Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning”, the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man – even with all his sharing in parenthood – always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother…In any event, the mother’s contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality.”- (Pope St. John Paul II Mulieris Dignitatem, 18)
On this Mother’s Day, as we give thanks for the gift of our mothers, I am struck not only by the gifts and lessons handed on to us in a practical way by our mothers, but also by the deeper senses of humanity that must be transmitted to us by mothers. In his Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope St. John Paul II highlights the fact that the role of a mother goes far beyond feeding and clothing her child. Rather, a woman living out the gift of her feminine genius, living out her maternal vocation, is the first teacher of the fact that “love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person” (MD 29). From our mothers, we learn what it is to be loved, and from our mothers we first learn how to love.
Pope St. John Paul II also highlights the many ways in which the feminine genius has a maternal expression, explaining that maternity is not limited to biology. Motherhood is lived out beautifully by women who stand in the place of biological mothers, by women who give the gift of spiritual motherhood, and by countless women who teach us, by their words, actions, and attitudes, what it is to love and to be loved.
“Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women – for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.
The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.
The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable “manifestations of the Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff.), which with great generosity are poured forth upon the “daughters” of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times. Meditating on the biblical mystery of the “woman”, the Church prays that in this mystery all women may discover themselves and their “supreme vocation.” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 31).