.
These concerns may be relatable to many moms. But in the midst of the day-to-day tasks of raising a family, Zelie managed to maintain her focus on heaven, remembering that motherhood is not just a chore, but a vocation. In one of her letters, she explains:
“When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. We lived only for them. They were all our happiness, and we never found any except in them. In short, nothing was too difficult, and the world was no longer a burden for us. For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.”
John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem - On the Dignity and Vocation of Women discusses the vocation of women to both biological motherhood and spiritual motherhood. Even women who are not called to be physical mothers can live out a rich a beautiful spiritual maternity, the pope says:
Spiritual motherhood takes on many different forms. In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society. 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). 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.
Beauty and suffering
In a 2009 event, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo spoke about one of the most difficult experiences of motherhood - the pain of losing a child. Despite the suffering of knowing that her daughter had a fatal disorder, she said she also found beauty in the gift of motherhood and saw the work of God in her daughter’s brief earthly life. She called the day of her daughter’s birth “one of the most beautiful days of my life.”
Chiara would go on to die in 2012 after delaying cancer treatment in order to carry a later child to term. Her beatification cause was opened in 2018.
‘The angels have not been blessed with such a grace’
Hungarian Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty is perhaps best known for his staunch opposition to facism and communism, which led to his torture, imprisonment, and exile. But the cardinal also wrote a book entitled Motherhood, and offered profound reflections on the role and vocation of mothers:
“The Most Important Person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body….The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation….What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother?”
Mothers-in-law ‘have given you everything’
During the course of his papacy, Pope Francis has been known to make a few jokes about mothers-in-law. But in his general audience just last week, the pope lamented the negative mother-in-law stereotype and urged people to cherish their mothers-in-law and try to bring them joy, particularly as they get older:
Happy Mother’s Day!