May 9, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Celebrating motherhood as a beautiful vocation

The observance of Mother’s Day is a good thing, not for secular commercialism, rather because mothers are easily taken for granted.

Mother’s Day has spiritual potential because it offers the opportunity to celebrate motherhood as a beautiful vocation.

Unfortunately, motherhood is under siege in our secular culture. Serial divorce determined by such “values” as convenience or the quest for less demanding responsibilities leave so many mothers alone to raise children without the help of good fathers.

Self-sacrifice is not highly valued by many folks. No one knows the number of single mothers who are manipulated and abused. Too many mothers struggle to provide a wholesome life for their children alone and do so courageously.

On the other hand, Mother’s Day provides the opportunity to celebrate the beauty of motherhood, and to lift up this beauty as a primary social and spiritual value.

Is there any more generous love than that of a mother? We should celebrate the countless joys that mothers bring to family life, and mothers who truly enjoy their families. The love a mother gives and the love a mother receives cannot really be quantified, and most mothers generally don’t expect it to be so.

At the same time, who can count the number of sacrifices of motherhood that largely go unseen and unnoticed? How much heartbreak might a mother suffer as she empathizes with her children through the years from infancy through adulthood?

So many acts of mothering are unseen and often unappreciated. And it doesn’t stop there. I hear from a lot of grandmothers who are anxious for the spiritual or moral or physical well-being of their adult children and their grandchildren. Maternal love is ongoing, and for this we thank God and them.

In his book God and the World, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else because there can be no love without suffering because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice” (pp. 322-323). I suspect no one knows the truth of this better than our mothers.

I honor five “mothers” in my life. Of course, there is Mom first and foremost. Then there are Blessed Mother Mary, Mother Theodore Guérin, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. As I offer intercessory prayers daily for the hundreds of you who accept my invitation to send me your petitions, I also place your requests before these five mothers. (I also place them before St. Joseph and my Dad.)

When I remember vignettes of my relationship to Mom, at the moment I think of two occasions: when I had a tonsillectomy as a child and when I had knee surgery back in high school.

Both times when I woke up from the anesthetic, she was sitting patiently, waiting for me with ice chips to slake my thirst. It meant a lot.

Friends and colleagues of mine spoke of Mom’s serenity and simple wisdom.

One of my last memories is a holy card she sent me for Valentine’s Day months before she died. All she could write was my name with a shaky pen. I keep the card in my prayer book. The message was from St. Augustine: “There are no burdens too great for a loving heart.”

Needless to say, there are many things I could say about Blessed Mother Mary. Her protection of my vocation goes back many, many years.

While a young seminarian and monk at Saint Meinrad, I prayed to her every night, most often before her shrine as Our Lady of Einsiedeln in the Abbey Church. Her unfailing protection continues.

St. Mother Theodore was part of my devotion from grade school onward—under the tutelage of the Sisters of Providence. Being present for her beatification and canonization in Rome dramatically renewed my longstanding devotion to her intercession. I often think of the countless spiritual children who owe their early faith to her and her daughter nuns.

Blessed Mother Teresa touched my heart with two sayings. The first was, “Bishop, pray that I don’t spoil God’s work.” And, she said, “Bishop, when you put the drop of water in the chalice at Mass, pray that I be dissolved in Christ.” I have made her prayers mine.

Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini has long been an intercessor for my priestly ministry and mission. When I was named bishop of Memphis, I went to her shrine in Chicago and laid my new ministry before her motherly care.

We pray thankfully for our mothers, for the grace of patience, serenity, joy and holiness. We pray for “mothers” who are unable to bear children. We pray that our deceased mothers may rest in God, rejoicing in their motherhood. †

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