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BY Jim Cosgrove
Who will be the most essential Catholic leaders of the third millennium?
Will it be bishops and priests? Catholic scholars, Christian CEOs and politicians?
All these leaders have an important role in creating a Christian culture, but none is as influential and effective as … our moms. We seldom think of mothers as Christian leaders. Yet that's just what they are.
Barbara Keean, a teacher and mother of six, knows just what I'm talking about. She believes the old saying “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” holds true even today. “Christian mothers,” explains Barbara, “can communicate the faith to their children in a way no one else can.”
Barbara shared with me a simple, but important, lesson she taught her 12-year-old son. Patrick loves Little League baseball. This year his team had batting practice scheduled on Good Friday. Patrick was going to go, but his mom told him he shouldn't. This was a tough moment for Patrick. “But mom, why can't I go?” he pleaded. Barbara calmed her son down and explained to him what happened on Good Friday. Then the whole family watched the film Jesus of Nazareth. Later that day, Patrick told his mother, “Now I get it, mom.” Kids never forget moments that help them to discern the value of their faith.
Christian mothers seem to be naturally the best teachers of the faith for their children. In Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), the Holy Father says that the heart of Christianity is love because God himself is love. A mother, by the gift of her femininity, realizes herself by receiving love and giving love. This means Christian mothers can receive God's love and share it with their children in a unique way. This is essentially what makes them the best evangelizers.
What do Christians mothers normally strive to teach their children daily? Above all, they want their children to know and love God. This is why moms are normally the first to teach their children how to pray or talk with God. They want their children to face life with God, knowing there is someone greater than themselves who loves them and watches over them. Many of us recall how our mothers taught us to pray the Our Father or the Hail Mary when we were kids, and to say grace before meals. All these things seem small, but it is precisely these small things that build a Christian and Catholic culture, one heart at a time.
Not only do moms want their children to love and to know God as they go through life, but also to love and respect others. Mothers, more so than fathers, can teach their children to value and respect human life because motherhood, in the Holy Father's words, “involves a special communion with the mystery of life.” This unique affinity that mothers have with life allows them to teach their children the immense value of all human life. Consequently, Christian mothers are key leaders in promoting the culture of life. When motherhood is understood and valued from this perspective, it is no wonder that the Pope refers to motherhood as a “gift” and “vocation” from God.
We seldom think of our mothers as Christian leaders. Yet that's just what they are.
The young consecrated women I teach every day remind me that the wonderful gift and vocation of motherhood is not limited to physical motherhood, but extends as well to women, like my students, who embrace what the Holy Father calls motherhood according to the spirit. These spiritual mothers play an indispensable leadership role in the building of a Christian culture. They express their motherhood by caring for the needy, the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the margins of society. This spiritual motherhood permits consecrated women to love their divine spouse, Jesus Christ, in every person, according to the words of the Gospel: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Consequently, the most outstanding characteristic of spiritual motherhood is universal charity—love expressed for everyone.
While spiritual and physical motherhood differ from one another, they are complementary. The Holy Father states that, in both situations, women live an essential dimension of motherhood. Either way, they give themselves completely as a gift to their spouses, either through the sacrament of marriage or spiritually through marriage to Christ.
Who is the perfect role model today for young women aspiring to be the moms of tomorrow? Who else? Devotion to Mary—who alone is both virgin and mother—is the best way for young women to learn what Christian motherhood is and what it entails. This Marian devotion is most effective when it implies imitating the virtues of Our Lady. Mary is able to love others as a mother because she prays. She experiences the love of God in prayer and gives that love to her family. Prayer is what helps the Virgin Mother to understand the things of God. Mary is also the attentive mother. Always, she thinks first of the needs of her family. She listens, consoles, serves and motivates those around her with optimism. Mary is the first to realize that motherhood is not always easy. She offers her difficulties to God with faith and hope.
If it's true that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, then Christian culture depends on moms with hands like Mary's. Happy Mother's Day, moms—and thank you for all you do for all of us.
Father Andrew McNair teaches at
Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Studies
in Greenville, Rhode Island.