Celebrating the Gift of Spiritual Maternity
Especially during the Month of May, the Month of Mary, we wish to highlight the call to share in the work of praying and sacrificing for souls following the example of our Mother, the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary, Exemplar and Model of Spiritual Maternity
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” Jn 19:26-27a
At the same time that Our Lord gave the Blessed Mother to John to be his mother, He also established a real spiritual maternity on the part of the Virgin Mary towards all souls. Her motherhood extends both to those faithful members of the Mystical Body of the Church, as well as to those in potency…those souls who are far off, yet nontheless who have been made for Heaven. It is the ongoing intercession, care and maternal solicitude for all souls which especially constitute spiritual maternity.
Called to Pray for Vocations and to “Transmit Spiritual Life”
During the Year for Priests, the Congregation for the Clergy has pointed out the importance of spiritual maternity for those who pray for priests and for priestly vocations. Amid the variety of texts gathered together on this topic, the 2007 text Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity stands out. It opens with this beautiful introduction:
“The vocation to be a spiritual mother…is largely unknown, scarcely understood and, consequently, rarely lived, notwithstanding its fundamental importance. It is a vocation that is frequently hidden, invisible to the naked eye, but meant to transmit spiritual life.”
The document goes on to feature lively examples of those who have prayed and suffered for souls, especially for priests: St. Monica and St. Therese of the Child Jesus among others. It is available for free download from the Congregation for the Clergy (English, PDF 1.47 MB / Spanish, PDF 1.5 MB).
The Woman Religious as Spiritual Mother
“Above all, the religious should be mother, because she begets children through the cross, by prayer, apostolic zeal and preaching. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our actions supernaturally fruitful, gives them life, and makes them glorious for God: what is born of the Spirit is Spirit (Jn. 6:63).”
Constitutions of the Institute of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, 119
Writing in 1988, John Paul II addressed women religious in particular: “Spiritual motherhood takes on many different forms. In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).” Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), #21
The Joyful Cross of Spiritual Motherhood
When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16: 21). The first part of Christ’s words refers to the “pangs of childbirth” which belong to the heritage of original sin; at the same time these words indicate the link that exists between the woman’s motherhood and the Paschal Mystery. For this mystery also includes the Mother’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross – the Mother who through faith shares in the amazing mystery of her Son’s “self-emptying”: This is perhaps the deepest ‘kenosis’ of faith in human history.” Mulieris Dignitatem, #19
In a homily on spiritual maternity, Fr. Buela describes the necessary but challenging work of begetting spiritual children by quoting Saint John of Avila’s letter to Father Luis of Granada. Fr. Buela applies these demands of spiritual fatherhood to the lives of women religious, and subsequently to all those who pray and suffer for souls.
- Keeping Silence: “Will he not consider remaining silent when necessary, so as to help his children even when they complain about every small thing?”
- Not Showing Preferences: “Will he not be careful to avoid arousing envy by loving more one than another, or of seeming to love one more than the other?”
- Feeding the Soul: “He takes care to feed his children even when it means he must take the morsel from his mouth…”
- Forgetting Oneself: “And even though sometimes the father’s heart might be tormented with a thousand concerns, so that he needs, for his own tranquility to give free rein to his sadness, and empty himself with tears, when his child comes he still must play and laugh with him, as if the child was his sole focus. For, who would be able to count all together the temptations, dryness, dangers, deceits, scruples, and other thousands of fantasies that come from everywhere?”
- Being Vigilant: “How he needs to be vigilant so that the son will not follow these! How much wisdom he needs to bring the child back once he has fallen for these! [And] patience, so he does not get tired of hearing the same questions over and over again which he has heard and responded to a thousand times, explaining again what he has already said before!”
- Prayer: “What constant and courageous praying he must do to God, begging that his child not die! For, if he dies, believe me, father, no pain can equal this, neither do I believe that God has allowed another sort of martyrdom in this world as painful as that of the true Father whose son dies.”
The Fecundity of Virginity
“The greatest glory of virgins is undoubtedly to be the living images of the perfect integrity of the union between the Church and her Divine Spouse. For this society, founded by Christ, it is a profound joy that virgins should be the marvelous sign of its sanctity and fecundity.” Pope Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas , #120