With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I would like to give thanks for mothers—to pay tribute to the many ways they teach us about God and enrich our Church and society with their unique gifts.
The primary way that God is revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures is as “Father” and this is especially true in the Gospels, where Jesus seeks the will of the Father, and is the very “face of the Father.”
Yet we also know that God created Eve and that she reflects his image and likeness, just in different ways than Adam does. Mary, the Church teaches, is the New Eve, who by her obedience opened human history to the gift of our salvation through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Speaking about his experience of women’s gifts, Pope Francis said in his message for the 2015 International Women’s Day that they “transmit to us the ability to understand the world with different eyes, to understand things with hearts that are more creative, more patient, more tender.”
I hope that this has been your experience with your own mother, but even if you have had a less than ideal relationship with your mother, she is the one who brought you into the world, and you can rely on the fact that from the cross Jesus made Mary the spiritual mother of every believer by giving her to John, the beloved disciple.
There are also many female saints who can serve as models of motherhood. On April 29 we celebrated the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. She made such great contributions to the Church’s teaching on prayer that she was named a doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. In addition to her theological gifts, St. Catherine’s life testifies to how she had the kind of feminine heart that Pope Francis praised.
St. Catherine is a shining example of the natural openness women have to spiritual realities. For her, Christ was like a spouse with whom she was in an intimate, faithful relationship. In fact, her biographer Father Raymond di Capua recounts how she had a vision in which the Blessed Mother appeared to her with Jesus. Our Lady took Catherine’s finger and presented it to Christ who placed a beautiful ring on her finger and said, “I, your Creator and Savior, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven.” The ring was visible to Catherine but not to anyone else. Every Christian is called to an intimacy with each person of the Holy Trinity, just as St. Catherine was.
St. Catherine also dedicated herself to mending broken relationships. In 1375, for example, she convinced the leaders of several Italian towns not to join a revolt against Pope Gregory XI, who was then based in Avignon, France. Later, when Pope Urban VI was chosen as the next pontiff, she was able to establish peace between the revolutionaries and the Holy See, despite threats to her life.
Like the Blessed Mother who encouraged Jesus to perform his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, St. Catherine also employed her creativity to advance the kingdom of God. In 1378 the Western Church was split in two when the cardinals in Avignon elected Clement VII as pope, while the cardinals in Rome legitimately elected Pope Urban VI. St. Catherine wrote letters to the princes and leaders of Europe to convince them to support Urban VI, while at the same time writing the Holy Father to warn him to control his temper and not be arrogant. Amazingly, he responded by inviting her to Rome to advise him.
Mothers, whether they are biological or spiritual, do so much to bring God’s tender mercy, creativity and peace into the world. My own mother was a quiet, strong woman who had a unique relationship with the Lord that was apparent in her deep love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She passed that love on to me. As a child and especially as an adult, I would see her in quiet prayer with the Lord. Even at the time of her prolonged death from cancer, there was a quiet peace about her that her deep faith sustained.
In today’s world, mothers need support from fathers, children, friends and family. As we celebrate the great gift that they are, I ask everyone to pray for mothers, living and deceased, show them your love and seek to imitate their gifts, which reflect a part of God’s heart to us. May God bless all mothers and fill them with his peace!