I had a friend who had two healthy children but endured nine miscarriages in between. At one point, she said, “I feel like my womb is a tomb.”
I knew of a lady who had many healthy children, but had also gone through 10 miscarriages, and the accidental strangling of one of her children by another one of her children.
I have two friends who had children who drowned, through no fault of their own.
I know mothers who did all they possibly could do to raise their children in the Catholic Faith, and yet they watch their children fumbling in their adult lives, lost and searching for meaning.
A few years ago, I gave birth to full-term conjoined twin girls. They died shortly after birth, and our lives have changed dramatically since they went back to their Heavenly Father. Their coming and leaving kindled in us a keen awareness of the gift of children, the eternal destiny of our family, and the beauty of the Gospel of Life.
When a woman really gives herself to motherhood, it hurts. And for some of us, it “martyrs” the heart. Yet, there is something intensely gorgeous about this hurt at times. Something seemingly mystical, something unique and pre-eminent like nothing else on the face of the earth. It is something that calms the cacophony of our fleshly ways and allows our soul to ascend beyond the drab humdrum of a self-centered existence. To me, it is like an ever-burning ember, creatively singeing away my pride, branding my heart with the divine mission of maternity.
I believe that this “something” is love – a love that, if awakened, is naturally one of the most compelling forces in existence. As St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Love, to be true, to be real – it must hurt, it must cost, it must empty us of self... If you want a happy family, if you want a holy family, give your hearts to love... People who really and truly love each other are the happiest people in the world.”
Sacrifice is innately etched into the tapestry of motherhood. From the moment that a woman becomes a mother, she begins giving of herself – of her flesh and blood, and of the strength of her spirit. From the moment of conception, the minuscule child within her begins to draw nutrients out of her body, to form its own body in God's image and likeness. What could be more awe-inspiring?
And so, with the “language of sacrifice” that motherhood necessarily speaks, comes also a language of breathtaking beauty. If we listen carefully, this “language of beauty” sings to us mothers as we endure the toughest moments along the journey of our vocation, so that no sacrifice is too heavy to bear, and no cross is too splintery to carry.
This being said, we shouldn't be surprised, disturbed or disheartened by how hard Catholic motherhood can be at times. And we shouldn't close our hearts to its graces or run from the radical surrender it can call us to embrace.
Katie Williams, President of the Confraternity of Catholic Homeschool Mothers, recently wrote:
Motherhood is not glamorous. It makes little appeal to our modern conception of fulfillment. Motherhood can be dirty, tiring, and challenging. It does not look pretty. Our homes get dirty, our clothes get stained, we use all our strength and money and time to care for our children as a continual gift of self... It is messy, it is sticky, it is like the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of St. Luke. The man was stripped, beaten, and left for dead. When the Good Samaritan approached the poor stranger, blood was dripping from his gaping wounds, he probably stunk, was dirtied, and just plain helpless. The Good Samaritan had to clean his bloody wounds, wash his dirty, stinky body, carry him to the inn and use his own money and time for the continued care of this man. Motherhood parallels this. We mothers get dirty every day in the home trenches.
By allowing this language of sacrifice to resound in our souls, we mothers can be inspired to give our all, day after day, year after year.
In Holiness for Housewives, Hubert van Zeller eloquently explains:
The first necessity is to find in your soul a respect for your vocation. Once you have this sense of mission, this sense of dedication to a cause more worthwhile than any purely personal claim, the rest can follow. Prayer, self-sacrifice, loyalty, perseverance, and in fact the whole list, come spontaneously to the soul who concentrates upon the vocation immediately present and refuses to look at the vocation over the hill.
This Lenten Season, may all of us mothers, get past the rough, ruddy exterior of motherhood, and crack open the sparkling geode of our calling.
Iesus Crucifixus, Suffering Servant, be our friend and our guide. Our Lady of Sorrows, ora pro nobis!