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05. The Mother

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

The Mother


Chapter Five of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

Take me upon thy mottled wings, O rushing fantasy, and carry me back to the vanished days of flowery springs, to the first days of the spring of life. Childhood and youth, do return if it be for but a moment. Golden days full of fabulous dreams, rock me to sleep.

The Broken Down Bridge

The backward glance makes us realize with dismay how the joy is hidden in the fog. I like to go back to the memories of early youth, to a person rummaging about in the ruins of a destroyed house. For some, life has destroyed everything. Their days of childhood are like to a house of the blessed, whose all has been swept away from their gates by the flood.

Far, far away is everything that once I called my own. But the memories of youth press down upon me and strengthen me, like to the night light of a house on the shore, which casts a glow upon the dark waters and is there reflected. These memories must not be ignored. They awaken in the small hours of night and sometimes even in the brightness of day. They come sometimes one by one, but sometimes like a swarm of silly butterflies.

The days of youth return to me,
When I think of my childhood days;
As if gentle spring wakened me
With its soft breath upon my face.

(Petofi, Childhood Days.)

What a comforting feeling for us who have been persecuted by the pack of hungry days, to turn back to childhood days, like a frightened hare, which has barely gained the safety of its burrow.

O happy childhood
Wonderful, sacred, magic dream.

(Farkas Imre.)

With tremulous steps and open eyes the tired soul follows the traces of a better world.

On a small bench before the house
In the shade of the ancient trees
Mother told a story.
I placed my head upon her knees
And harkened breathless, listened long.
'Twas wonderful, a fairy tale.

(Posa Lajos.)

Would that it were granted me to recall the vanished past, to hear that soft silvery sound again, and to regain that smile of childhood. Though we be condemned to the quarry of life, though we be cast out, and made to drink the chalice of bitterness to the very dregs, yet when the days of childhood call us home, then the heart and countenance of the eternal, beautiful, good, helpful God beckons us at the beginning of our journey.

I do not wish to take my readers into the land of unreality, no, I would like to lead you into the reality of life. In the serious book of life, a book for everyone, I would, as it were, in a sacred poem, bring before your eyes, the height and depth, the beauty and greatness of the vocation of motherhood. I would like to point this out to the noble women and chaste girls and even the prodigal sons of our country, to have them understand how great this dignity is and what a precious treasure motherhood can be. Perhaps then they will be inwardly moved, perhaps then they will burn and glow and begin to make this miracle of life come true.

The Pen Trembles

I think of you, I dream of you, angel guardian of my childhood. My pen trembles, my heart beats faster, when I write the word "Mother," The vanished glory of the past comes to mind, as if a hand out of the foggy mists were beckoning to me. Memories of sunny spring days and memories of the loving hands of mother, carefully watching over me, these memories rush upon me and set the cords of my soul atremble.

Who can fully probe the meaning of the word Mother? Whose eyes are not wet with tears when thinking of her, when remembering that she loved her child from the first moment of its existence. She smiled like a sun beam at the babe in its crib. She wept and was full of worry when her little one was sick and suffering pain. Whose heart is not full of sadness remembering the days of childhood, when mother was everything to us? Perhaps for some this was the first and only happiness in life.

It is good to remember those days, when happiness and brightness surrounded us, when worry and care could not touch us, because mother was there to keep them away from the isle of childhood.

Who can answer what it means to be a mother? Old and young students in their years of study, have learned and forgotten many definitions. I have sought an answer for a long time and cannot forget it, for it is difficult to find. If we could gather together all that Petofi wrote when away from home, all that Toth Kalman sings about mother, if we could add thereto the tears of the orphan shed at the grave of mother, we would have but a faint picture of mother. When we listen to the folk songs and give ear to the great poets of the people, when we note the remarkable reverence educators have for her, does this give us a full picture of the Mother? If we could see into the crushed soul of a mother visiting her wayward son condemned to prison, would we have a full picture of her? When we remember the countless hours a mother spends at the sick bed of her child, when we read the story of the proud mother of the Roman Gracchi, when we place the loving heart of Elizabeth Szilagyi or Helen Zriny beside the loyalty of a working woman who slaves night and day for her loved one, have we yet fathomed The Mother? Finally were we to show you the world famous statue of a mother in the cemetery at Genoa, and above them all, were we to place the image of the Madonna, then we might have a slight idea of the meaning of mother. But even then we would not have sounded the depths of motherhood.

The Most Beautiful Word

We must approach the mother herself, for a mother is not understood but loved. Her kiss, the tear in her eye, her prayer, tell you what mother is-mother, lovely mother. How limitless the meaning of these few words. There is magic in them.

