The Courage to Be a Mother

And when the wine was failing, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her: ‘Woman, what is that to me and to you? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (Jn 2:3-5).

At the wedding feast in Cana, there is a need, and Our Blessed Mother presents that need to Jesus. Our Lord gives a wild answer, and in this moment, the commencement of His public ministry, Jesus is already looking ahead to His crucifixion. He knows full well where this path will lead Him, and yet He steps courageously into the space that His Blessed Mother has just opened for Him.

Did Jesus need this prompting from His Blessed Mother in order to begin His public ministry and the path to the cross? No, there was no absolute necessity for God to redeem man in the manner that He did; however, He did choose to redeem as has been revealed, because He desired not simply to redeem us, but also to reveal Himself to us. Mary presents a problem to Her Son; She opens the door for Him to manifest Himself in the world. God can act without our cooperation, but He desires to enter into spaces that have been prepared for Him.

Now, in this reflection or homily or whatever it is, I am going to begin somewhat abstractly, but then I will get into some particulars. Hopefully, the abstractions will be meaningful to you, but they should at least ensure that my particular examples are better understood.

Preparing the space for God to manifest Himself is one aspect of true femininity. This is why the soul, a man’s soul or a woman’s soul, is portrayed in Scripture and Tradition as being feminine in relation to God. The soul is not “female”, but in relation to God it is “feminine” because its end is to receive the life of God into itself, but it must be prepared.

Becoming pregnant is the physical manifestation of the spiritual reality just described. Within a woman’s womb, the possibility for life is prepared, and God manifests Himself by breathing life into matter. The image of God takes flesh inside the womb, but that’s only the beginning.

A woman is physically a mother at the moment conception takes place inside her womb, but the spiritual reality of motherhood began much earlier and it is an ongoing vocation to prepare her child to be a vessel into which God can continue to pour Himself.

Our Holy Mother the Church is in the midst of a crisis. It’s not the first crisis in Her two-thousand year history, but it is particularly painful because it seems to be a crisis not merely imposed from the outside, like so many prior persecutions, but rather, it is a crisis of vocation, because the Church, seemingly, is being prevented from within from living out Her vocation as Our Mother. The Church exists to be the vessel into which God pours Himself, but the faithful have largely been cut off from the ordinary means by which God’s graces pass through the Church to them; namely, the Sacraments. This is, indeed, a unique crisis, and it is no surprise to me that faithful mothers are acutely aware of the pain.

Alas, but what to do? Storm episcopal palaces and demand that churches be reopened? That, I do not believe, is the vocation of the mother. The mother does not force God to manifest Himself; she invites Him and she prepares a place for Him. In past circumstances that were akin to our own, saints like Catherine of Siena boldly wrote or spoke to priests, bishops and even the pope to call them to “be Christ”, as they were ordained to be. Personally, devout mothers, my own included, have had a profound effect on my vocation. Being invited into homes to pray with and spend time with families, apart from celebrating the Sacraments, has been the most meaningful aspect of my ministry. By virtue of our ordination, we priests stand in persona Christi Capitis – in the Person of Christ the Head – but we still need a mother to help prepare these earthen vessels to manifest Christ. Of course, that’s why devotion to Our Blessed Mother is essential to the life of the priest, but I am not too proud to say that I have also been entrusted to many mothers as a spiritual son.

Lastly, I have some words of encouragement. Be faithful to your vocation within your own family. Continue preparing your children to receive Christ. You can’t imagine what He will do through your faithfulness in their lives. In particular, what comes to my mind today is the need for the fortitude of Christ and His Blessed Mother. At the wedding feast at Cana, Our Lord knew that saying, “yes”, to His Mother meant beginning the path to His passion and crucifixion, yet He boldly stepped onto that path. But remember, Mary also knew what she was asking Her Son, yet she still opened the door for Him. That’s fortitude!  That type of fortitude doesn’t come out of nowhere; it must be cultivated.

When I think about the need for holy courage, two of my favourite quotations come to mind. The first is from C.S. Lewis:

Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

The second is from J.R.R. Tolkein:

I thought Fangorn was dangerous [said Gimli]. ‘Dangerous!’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion. Certainly the forest of Fangorn is perilous — not least to those that are too ready with their axes; and Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings).

Preparing spaces for growth in holy fortitude is another reflection. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s a conversation to be had with husbands and fathers. Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for your “yes” to the vocation of motherhood. Blessings to you as we continue on this path to Calvary and may Our Good Lord continue to manifest Himself in your domestic churches.