This month, as Pope Francis continued his weekly catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, he urged pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to emulate the Virgin Mary’s embrace of the Holy Spirit through her discernment and acceptance of God’s will. The Virgin’s wisdom, he said, was nourished through the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel, a gift particularly apt for mothers.
"Counsel," he noted, "is the gift by which the Holy Spirit makes our conscience capable of making a concrete choice in communion with God, according to the logic of Jesus and of his Gospel. In this way, the Spirit helps us grow inwardly, helps us grow positively, helps us ... avoid being at the mercy of selfishness and our own way of seeing things."
The Pope recalled an exchange he had, during a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Lujan in Argentina, with a young, tattooed man. "He had a big, difficult problem. And [he asked me], ‘What would you do?’ So I told my mother about this, and my mother said to me: ‘Go to the Virgin Mary, and she will tell you what you must do.’"
Mary, Francis said, "had the gift of counsel. She did not know how to solve her son’s problems, but she indicated the right way."
Afterward, the young man returned to report that Mary had given him clear direction, a grace many mothers today possess.
"You mothers who have this gift, ask for this gift for your children: the gift of being able to counsel your children," he said. "It is a gift from God."
Mary exhibited this gift in the Annunciation, when she had the courage to say Yes to God’s plan for her to conceive and bear a son named Jesus.
The Pope points to Mary as the "New Eve," who, in striking contrast to her predecessor, seeks to fulfill God’s will at all times, risking her own reputation to become the Christ-bearer, and then accompanying her son on the unforgiving road to Golgotha. In his March 25 homily marking the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis observed that pride led Adam and Eve to eat the fruit forbidden to them, while Mary repaired the breach by her life-giving fiat.
"Salvation cannot be bought or sold: It’s a gift," said the Holy Father, that can only be received with "an obedient heart, like that of Mary."
The Pope’s guidance will resonate with mothers who see their sons and daughters stumble and fall. Their children often suffer from self-inflicted wounds, but they are also buffeted by a harsh, unpredictable world.
How should mothers protect their offspring from a culture that derides humility and normalizes selfishness? How should they prepare their children for an era that may feature both declining prosperity at home and influence abroad?
Pope Francis calls on mothers to set aside their fears and pressing advice and to first let Mary guide both parent and child to do the Father’s will, in order to find safe harbor in treacherous seas. And the Pope’s words will resonate with spiritual mothers, including women religious, who have taken solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Let these mothers continue to be guided by Mary, and so lead all the faithful to seek the Lord’s will as they live out their own vocations.
At present, the need for a renewed appreciation for the path of true spiritual motherhood has become more urgent, as one influential organization founded to support U.S. religious orders — the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) — continues to challenge the Holy See’s efforts to address its problematic activities and policies.
Elsewhere in these pages, the Register reports that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has defended the Holy See’s doctrinal assessment of the LCWR and subsequent efforts to implement reforms.
While the CDF prefect emphasized the importance of unity between the Holy See and the U.S. organization, he also expressed concern regarding the grave spiritual damage of theological dissent and the havoc it could wreak on the faith of women religious who follow the LCWR’s lead.
In the economy of salvation, mothers are not only responsible for their own spiritual and moral choices — they are called to build a foundation that will provide a firm grounding for their charges. This duty is no less important than the task of providing financial and practical support for vulnerable young lives.
Yet we live in a time when the logic of the world openly challenges the "logic of Jesus and of his Gospel." The result is a greatly diminished respect for the maternal vocation — with surrogate mothers described as "gestational carriers" and young mothers exhorted to "lean in" to their careers, even when they feel pulled to be home. Meanwhile, a United Nations committee attacks Church teaching on abortion as a form of "torture."
Thus, Mary’s path is dismissed as a trap and an obstacle to personal fulfillment for women who happen to be mothers.
As the New Testament makes clear, Mary’s humility should not be confused with the very real degradation of women that occurs in our own land and in other parts of the world. Rather, Mary has been elevated above all other human beings, male and female, who are made in God’s image. Her docility is active and powerful, rooted as it is in truth and confirmed in the history of salvation.
For this reason, she is revered as an example for all disciples of Christ who ponder the hidden meaning of the unexpected gifts and of the great hardships that define human existence.