A Mothers Spiritual Love
I wanted my son to learn more responsibility so I tasked him with regularly watering all the house plants. But I forgot to have him adjust his watering schedule once the weather cooled and the newly purchased plants were more established. One of the plants, a majestic indoor palm, drowned in its own water. It was suffocated by that which should have been life-giving nourishment.
In 1951, a wise nun wrote an article about mothers who suffocate vocations (“Mothers of Saints” in Motherhood and Family, the fourth volume of the Integrity series published by Angelus Press). That which should be life-giving—motherhood—can become the death of a young adult’s development. Like water or sunlight, Catholic motherhood is ultimately a balance of the right amount of mothering at the right time. What is the one thing you need as a mother to maintain this balance throughout all your children’s years and into their adulthood?
The Motivating Factor
What is needed is love. With real, deep, abiding love, a woman has the motivation to endure all sorts of hardship. This love is received and given back through the sacramental rites of the Church, the mother’s private prayer life, and her spiritual relationship with her husband’s soul. It is also received and given back as natural affectionate love with her husband. When either spiritual love or affectionate love is missing, a modern woman usually lacks sufficient motivation to endure the toils of family life.
St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13 that love is patient, kind, and a host of other attributes. Let’s also remember that love is fragile. Human love can become easily damaged and even broken. Spiritual love doesn’t fare much better. A woman may have the serenity of knowing she is emotionally connected with her husband and she is right with God. In just a few days, she might go from serenity, to doubt, to loneliness, to despairing of love from either her husband or her God. Sometimes this descent happens in one day.
Strength is needed. Once the foundations of love are built, you may notice that if you experience doubt, those moments are not so pervasive as before, or at least take a lot longer to develop. Maintain a regular prayer life, frequent the sacraments, and spend consistent quality time with your husband. The recurrence of deliberate actions to build your spiritual and even natural love will bear fruit. Have confidence in this!
There comes a time when you simply have to let go of any doubts and instead accept that love always is, because God always is. What if you and your husband simply knew that you would both love each other forever, here on earth as married partners and for eternity as intimate spiritual friends? True love for each other, and for God, is an assent of the will and thus does not rely on emotion, wealth, health, beauty, or any other temporal attribute, even though we may comprehend the presence of love by noticing those attributes.
Similarly, what if you could rest in the intuitive knowledge that you will always love each of your children, regardless of their behavior?
What I am advocating in this article is motherhood motivated by a serene confidence in unconditional love: Love of and from God, love of the spouses, and love for the children. This maternal love is of necessity a spiritual love.
The suffocating type of parenting mentioned at the beginning of this article, I believe, may be a result of not enough trust in God and in one’s husband. As the children grow, the mother’s role becomes less hands-on and more cognitive and advisory. Yet, mothers must still surrender control over their children’s lives. The adolescent and young adult years are perhaps the most challenging for mothers because those years require the most amount of letting go. But when considered under the light of spiritual love, a maternal heart can make the transition much easier. The function and duties change; the spirituality rooted in unconditional love does not.
Consequences of Parenting
Catholics have a saying: “How does this look in the light of eternity?” Mothers motivated by spiritual love would go even further and ask, “How does this look in the light of my children?” All her actions, her decisions, will put her children first.
The motivated Catholic mother sacrifices for her children and submits her will to that of her husband and thus to God. This chronic, daily sacrifice of the feminine will is a stumbling block for worldly women. The motivated Catholic mother constantly gives of herself and considers her family first. The worldly mother thinks of herself first, even to the point of unnaturally or even murderously suppressing the birth of children.
Once children are grown, parents will experience the spiritual results of their parenting over the years. If the parenting was rooted more in the selfishness of the parents, the result is both spiritual and behavioral problems from their grown children. These problems will occupy the parents’ minds and their waning energy as they age. However, if parents are motivated by spiritual love as the children grow up, the natural stuff tends to take care of itself. You will find a way. Your question will be the same for your smiling baby, your dynamic toddler, your energetic school-age son, your brooding teen, or your struggling collegiate: How do I help my child get to heaven?
Spiritual Love in the Household
When considering your spiritual love in actual practice, remember that it takes shape by a life of consistent practice of the Faith. Children growing up in a household filled with spiritual love have plenty of opportunity to use sacramentals at home and to frequent the sacraments at their church. A few weekends ago, my school-age daughter asked my permission to go to confession. I told her that she never needs my permission to go to confession, to pray, or to go to Holy Communion, but to instead follow the advice of the confessor. She seemed to genuinely marvel at this idea. But it taught her a lesson: Her faith must be her own. It is not simply an extension of her parents’ faith. And her love-relationship with her Divine Savior is so important, her parents must not get in the way.
Others outside your family will notice your love of God manifested in devotion to your children and your husband. You are a positive example in the marketplace when other women see an authentically Catholic mother: Modest clothes, a few kids, and hopefully a quietly smiling confidence in managing the kids, at least most of the time. The Catholic mother is thus a living contradiction; a difficult challenge to the worldly woman. You are what she has permanently terminated. Just by showing up, the Catholic mother generates strange comments from other women. One comment my wife frequently heard was, “Oh, I stopped at two kids. I’m done!”
This worldly astonishment alarms some Catholic mothers. But be at peace. It is a sign that you are on the right path. St. Louis Gonzaga once advised, “There is no sign more certain that one is of the number of the elect than, while leading a Christian life, to be the subject of sufferings, desolations, and trials.” For a motivated, loving Catholic mother, this may take the form of judgmental comments from extended relatives, puzzled stares from strangers, and sometimes more odious sufferings. Offer it all up to Jesus and Mary. They are the inspiration for your motherhood.
Balancing Children and Husband
The Catholic mother cannot forget that she was a wife first. The particular temptation of well-intentioned people is to become so saturated in our duties that we forget other areas of life. Fathers might become workaholics. Mothers might become supermoms. This can fracture the marriage. You might spend a considerable amount of time with your children, but you must make time each week with your husband. In the spiritual life, our Eucharistic Lord exhorts us to visit Him in the tabernacle. In your marriage, you may also find that you need to actually schedule time together as spouses to re-connect.
We kneel to receive Holy Communion to show our submissive posture and the fact that we are receiving. This is compliance. This is submission. This is a gift granted unto us. We need to succumb in all docility to the Real, transcendent Presence of God Himself. In your motherhood, there is also a need to succumb in all docility to the will of God. Holy Communion ties your family together as a union of loving persons.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is not only your intercessor and queen, she is a model of motherhood. She constantly submitted to the will of God, which included the death of her Son. As a watered houseplant needs plenty of time to become dry so it can thrive, Mary also knew in her Immaculate Heart that she had to let her Son go. Her reward is seeing her triune God face-to-face in heaven. The same eternity awaits your maternal heart.