As we give show our mothers love and appreciation this Mother’s Day, it’s also an occasion to remember women we know who have no children of their own or who find themselves in difficult circumstances. 

All women are called to be spiritual mothers, after Our Lady, and this motherhood takes on many forms, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 1988 apostolic letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.

“The motherhood of every woman, understood in the light of the Gospel, is similarly not only ‘of flesh and blood’: it expresses a profound ‘listening to the word of the living God’and a readiness to ‘safeguard" this Word, which is ‘the word of eternal life’ (cf. John 6:68).”

Spousal love, he wrote, “always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one's range of activity. In marriage this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse.” (emphasis in text)

Several years ago, Father Steven Hoffman, pastor of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota, Minnesota, honored spiritual mothers and other mothers in his congregation facing difficult challenges in a loving and affirming Mother’s Day homily. This article presents excerpts from this homily. 

Father Hoffman first recognized the pain of mothers who have lost a child:

I pray that you will not be afraid to talk about these experiences and to open these places in your hearts of loss and hurt to the healing warmth of God’s love,” he said. “In His sorrow and tears Jesus shared the grief of every grieving mother, and how much He also wants to be part of the healing. The Church rightly entrusts all children who have died to God’s Mercy. Together they form a choir of heavenly voices, thanking God for you, their mothers.

Mothers who’ve been unable to have children of their own also bear a painful deprivation, Father Hoffman told his parishioners:

I hope you will never forget that you are still mothers, which you show beautifully in your openness to life. Healing is needed here too, and part of the healing will be the opening of ones’ life to other ways of living out the vocation of motherhood. 

How beautiful are the lives of so many women who have adopted other children from here and other countries to raise as their own. And how many women there are who generously pour their maternal love upon all the hungry, aching hearts around them, on those God places along their paths each day--a labor of love that affirms the value and dignity of so many who often feel unwanted and devalued. 

Unmarried women can face loneliness and difficulty at times but when they generously offer themselves to God as spiritual mothers, their lives can be very fruitful, Father Hoffman said:

Here too, in the single life, women can begin to live out their vocation of motherhood in many beautiful ways. Many of you may already be, without knowing it, the spiritual mother of many children, who are the fruits of your simple, generous, self-giving love.    

St. Teresa of Calcutta was rightly called ‘mother’ by all her sisters and by the whole world. As a single, consecrated woman, she helped to conceive and bring to birth in millions of people all over the world a rediscovered sense of their dignity, goodness and self-worth—her love bore abundant fruits in the souls of aching mankind. 

Lastly Father Hoffman addressed “mothers who have lost a spouse through death, or whose lives have been hurt and affected by the brokenness of this world, either by their own brokenness and sin or that of others — and who now face the task of raising their children alone, without the usual help and support of the children’s father”:

I pray that the Church, beginning with me, will always have a special place in her heart for you. May you always find in the parish communities in which you live, arms to embrace you, hands to reach out to you and help you, shoulders generously offered to share your burdens. Admirable and praiseworthy are all the day-to-day sacrifices you make for the good of your children--how pleasing these must be to God, whose love you emulate.

In closing, Father Hoffman affirmed and encouraged mothers, both physical and spiritual:

How dear you are, not only to the God who made and redeemed you, but also to us who bear within us the fruits of your maternal love. May Mary, the Mother of Christ, be near you always, with you in your sorrows and your joys. May she keep you in her mantle of love and protection. And together with her, may it be your greatest joy to labor, even in tears, for the birth of Christ in every heart and in every soul.