‘Hail Mary, Full of Grace’: Moms Reveal What the Image of the Blessed Mother Means in Raising Kids to Know Christ
Ahead of Mother's Day, five women share a window into their physical and spiritual motherhood.
In his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope St. John Paul II says that “motherhood concerns the whole person” and that Mary’s motherhood “determines the essential horizon of reflection on the dignity and the vocation of women.”
In honor of Mother’s Day, which most appropriately takes place in the month of Mary, five women have shared a window into their physical and spiritual motherhood. Erica Lipp is a young mother in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, who gave birth to her first child, Jacinta, in November 2022. Author and secular Carmelite Susan Furlong is a mother of four children and resides in the Midwest. Heather Khym is a mother of three, writer, worship leader and co-host of the Abiding Together podcast, and lives in British Columbia. Sister Bernadette Mota has been a Salesian sister for 14 years, currently serves as director of mission advancement for the Salesians’ Western Province and resides in San Antonio. Mother and grandmother Debbie Herbeck has worked for many years in youth and women’s ministry, writes and speaks for Blessed is She, and has recently published Lessons From the School of Love: Creating a Christ-Centered Marriage with her husband, Peter.
Each of these women offer beautiful insights into the multifaceted journey of motherhood.
What is your favorite image or title of Mary?
Lipp: The image of the Miraculous Medal is a favorite of mine. I have a big devotion to the Rosary, and this image of Mary is often found on the Rosary. Another reason I love this image is the reminder that through the intercession of the Immaculate Conception, I met and married my husband, Isaac.
Furlong: I love the title that Our Lord gave his mother from the cross: “Behold your Mother.” I relate to her best as mother, and it’s the title I feel is most endearing to us as Catholics.
Khym: My favorite title of Mary is Star of the Sea (Stella Maris). I have always loved the imagery of the light of a beautiful star in the night guiding us on our journey to Christ. It’s especially comforting as life involves so many waves, storms and darkness. It reminds me that Mary is a comforting Mother who accompanies us through the challenges of life on our way to Jesus.
Sister Bernadette: My favorite title is “Mary, Help of Christians” because, as a Salesian sister, our formal title is Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. St. John Bosco founded our order to be a living monument of gratitude to Mary, and it’s such an honor to be called her daughter.
Herbeck: As I have just come from Guadalupe and have many times taken youth on mission there, it’s Our Lady of Guadalupe. The impact she had changed the course of Mexico in a short time. Even today, she gives me hope for our world. Mary is still speaking and has such a mother’s heart for God’s children.
How has Mary helped or guided you in your motherhood? What aspects of her have been most resonant to you?
Lipp: The Seven Sorrows of Mary have resonated with me more profoundly since becoming a mother. Though my baby is only 4 months old, I have experienced great sorrow when she got sick and when we discovered her heart defect. I find myself embracing and finding great comfort in the Seven Sorrows Rosary. I am reminded of how much more Mary suffered when watching her Son be crucified. Knowing that Mary suffered when her child suffered helps me not feel so alone when I am suffering with my child.
Khym: I am so inspired by Mary’s openness and docility to the Holy Spirit and her willingness to follow God’s will no matter what the cost. Mary is strong in her littleness before God. Her ability to trust the Father in the midst of fear and intense suffering is such an inspiration to me because motherhood requires deep trust in God, a trust that he is working all things for good, even the hard things, for those who love him. I have found that as I trust and lean into that truth, my littleness is a pathway for God’s strength to come through.
Sister Bernadette: Just before making my final vows, I shared with one of my sisters that I wanted to grow even more in my love for Mary. She told me to pray for this love and God would not hold back on this request. I received many graces from that intentional prayer of growing more in love for our Blessed Mother. The part of her that has helped me most is that she is a life-giving presence. She is present at the foot of the cross, to the disciples, to everyone. She is so available and always listens.
Herbeck: I first met Mary before I was a Catholic, when I was investigating the Church. I experienced Mary walking alongside me as a mother during a time my own mother wasn’t in my life. Mary did for me what every Jewish mother knows how to do: She made the Church a home. She taught me what it means to be a mother, how to trust God in all things, how to hold promises of God in my heart for each child and patiently watch how he works.
What has been the most unexpected aspect of motherhood?
Furlong: One of the biggest fears of any mother is the loss of her child. For me, that fear became a reality with the death of our 21-year-old son. What I didn’t expect to emerge from the immense pain and sorrow of that loss was a gift. Losing a son helped me relate to Mary in her own sorrow. I spent many hours contemplating her at the foot of her Son’s cross, and through that time spent with her, I found consolation and came to understand that I could also console her. By uniting my sorrow to hers, she brought me closer to her Son. I’m so grateful for that gift.
