"Blessings on the hand of women! Angels guard its strength and grace,
In the palace, cottage, hovel, Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it, Rainbows ever gently curled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world!" - William Ross Wallace
As a married woman, I often wonder what it would be like to be a mother. For a number of reasons, my husband and I have not been able to conceive, but it has not stopped me from praying and meditating on what type of person I would become when given the gift of motherhood.
These times of meditation have led me recently to turn to the lives of the women who throughout our Catholic history have demonstrated the essence of authentic feminine life by loving, nurturing, and in some cases relinquishing the very lives that grew inside of them for so many months.
And so on this Mother’s Day, I find myself reflecting on sanctification, not just my own but the means I would use to help my future children achieve such grace. I turn to the saints, because surely these lives of holiness honored by the Church will shed some light on this divine mission of motherhood.
Most certainly, I pause to reflect first and foremost on the great Mother of God, Mary most holy. With courage and strength, this young, simple girl said yes to a stupendous task — to bear the Messiah. I often reflect if given such a choice, how would I respond? It seems at times my own life is marked by distrust, my own agendas and an unwillingness to accept the life appointed to me by God. In contrast, Mary’s holiness is marked by an unwavering trust in God, a desire for His Will and a dedication to the life that she accepted. Even knowing she was the mother of the Divine, she stands as the model of the heroic, and very human, virtues of patience, faithfulness and generosity.
Sts. Anne and Elizabeth bring me great peace when I reflect on their lives. St. Anne, mother of Mary, persevered through 20 years of infertility, praying fervently to God to give her a child. Likewise, St. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had reached an advanced age without conceiving. I share their anguish, their doubts about God’s love, the thoughts of fear and abandonment, the speculation about this pain being some sort of punishment. They never lost faith and year after year, both women and their husbands would make their plea in the temple for the Lord to help them in their sadness. And when God’s time was right, their requests were granted. Both Mary and John the Baptist were conceived through the message of an angel. These women were distinctly mothers of sure faith, constant hope and abiding love. I pray for an increase in these virtues as I struggle each month with the reality of my own barren womb.
Giving Birth to History
One of my great passions is venerating the great relics of the Church. I am captivated by their timeless preservation. If it weren’t for this next holy mother, I would have no place to go. St. Helena was the mother of the Emperor Constantine — a man who is remembered for his profound conversion and beginning the end of the Christian persecutions in Europe. While he was chiefly responsible for Helena’s own conversion to Christianity at the age of 63, her life following her conversion was one deeply dedicated to God. For the next twenty years of her life, she traveled the Middle East collecting the relics of the Passion, most notably the True Cross, and erecting churches and basilicas which would bear testimony to the truth of Christianity to this day. Her perseverance and courage provided a means for mothers, fathers, priests and teachers to teach the faith of Jesus Christ through a tangible, visual way.
I reflect on the life of St. Monica when I think of my adolescent years and the matriarchs in my life who sustained me in prayer. St. Monica had three children, one of whom later became a Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. If it weren’t for St. Monica, we might never have been able to console ourselves with the knowledge that, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God” and the many other pearls of wisdom passed to us from this converted sinner, son of this holy mother. Loyal to a troubled marriage and faithful to this troubled son, St. Monica persevered with fortitude and piety in bringing about a metanoia in Augustine and witnessing to us that through Christian motherhood even the hardest of hearts can be penetrated.
There are mothers who know that their children are chosen for great things and try to move heaven and earth to assure they follow the will of the Father. It’s a quiet confirmation — a sort of knowing — that cannot be described, which a mother feels when her child is in her womb or the first time she gazes upon his or her face. St. Sylvia had that knowing — that her child was destined for greatness. By herself, she was a great defender against the heresies creeping up in her time, and when her son was born, the virtue of justice enveloped her when she saw his face for the first time. She raised him with a deep sense of justice — a virtue strong enough to make this young boy grow into the person we know as Pope St. Gregory the Great.
And there is the mother of St. Dominic, Blessed Jane of Aza, who saw in a vision before she even conceived him that a dog with a burning torch in its mouth would come forth from her womb and set the world on fire. Of course, this prophetic dream foretold of the powerful preaching of St. Dominic which would converts hearts and transform souls. Blessed Jane and her husband Venerable Felix raised three other children who dedicated their lives to God.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Likewise, Zelie Guerin Martin challenged her children in the ways of contemplative prayer, study of Scripture and languages. All five of her children pursued paths of sanctity, offering their lives to Jesus as religious sisters. The youngest of these girls is another Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux. These two mothers are models of steadfast love — the willingness to give back to God what is truly His. They are symbols of encouragement and understanding for all parents whose children are called to religious life.
And finally, in this Mother’s Day reflection, I recall the mothers who protected life, forgave mercifully, and steadfastly pursued righteousness on behalf of their children. Saint Gianna Molla, a faithful Catholic mother and pediatrician, gave her life for her unborn child after discovering she had a cancer that could only be removed by aborting her daughter. Refusing such an end for her child, Gianna Emanuela is 44 years old today because of her mother’s unconditional love and sacrifice. Assunta Goretti witnessed the most horrible event a mother could bear when her twelve-year-old daughter Maria was brutally attacked by a family friend. On her deathbed, Assunta witnessed the faith and love which her parenting had nurtured. Maria forgave the boy that had mortally wounded her. Twenty-seven years later, Assunta would face this boy, now a man, who had killed her daughter. She too, spoke words of forgiveness: “If my daughter could forgive you, who am I to withhold forgiveness.” Both Assunta and the repentant murderer Alejandro would join the Holy Father in 1950 as he formally canonized Maria Goretti.
Reflecting on the lives of these sanctifying mothers, recalling their struggles and battles, both visible and invisible, it is frightening to imagine what lies ahead for me and for so many women in today’s world. But I am comforted in knowing that every Mass I attend, every intercession I implore, every petition I cry out to the mercy of God, is held in the company of these holy women who serve as models for the kind of mother I would like to be. St. Catherine of Siena, the twenty-third child of an Italian family, said that “If we become what God intended us to be, we will set the world on fire.”
So then, if the world rests in the playrooms, school yards and cradles of your life, then strive to be the mothers that God intended you to be, so the goodness of your children may set the world on fire. Happy Mother’s Day!
Woman, how divine your mission Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages Are from mother-love impearled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.