Archive for category Motherhood

Devotion as Mother to Christ As Old As The Church

The first affirmation Jesus Christ intended for those who do the will of the Father to be His mother is found in the Gospels.  Three of the Gospels recount when Jesus once being informed that His brothers, sisters, and mother are outside.   Jesus responds by raising His hand over His disciples while stating that, “Anyone who does the will of the Father are my brothers, sisters, and my mother.”  See Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21

 

Blessed Isaac of Stella (ca. 1100AD – 1169) entered the Cistercian Monastery of Citeaux of France.  Isaac be became an abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Stella.  He was known for his holiness and the teachings he gave his monks on the spiritual life. (See http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_author/90/Isaac_of_Stella.html and the Liturgy of the Readings)

 

Blessed Isaac of Stella is one who later highlighted this statement of motherhood to Jesus when in a sermon of his he wrote the following:

 

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the Church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. They are used by God’s Wisdom in person, the Word of the Father.
     This is why Scripture says: I will dwell in the inheritance of the Lord. The Lord’s inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.  

 

Here Blessed Isaac of Stella relied on what Jesus said.  Blessed Isaac of Stella saw the reference in physical terms for the Blessed Virgin Mary while he saw this comment in spiritual terms for the rest of the members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  Clearly this is further validation for a devotion to the Preborn Christ who Christians bear Liturgically and Sacramentally and are destined to become the on-going incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Enwombment

I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.  John 14:20

 

With these words spoken, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Jesus was conceived within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As contained within the hymn, Te Deum, it is said of Jesus, ‘you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.’

 

The womb is where Jesus assumed human flesh “to be like us in all ways except sin.”  Jesus entering the womb, God with us in the womb, affirms our dignity beginning in the womb, from a single cell person, or zygote, onward.  And yet, there is even scandal for Jesus to enwomb himself in flesh.  Such condescension of God to share in humanity so that man may share in divinity was seen by the prideful Satan as to be so scandalous that he would declare, “I will not serve,” and hence his fall.  God’s plan was not Satan’s plan.

 

Further, there remain many people even of today who view the womb as a place of scandal and view those persons present within the human womb as less than fully human, less than a person.

 

A person conceived within another is a complete and fully human person who has been enwombed.  The womb allows a person space to be implant and it means life because it is there that the person who exists as a total person from the start – even as a zygote or rather a single cell person – will expand and develop in preparation for life after birth.  It is in the womb that the person is given the time, nourishment, protection and space necessary to  grow so as to eventually live autonomously outside the womb after birth.

 

Interestingly, we read in John Chapter 3, even after birth from the womb we find that Jesus challenged Nicodemus to understand that we must also be born of the spirit – What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.  Nicodemus had asked a very pertinent question, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”  Jesus never specifically addressed the matter of one’s presence in another womb, though the Church and saints have.

 

The Church teaching explains that the Baptismal font, along with being the tomb for those who die spiritually with Christ is also the womb for those reborn spiritually in the Church.  St. Augustine goes further when he explains in his Summa Thelogica that parents form a spiritual womb when they take the responsibility to raise a child to the age of reason.  And St. Francis of Assisi alludes to a womb of mortal life or faith in the Church when he concludes his Peace Prayer with “…and in dying I am born into eternal life.”  As St. Francis alludes to, we are enwombed until we die.

 

And during that life of the Baptized, we bear Christ’s Holy Spirit within that makes us members of the Body of Christ.  As we make room for his Indwelling Presence and surrender ourselves to the life of Christ it is in our body, we complete what is lacking in the suffering of Christ and birth Christ into this world.  In the dying of the faithful, where the two become one in this one flesh is perfected, they are birthed into eternal life with the Father as the Body of Christ with Jesus as our head.

A Parent’s God-given Priorities

“May the Lord bless us, protect us and lead us into eternal life.”

 

It is with such a prayer that the Liturgy of the Hours, the Prayer of the Church, is closed daily at both morning and evening prayer.  It is an appeal to God that each of us makes for His care at all times of each of our lives.  God is our Creator and cares for us as the perfect Guardian, or rather as the perfect, eternal parent.  God’s love for us means that God always does what is best for us.  A parent seeking to do the best for their child can do no better than  introduce their child to God.