A number of children are tired of their game. They want to learn a new game. So they decide on this. "Everyone must try to find the most beautiful word in the world," one suggests and continues: "When father comes home he will decide who has found it." All agree.

Both boys and girls take pencil and paper, look for a quiet corner where no one can see what they write. They think and ponder and finally put down the chosen word. After the evening meal, father is to make the final decision. After a pause he says: "The most beautiful word is Mother." The little seven-year-old boy has won.

Tell me can you find a word,
replete with music and sound,
adorned with legend and song,
full of smiles and tear drops,
wrought of treasures and fine pearls,
bright with sun rays and moonbeams,
that reflects the sea, with the scent of roses,
yet full of tearful yearning and longing,
search the world, ne'er will you find another
word, as precious, fine and pure as, "mother"

(Vitnyedi Nemeth Istvan)

This word has its own special sound in every language. It weeps and laments like a distant magic trumpet, it rejoices like the small golden bells in the chimes, and when we pronounce this word our heart is on our lips. There is in it the laughter of childhood, even when spoken by an old man. Is there a creature to whom we are bound more intimately, heart and soul, than mother? Is there another word that can move us more deeply? The longer we live, the more the world unfolds before us, the more we are overcome with the wonder of motherhood. The more we learn about life, the more beautiful and more replete with meaning is the word "Mother." What is Mother?

Thou art the source from which I sprang
Thou art the root from which I grew.
Thou, O mother, art the threshold
Over which I passed into life.

(Bisztray Gyula)

The mother-so I read-is the fire, the children the light. By the brightness of the light, we know how great is the fire.

The mother is the vine, the children the branches. By the branches we judge the value of the vine.

The mother is the tree of life, the children the fruit. The Saviour said: "By their fruits you shall know them."

The mother is the clock, the children the hands. They point out the time.

The mother is the pen, the children the script. By the writing you recognize the writer.

The mother is the rudder, the children the boat. The boat goes wherever the rudder directs.

The mother is the queen, the children the subjects. Under the scepter of a wise mother, the children are satisfied and happy.

The mother is the great enigma and mystery. The happiness of mankind, the sufferings of mankind vibrate and tremble in that one word, Mother.

Angel guardian! not I, but the great Augustine and Ozanam, called you by that name O Mother! Angel guardian, under whose outspread wings we are safely hidden, and under whose care we will find the right road in spite of the precipice and abyss. Mother, you are a ray of Divine Providence, the watchful eye of our Guardian Angel.

But these are only pictures and comparisons. No one can ever tell what mother means to him. But one thing he is sure of, that after God, mother is his greatest grace and blessing.

Mother is a sacred word, a blessed name, which is already on our lips when we can barely lisp. Enshrined deeply within the heart, it will remain as long as the heart beats.

It is a sacred and blessed name, extending beyond the grave, because it is the herald of earth's most priceless pearl, mother-love.

The Greatest Vocation

If I would explain this short word, then I must listen to reason as well as to my heart. Wonderful calling, sharing the power of God in giving life. To be a mother, according to Lovich Ilona, means to accept a child from the hand of God. To be a mother means to give life, to become a servant to the weak and small baby. To be a mother means to comfort and help. Mothers are on earth to ameliorate suffering and help bear it.

Motherhood is a call to love and service. She is ever giving service. During her girlhood she prepares her soul for this sacred service. She is the servant, when she like the handmaid of the Lord, carries life in her bosom, when she gives birth to it, and gives service from morning till night. She sacrifices her patience, love, health and life. She presses you to her heart-what a beautiful expression-she watches over you. She teaches you to talk, to love and laugh. In the cold of winter she warms your tiny fingers in her hands. She feeds you milk as an infant, and bread when you have grown; in fact, she gives life always. When you lisp "Mother" and she answers "My baby," even God must rejoice in His soul.

There are sacrifices which only a mother can make. The happiness of hope and the bitterness of worry only a mother can feel to its utmost depth. This word stands for wonderful steadfastness, forgiving goodness, inexpressible love and ineffable sacrifices. There is no other dignity which can crown woman with greater dignity than the dignity of motherhood, the greatest gift that a woman could receive. By her motherhood she even outranks man.

How wonderful is motherhood!
Others may love, caress you
But mother alone knows you.
She works for you,
She watches over you,
She loves you too.
She forgives all you do
For she understands you.
But once she is unjust to you:
She weakens, dies, departs from you.

(Baroness of Hutten: Mother)

No one has as yet encompassed the meaning of a mother's love. Occasionally we imagine we have grasped her glory momentarily. We think we have found a proper setting for her like the setting for a pearl. Then suddenly the thought eludes us. All our words are but guess-work about this mystery of life, glorious motherhood.