Khym: I guess how much joy and how much pain is involved. I have never felt things more deeply than I have as a mother. The way joy floods into our home and my heart, how deeply I love, but also the amount of suffering and sacrifice that’s involved. Yet, even in that, the sacrifices have only bonded us more deeply.
Sister Bernadette: Though perhaps not unexpected, for me as a sister, I am so delighted to see many of the young people I have accompanied flourish in their vocations. It makes me feel like a proud mom. The Lord has used me in many ways to help young people, to be, like Mary, a presence for them and bring them to Jesus.
Herbeck: One I wasn’t prepared for was how hidden much of my natural motherhood is in the day to day. That was surprising, but I came to treasure it.
Can you share one to two practices you’ve found helpful for encouraging the faith in your (spiritual or biological) children?
Lipp: My daughter is still quite young, but I think that the way I live my life will be the biggest encouragement of faith in her life. It’s important that the way I live my life be consistent with my faith. Am I loving toward my enemy? Do I show great faith and trust in God during tribulations? Am I a joyful Catholic? This is what matters!
Furlong: I want my children to fully know their holy Mother’s love for them. They are consecrated to her, and every morning we start the day with the Totus Tuus prayer. The Rosary is also central to our prayer life and brings us closer together as a family.
Khym: I think one important one has been to see my children’s individual gifts and things they love and point out those attributes of God’s creativity or personality that would most deeply resonate with them. For example, my daughter is an artist, so I would always draw her attention to the beauty of creation and God’s artistry. Another spiritual practice has been having Scripture in our home, whether it be getting them their own Bibles that were age appropriate or writing Scriptures on a chalkboard in the home so it was visible and easy to remember.
Sister Bernadette: One is praying with Scripture, to really have a great love for the word of God. That’s how God speaks to us and how we know his heart. The second would be to have a great love and devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to Mary.
Can you recall a moment when you particularly experienced your motherhood? Can you share this experience?
Lipp: At 2 months old, my baby was dealing with some nasal and chest congestion that was interfering with her feeding, sleep and breathing. I finally understood what it means to love until it hurts. It hurt so much to see my little newborn sick! I was willing to do anything to help her feel better. It was amazing to see myself go to limits I hadn’t thought possible before!
Furlong: When we married, we wanted a large family. We were blessed with three children, but after trying several years for more children, we decided to complete our family through adoption. At the time, a small part of me worried if I would love an adopted child as much as our biological children. But the instant our adopted daughter was placed in my arms, I loved her. And at that moment, I learned that motherhood has little to do with birthing a child and everything to do with receiving a gift from God.
Khym: There are so many big moments I could mention, but there are all the little moments that are so special, like constant jewels through each stage of children growing up. From the quiet moments in a rocking chair in the middle of the night to bedtime kisses to seeing them at their first Christmas concert to soothing them when they are sick to staring into their eyes when they are terrified and watching them calm down as you comfort them to launching them off to college and young adulthood, you just know that you love and are loved so deeply. I have also found myself many times in a room of young people who don’t “belong” to me and experiencing a strong maternal heart well up and extend to them. Once I embraced motherhood, both biologically and spiritually, it entered into every part of who I am and changed me, making me more authentically me. It’s one of the greatest treasures of my life.
Sister Bernadette: A few years back, I was leading a group of college students on a mission trip and was going from Illinois to Louisiana in a big van with them. As we were driving, one of the students asked, “Sister, when you were younger, what did you want to be?” I said I wasn’t thinking of being a sister. I thought I was going to work at a university, coach sports and be a soccer mom. The student said, “But sister, you’re better than a soccer mom. You’re taking us to better things than a sports game.”
Herbeck: I had an opportunity 30 years ago to meet Mother Teresa. I was a young mother with two very small children and was really struggling with my vocation as a mother — how hidden it all was, the mundane. As I was meeting her, I had my 6-month-old son with me. She blessed him, and as I was turning to go, she pulled me toward herself, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Your job as a mother is the most important job in the whole world.” She was speaking this truth into my life about my motherhood. God intervened in my life through Mother Teresa. She affirmed in me my value as a mother. I can honestly say she taught me how to love as a mother and what that love looked like. She’s still teaching me today.
To be a grandmother means I have a great opportunity to pass on this legacy of love I’ve been given. There’s a ripple effect: The seeds you sow in children’s lives ripple through relationship and loving each one individually. I know my work as a grandma isn’t done, as I have the next generation to pour into through how I love them and their parents.