 

In imitation of God and by charge from God, all responsible parents express their love for their child by affirming their child’s dignity, protecting the child, from harm and teaching their child of eternal life and how to attain eternal life with and through God.  A parent who accomplishes these three goals for their child in preparation of a child’s grown adulthood has been a successful parent.  These priorities are the pearl of great value.

 

If the innocence of a child were words, this prayer would be the words heard by the parent.

 

“May the Lord bless us, protect us and lead us into eternal life.”

The Vocation of Motherhood

On the subject of motherhood, the soon to be canonized, Pope John Paul II offered the following insight in his 1995 Encyclical entitled, Evangelium Vitae, section 99:

In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.

Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: “Reconcile people with life”.133 You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present in a special way in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb … This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings not only towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s personality”.134 A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.

Magnificat: A Common Prayer

Mary is the Mother of God and any reference to our being a mother to Christ cannot be equated.  Mary  carried the fullness of God’s grace before the Incarnation of Jesus Christ within her womb.  It was through a grace particular to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she is the Immaculate Conception, conceived without sin.  No other human person was so conceived, and no other human person has lived without sin.  Mary was the Bearer of Christ throughout her entire life.  Her heart has always been in total uniformity with the Father’s Will for her.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary understood and was deeply grateful for this blessing singular to her.  In response to her cousin,  Elizabeth’s declared recognition of this blessing Mary expressed with joyful humility her gratitude in words that we now know as the Magnificat.

 

It is through the Blessed Virgin Mary, our common spiritual mother, that we encounter Jesus and find union with Jesus who then dwells in us

 

It is through the Blessed Virgin Mary, our common spiritual mother, that we encounter Jesus.  Within her we conceive of Jesus with Him dwelling within us.  It is within the Motherhood of Mary that we are able to share in the mothering of the Preborn Christ.  It is Mary who can teach us to bear her Son as the Master whom we obey.  Her joy of being Mother to God can be shared with each of us bearing Christ if we but do the Will of the Father.  Her words in the Magnificat are words that certainly honor Mary’s particular grace and role, but they ought to give us also a glimpse into the proper attitude we ought to seek for ourselves in bearing Christ within.

 

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Common Prayer of the Church, the Magnificat is offered every evening.  The Church and Mary invite you to offer this prayer fo the Magnificat for her singular glory, but also to give expression to your own gratitude for God’s calling for you to bear Christ within the womb and care of Mary.

 

Magnificat from the Liturgy of the Hours

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.  Amen.

Greater Than The Nursing of Christ

Mary was definitively declared the Mother of God in 431 A.D. during the Council of Ephesus of the Catholic Church.[1]  The Incarnation of Jesus Christ in human form through conception and born of Mary is clear.  But all that is physical has a spiritual origin and meaning that is much deeper.  Mary physically conceived of Jesus Christ in bodily form because she was filled with grace from before birth and she always had done the Will of the Father.   The deeper reality is that the blessedness of Mary derives from her obedience to the word of God as Jesus pointed out in Luke 11: 27-28:

 

While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.”

 

Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

 

Relationships with Jesus are not drawn from biological lineage, rather by one’s adherence to the Word of God.  This understanding of who are relatives of Jesus Christ in a spiritual, in a more real sense, makes it clearer to understand how we have become spiritual brothers and sisters to Jesus and adopted sons and daughters of the Father.

 

To emphasize the importance of hearing and obeying the word of the Father as establishing family relations with God, we have two  scriptures of the same scene.  The first is found described in both Mark 3:31-35 and the second is in Luke 8:19-21.  In both accounts, Jesus is interrupted and told that His mother and relatives are outside.  Jesus responds that, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

Here we find Jesus inviting us all to not only see Him as our brother, but also to bear Him within us as a mother bears a child.  If we each hear and do the Will of God, Jesus is clearly telling us that He will dwell within each of us.