Woman outgrows her sensuality, and new feelings awaken in her, when once she has passed over the threshold of motherhood. No matter how low a woman may have fallen, as mother she is sacred. This great sacred mystery, which envelops the soul of a mother, leads the soul of man to God, by power of that love, which gives life to an unknown being. She, filled with the spirit of sacrifice, cares for and watches over this bit of humanity, offering light and warmth from her own heart, so that having grown up, like the calyx of a flower it will turn to God, the Sun, from which all life flows.

The Inner Chamber

The sphere of action and the radiation of motherhood knows no interruption. A mother's care for her child never ceases. Life comes forth from her bosom and under her care it grows. The silent heart of the mother works within the inner chamber of history, unnoticed and yet indispensable. From within she guides and conquers history. When Maria Theresa, mother of the empire and mother of many children, found her country in dire need, she appeared before the assembled nobility, and held up her child in appeal for aid. They were so moved that they resolved to give their blood and life for this mother.

The vocation of motherhood stretches beyond the limited framework of nature. We cannot place her within the mere confines of birth and death. The fullness of life comes from God and must return to Him. The mother receives the new life directly from the hands of God when it begins to show life beneath her heart. Humbly yet proudly the brave mother of the Machabees said: "I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I frame the limbs of any one of you, but the Creator of the world." So the words of the poet are true, when he says: "God loves us through the heart of the mother." (Szekely Laszlo.) Hers is a great and wonderful love which reaches the love of the heart of God. We can truly say: The love of a mother is the revelation of the love of God.

So I can understand, and do not consider it an exaggeration, what the French writer Henry Bordeaux says about his mother: "Have you ever noticed the blue foggy vapor on a fine summer's day, when it hovers along the edge of the mountain? Through this vapor we see the beauty of the earth in a lovelier light. Could we place this diaphanous veil over the face of mother, her beauty would be even greater, her eyes would glow more winningly, she who cannot believe the evil that is in you. What unexpected power streams out of her to meet us. By that mysterious inner current she draws everything within her circle of influence.

Children recognize something sacred in mother, even though she has occasionally shown anger and displeasure. But they should follow the example of the artist who can look around the world and, in spite of all the imperfections, seek and see only the eternally beautiful. Raphael has painted many Madonnas. He tells us how he started. He saw many mothers and studied them carefully and long. When he discovered some beautiful feature he sketched it, and like the bee, he gathered all the beautiful features together and painted the picture of the Mother of all men.

The Light From Beyond

However, not every great and passionate mother-love is in itself a supernatural virtue. Mother-love is a requirement of nature and in the giving it is self-love. It becomes a disorderly, sensual love when the child is loved only because it has beauty and grace. This is a love that even animals can possess. Mother-love has been created by God. Through original sin in Paradise it has divided into two streams. The inordinate earthly love is one, the other is the love sanctified by Christ. This love puts aside all selfishness, it is ready to give its love even to a child which may be repugnant to her natural feelings. But such a love can come only from faith.

Friendship, conjugal love, and every other noble sentiment between people, is small and insignificant in comparison with mother-love. For her the earth has no limitations. She is unselfish in renunciation, she can suffer and smile because she loves. How difficult it is for us to renounce something for God's sake, even though our aim is high. She renounces all the glory of the world for us. The child becomes her second, more valuable self. For the child she is selfish, for herself unselfish. She feels like the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Her sons must come to the front, to the very top and be entirely happy. The Lord condemned every kind of selfishness severely, but He treated this mother with mildness. The song of love in the Scriptures says: "Charity is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil, beareth all things, endureth all things." True mother-love is so unselfish, that she is ready to pardon the child at once even though the child has grieved her. Every pain of the child is another faggot added to the flames of her mother-love, every danger increases her love. "Charity is patient, is kind, charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, charity never falleth away." The faith of a mother turns into intuition, her hope is partly rewarded but her love for God and her children endures forever. As the sun gives light without ceasing so mother's love goes on and on.

To mother has been given the task to fight and wrestle for others and to find joy in their happiness. She lives in the world but is not of the world. Eotvos said: "Since she has become mother, she knows nothing to hope for, for herself. She has begun a new life and her soul no longer inhabits her body. She has renounced the world. To her the world is dead, so that she can create a new world, namely, a family for this new and small human being. Here she seeks and finds the goal of her life, her only treasure, her complete satisfaction in the child. It is the joy of heart, the life of her soul, the crowning of her hopes, it is her one and all, her complete fulfillment!"

Blessed By God

In his wisdom the Creator granted her everything necessary for her great task, for her glorious vocation. This calling required a love that is solicitous, loyal, ready for every sacrifice day or night, a love that could only find its habitation in the heart of a mother. It requires a lively imagination, an instinct which interprets the child's needs, an intimate, gentle and simple disposition, that enables her to put herself into the small world of the child with an understanding love that feels and lives with the child. This call from God presupposes a heart that sympathizes with the thousand and one pains and needs of the child, and a sense for cleanliness and order, and a watchful eye for neatness in dress. In a word she must make the home livable. She should have a happy disposition and know how to laugh and play and romp with the child. She should find pleasure in listening to the prattle of the little one and finally-why not mention it-she should have a certain amount of curiosity, which all the daughters of Eve have in a great measure, inherited from the first mother. If God had not placed this virtue-or call it vice-in the soul of woman, how could she understand the everlasting inquisitiveness of her child who is continually making excursions of discovery in this new world and never tires of asking questions.

Endowed with these gifts, the mother is a blessing from the good God; she is of greatest comfort to all, in this vale of tears. She is to be the guide and direct us when we wander from the right path. When we fall, she raises us up, when we are despondent she gives us new courage. She sweetens our life upon earth, and by her magic she intertwines roses among the thorns of life. Our lot in this world may be a hard one. We may sometimes imagine that nature is heartless and cruel. We may not understand how God created this world out of love, but these difficulties should not disturb or embitter us. For in the midst of the world God has put love in the heart of mother. The bread of exile tastes sweet when a loving hand gives it to us. The value of a treasure is better estimated when it is weighed on a scale or submitted to the rays of light. So the actions of loving hands are more appreciated by the soul when we sit down and quietly ponder them.

It is well for us to keep in mind the days that are past and gone. We should bathe our souls in the beautiful memories of mother. We should study the life of mother. It is an enjoyable task and a source of great pleasure. The heart of man is elated, and filled with amazement at the power of weak woman. Pondering this thought in our soul only increases our astonishment. Step over here for a moment and cast a glance into the cradle, at this tiny, lost, whimpering babe. Then approach this bed of death and listen to the secret enigma of the human heart, again examine the mysteries of life, and what do you find? Everywhere you find the same trace of mother-love.

Never Too Much!

Do not reproach me and say that I see and depict only the beautiful. I am well mindful of the admonition of Propertius: "Even a mother must not be praised beyond measure." But let our thoughts go deeper, let us cast a glance over our own past. We will see the mother with entirely different eyes, when we picture her, standing at our bedside night after night nursing us with loving care during our illness. In such a moment, we see the light of another world in her eyes, a glow of supernal glory, which we cannot explain in words; let us examine the role mother played at our side, how she fulfilled her calling by her love and self-sacrifice. Keep in mind the watchful nights, the anxiety and worry, remember the love, with which thousands and thousands of mothers tuck their sleepy children in bed- then the dignity of motherhood appears and shows itself in such magnificence that all their human frailty and inadequateness is forgotten. Even those mothers who are poor in love and sacrifice are touched by a ray of this light.

The greatness of motherhood has not been invented by the poets. It is not an unsubstantial ideal but a part of warm human life. The greatness and purity of motherhood is not something merely grasped out of the air, but it is gathered from actual everyday life.

The mother is a creature elevated beyond time, she is a picture of terrestrial infinity. The centuries hurry along over happiness or misery without a trace, but mother is the great consummation of life quietly and immutably conceiving, carrying and giving birth to life. Mother earth alone in her plenitude can be compared to her. Both have been blessed.

Woman, therefore, is beyond time and immutable. Her love does not develop for she cannot increase it. Just as spring and autumn are not developments, but only parts of an endless circle, so also with motherhood. The dignity of motherhood is so immense that no poet can adequately describe it. It emanates from the heart of God, and is one of the most beautiful and effecting revelations of God. We can only bow in astonishment in the presence of this wonder of God and praise Him for His love in creating the heart of a mother.

Even in the splendor of Paradise the first man was sad and lonely, because the mother and bride was wanting. "It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a helper like unto himself."

"Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam; and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman; and brought her to Adam."

"And Adam said: 'This now is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh.' "

"And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. God created them male and female. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over it."

"And Adam knew his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God."

"And again she brought forth Abel. And she begot sons and daughters." (Genesis II-IV.) Since the days of Paradise man fights the hard fight of life and beside him loyally stands the mother and bride. The first woman sinned and fell. But a secret ray of hope and transfiguration descends upon all the daughters of Eve through the expected mother of the Redeemer. For in the maidenly dream of every young girl of the chosen race there was uppermost the hope that she might be chosen as mother of the Redeemer.

The dignity of motherhood comes from God. God's eye and law watches over it from the beginning to the very end of time. Like a golden chain, link by link, the vast multitude of mothers passes down the vista of history, one giving the light of life to the other, and so it will be until it will be taken back by God from whom it came.

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