Put Out into the Deep

The Sublime Vocation of Motherhood

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day, and it might be good to look at the theological foundations of motherhood. There is no better place to begin than with the Apostolic Letter of St. John Paul II “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”  In that letter, he speaks about the two dimensions of a woman’s vocation, one being motherhood and the other being virginity. Yes, these are the two basic feminine vocations that are embodied in Mary in whom virginity and motherhood coexist in a unique way. Some women become mothers and some maintain virginity as a lifelong vocation. On Mother’s Day, we concentrate on the maternal vocation and what it means to humanity.

Only when we understand the truth about the human person can we understand the truth about women. In the Apostolic Letter of St. John Paul II, he reminds us that it is the Second Vatican Council that told us: “The human being, both male and female, is the only being in the world which God willed for its own sake. The human being is a person, a subject who decides for himself. At the same time, man ‘cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.’. . .This truth about the person also opens up the path to full understanding of women’s motherhood” (Par. 18).

To make a gift of self is what mothers do at all times. The human person is the only creature God wills for its own sake. For example, animals were also willed into existence by God, but for the purpose of being subject to men. Only the human person is one who has free will and before God can decide for himself or herself life’s vocation. The vocation to motherhood is certainly one in which the gift of self enables a woman to discover her true self.

More recently, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, spoke about motherhood in these words: “Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism. ‘Individual’ means ‘what cannot be divided’.” Mothers, instead, ‘divide’ themselves, from the moment they bear a child to give him to the world and help him grow.”

The Book of Genesis (4:1) reminds us, “I have brought a man into the world with the help of the Lord.” The conception and birth of a new human is always something that occurs with Divine oversight according to our biblical faith. The Holy Father reminds us that motherhood is linked to the personal structure of the woman and to the personal dimension of the gift of self. The Creator grants parents the gift of a child. How important it is for a mother to recognize her dependence on God and her cooperation with God in bringing new life into the world.

Certainly, our theology of motherhood can be a wonderful basis on which we celebrate a day dedicated to the vocation of motherhood.  Motherhood has come under attack in our contemporary world by some who do not wish to be mothers, and those who believe that motherhood is an end in itself and will use any means possible to conceive a child, even if it be unnatural and not in keeping with God’s plan. The civil recognition of motherhood that we celebrate this Sunday gives us an opportunity to meditate more deeply on this basic human vocation. Indeed, the dignity and vocation of a woman certainly is expressed in motherhood.

Perhaps on this Mother’s Day you can join me in praying this litany for mothers that I have composed:

“We pray for mothers whose children have died; we pray for mothers who have suffered a miscarriage; we pray for mothers who in desperation have aborted their unborn children; we pray for the single mother who cares valiantly for her children; we pray for the mother abandoned by the father of her children; we pray for foster mothers who care for foster children as their own; we pray for godmothers who nurture the faith in those entrusted to them; we pray for stepmothers who love the children of another mother as their own; we pray for adoptive mothers who make the children of others their own; we pray for mothers who see their children suffer; we pray for mothers who feel alienated from their children; we pray for all mothers in all circumstances of life and we entrust all mothers to Mary, the Mother of us all, who teaches us in her person, the dignity and vocation of woman as both virgin and mother.”

This Mother’s Day we put out into the deep to discover how truly to honor our own mothers and all who follow this sublime vocation. We can pray for the healing of memories, our own and those of our mothers both living and deceased, that together we might thank God for the great gift that motherhood is and, at the same time, seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother to us all. Happy Mother’s Day!

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