[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #495

St. Gregory’s Parenting of the Preborn Christ

St. Gregory of Nyssa (330 – 395) was a Father of the Church who recognized that the Church did teach that the Christian is a Christ-Bearer who must be concerned with the growth of Christ Who dwells within.  A passage from his writings address the importance of this concern as he explains failure to cultivate Christ within the Christians results in not only the loss of Christ’s interior presence, but the spiritual self-abortion of the individual.  St. Gregory’s passage from a homily found in the Liturgy of the Readings that explains just this understanding is as follows:

 

Birth is likened to salvation by the prophet Isaiah. Salvation reaches its full term

and is not stillborn when, having been conceived by the fear of God, the soul’s

own birth pangs bring it to the light of day. We are in a sense our own parents,

and we give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good. Such a

choice becomes possible for us when we have received God into ourselves and

have become children of God, children of the Most High. On the other hand, if

what the Apostle calls the form of Christ has not been produced in us, we abort

ourselves. The man of God must reach maturity. Hom. 6:PG44, 702-703

 

St. Gregory describes the need to become like one’s own parent, speaking particularly in terms of the practicing the spiritual disciplines in life.  These disciplines lead to the forming of Christ within each of us, or rather lead to Christ becoming greater while I become lesser.  These are not only to be described as the means to parent or mother the preborn Christ, but also for one to grow in Christian maturity.

 

This is a very good passage to read every day as a means for one to re-focus on the responsibilities one has as a Christ-Bearer to the Preborn Christ and to oneself.

The Power of the Preborn

It is correctly said that babies are defenseless, and they are.  Yet it is wrong to conclude that babies are powerless.   In their weakness and dependency they can exert considerable power over those who rightly see the true value of a person, even if  this person is presently incapable of tending to one’s own needs.  Parents and guardians have changed and reordered their entire lives so as to tend to the needs of a baby.   That is real power.

 

This power over others possessed by the baby does not begin upon birth, but begins upon conception, the presence of the zygote – a single cell, human person.  The mother is the one most immediately influenced by this power.  Once aware of this new person’s presence, she will begin to make changes in response.  Tragically, in America more than 25% of all pregnancies end in a mother-elected surgical abortion.  For those who embrace motherhood and accept this new person, changes abound.  It may begin with morning sickness, more sleep, eating more, putting on weight, and purchasing new clothing to accommodate the growing size of this mother and child body-sharing experience.  The changes will also include new responsibilities, a re-ordering of both a day’s schedule and the home furnishings in anticipation of the child’s birth.

 

Once on a retreat, the retreat master posed two questions to the assembly: 1) How does Christ come to you?  2) How does He change you?  These are  two, very good questions for the Christian to ponder.  These two questions can assist a Christian to break-out from the rote of obedience to the tenants of religion and liturgy to the intimacy of a relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.   Like the mother who first realizes she is carrying a new person within, the Christian must begin to focus on the Christ who comes.  In what form does He come?  In what ways must the life of the Christian be re-ordered to accommodate the dependencies of the presence of Christ?  Is the Christian prepared to appear to others as pregnant with Christ?  As the present Christ stretches the Christian beyond comfort zones, is one prepared to let Christ take the lead?  These are the substance of a relationship between the Christian and the Christ Who is borne.

The Perfect Parent? The perfect child?

Motherhood in Light of Bearing the Preborn Christ

As St. Francis of Assisi highlighted in his Letter to All the Faithful, “We are His mothers when we bear Him in our heart and in our body through pure love and a clean conscience and we bring Him forth by holy work which ought to shine as an example to others.” (Matt 12:50) It is awesome to think that we may be mothers to Christ, bearing the one whom we obey as Master because He is the one who can save souls. But this grace is also a concern of responsibility. What is a mother and how does one fulfill the role of mother for those who do the will of Father?
For today, let us consider what John Paul II has written on motherhood from Evangelium Vitae, Section 99:

In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.

Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: “Reconcile people with life”.133 You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present in a special way in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb … This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings not only towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s personality”.134 A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.