Catholic Activity: The Role of Woman as Mother



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Reflections on the richness and gift of being a mother, thought provoking particularly on Marian feasts and saints such as St. Monica.


Woman is called to be a giver of life. Not physical life alone, but life on the psychological and spiritual planes as well. Woman's greatness lies in the sphere of nurture: in bearing, fostering, enlarging and expanding life.

Motherhood, in its essence, is a mystery of fecundity. All life on the earth is conceived and nurtured in darkness, brought to birth, sustained and protected until it reaches maturity. Motherhood is the fullness of this organic process, crowning nature with its most perfect fruit--the human being.

Mankind has always linked motherhood with the mystery of nature's abundance. In literature and folklore the warm and fertile "Mother Earth" becomes the most common image of woman's fruitfulness. "I sing of the earth, firmly founded mother of all, supporting on her soil all that lives," wrote Homer, and poets ever since have celebrated the mother's fecundity in everything budding, blossoming, ripening, bearing fruit: the flowering meadow, the full-blossoming rose, the fair olive tree, the field of ripening grain, the vine laden with its rich, red grapes.

The ancient pagans stood in wonder before the life-giving power of woman, sensing that motherhood somehow transcended nature to touch the divine. Christianity elevates and purifies the truth which the pagan world could only glimpse. The triune God, the infinitely fruitful, wills to make His creatures partake of His own creative power. Both men and women reflect the divine creativity, but differently. The man as father, generating new life, is an image of the eternal Father "from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named." The woman as mother, nurturing the seed with her own substance, bearing the new life into the world, bringing it to maturity, reflects God's nurturing love which sustains the world. God Himself has told us that He stands as mother to us: "Shall not I that make others to bring forth children myself bring forth, saith the Lord. Shall I that give generation to others be barren? Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, who are born up by my womb. As one whom the mother caresses, so will I comfort you."

But the supreme realization of woman's fecundity lies in the spiritual order. At the summit of human fruitfulness stands Mary, the mother of Jesus. The fruit of her womb is the very Son of God, and by her Son's word on the cross she has become the mother of all the living, the dispenser of God's graces throughout all ages. And since Our Lady is the exemplar of womanhood, every woman in a certain sense has a part in Mary’s maternal role. Every woman is meant to share in nurturing the Christ-life in the souls of men. The Christian woman in marriage cannot be content to give her children natural life alone; she must also be their spiritual mother, educating them as members of God's family and like St. Monica, being "in labor of them" as often as she sees them swerving from Him. In her role as spiritual mother woman uses the resources of her maternal instincts and capacities at their most exalted level.

Activity Source: Woman, Some Aspects of Her Role in the Modern World by Lydwine van Kersbergen, Grailville Publications, 1956