Amanda Evinger is the grateful mother of four children (and two others who have died), whom she homeschools with her husband Michael in a “little house on the prairie” in rural North Dakota. A convert from Calvinism, she spends her days in love with the Church and her vocation as wife and mother. She worked for nine years as Senior Writer for Catholic Stewardship Consultants and is a regular blogger and contributor to several Catholic publications, including the Latin Mass Magazine, Seton Home School Magazine, the Dakota Catholic Action, and the National Catholic Register.
A while ago, a great Catholic friend of mine spoke very highly of a Catholic book about motherhood that is rocking the market these days. Curious, I did what all bibliomaniacs like myself do, and spent awhile browsing the book on Amazon. I was truly disheartened, so I sent the link to my friend to make sure I wasn't over-reacting, and she was disheartened too. And so we sat, two disheartened mothers together, wondering why we often feel ostracized in the Catholic world just because we are actually happy as “around-the-clock” mothers, trying to lay down our lives for our families.
In a nutshell, the book (I'll spare you the title) was a whiny mess of an excuse for an inspirational book on motherhood. It was one of these fuzzy-wuzzy-cafe-style books that pats you on the back as you read it and assures you things like, “It's OK to feel like a guilt-less inmate as a stay-at-home mother – you aren't alone. It's OK to be horrified by another positive pregnancy test – it's likely fiction that St. Catherine of Siena was the twenty-fourth child in her family, anyway. It's OK to not stand your kids most days – it's normal. It's OK to want what you want, and not want to give it up for their sake – you have to put you first,” and then some. You get the picture.
Although there are definitely very legitimate struggles that mothers have these days – ones that should tactfully be addressed in a positive way – I believe that there are encouraging truths about motherhood that are more worthy of being put into print. As a mother with many faults, I crave reading spiritual works that will help me love my children more, not console me for being mediocre. And as a professional writer for over 10 years now, I have to say I believe that what goes into print and is labeled as “Catholic” must have an innate sense of reverence towards life. It must be unabashedly numinous. It must call us on to higher things, brazen our courage, and lure us away from our sticky, worldly wants. It must enlighten us beautifully with the mind of Christ. We have so little time to pray, to read – our lives are often bombarded by chatter, the frenzy of “to-do” lists, text messages and phone calls, paper work, and nonsensical racket. Let us be wise in our choices of what we take our precious time to contemplate, especially when it comes to things that speak of our vocation. Let's read things that hush our spirits; that marry us to the divine; that draw us into a silent encounter with the majesty of God.
Throughout the entire history of the world, mothers have been revered for their awe-inspiring capacity to give life and nurture the most vulnerable beings among us. Culture after culture has honored them for their ability to co-operate with God in bringing forth immortal souls. As Catholics, let us keep the tradition of loving motherhood alive. Motherhood is a calling so sacred that it can hardly be spoken of with words; but we can respect it with what lies deep within us, and share this respect with others.
Of course, motherhood bears its taunting trials, and even the best of mothers will need to cry on someone's shoulder from time to time. We mothers will be nailed to the cross of Christ, and some day, Deo volente, we will rise again with Him. For, as my dear Dad likes to remind me, the Scriptures say in 1 Timothy 2:13, “But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Authentic motherhood is a gateway to white martyrdom. It sings the songs of sacrifice and speaks the language of generosity. At times, the trek of motherhood can bring us to lift our haggard faces to the skies and pray, 'I look unto the mountains; from where shall come my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.' Though, despite all it may throw at us, it is an absolutely gorgeous vocation – one that hails freedom because it is all about love.
Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty, who defended the Church during the Communist occupation of Hungary, once said:
Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. . . What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother? True, mother works in the home, but her quiet labor radiates upon the entire nation. She passes the entire treasure of culture from generation to generation. She builds up the future, and not merely the future of this earth; her task reaches out into eternity, to the very heart of God. Without her there can be no family, no home. Without her the strongest sources of human strength will disappear. Without her, goodness, love, and mercy vanish. She is the sturdy staff upon which the weary pilgrim supports himself as he plods the dusty road of life. She is the unknown soldier of common everyday life. The hand that rocks the cradle holds the helm of the world. Everything that lives and dies on earth has its origin in mother.
Further, Pope Pius XII wrote: “The wife is the sun of the family, with her bright look and the warmth of her words which sweetly pierce the soul... her eyes flash a world of meaning, and one look bespeaks a world of affection. Looks and words that dance up from a mother's heart create the paradise of childhood.” And beloved St. John Paul II wrote of “the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children, and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to their children the best of themselves.”
A friend of mine, Bethy, a homeschooling mother with ten children, the oldest being thirteen and the youngest being 3-month-old twins, is known for her joyful, shining eyes and resilient spirit. Someone once told me that Bethy believes in “giving everything of herself to her children.” Recently, I asked her how she keeps her peace of mind and remains open to life. She shared this with me:
I have often met with utter amazement at the number of children God has blessed me with. It makes me sad to see so many mothers cheat themselves out of the full and often chaotic joy of many children because they have bought into society's definition of what having children means. Being open to life is itself a necessary term we must use only because, like Frankenstein, man has created a monster called birth control that was intended to make life easy and under control, but turned on him only to bring pain and sadness and death. I keep my peace by knowing that life is truly a gift from God and controlling it is not something that I ever need worry about. It is truly amazing how each and every child has added immeasurable happiness to our family. God will send you the material and mental and spiritual help you need to get through everyday with a joyful heart, of only you will trust that He knows better than you what you need.”
Cheers to you, Bethy, and to all who can't help but cherish children to pieces.
A prayer by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle (found in her book, The Heart of Motherhood):
Lord, Help me See
Dear Lord, help me to see the extraordinary graces that abound in a role that is sometimes thought of as ordinary. Please reinforce the dedication in my heart to raise my children with extreme love – love that knows no limits, love that is priceless. Help me to remember that there is immeasurable power in a mother's love and a mother's prayer for her children. Thank you, dear Lord, for this awesome gift! Amen.