Editorial: On Mother’s Day, we honor all women, biological and spiritual mothers alike

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Mom and baby hands
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Each year during Mass on the second Sunday of May, in parishes across the country, priests mark the celebration of Mother’s Day by asking all of the mothers in the church to rise to their feet as they read from the Book of Blessings:

“Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church,” the priest will say. “Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect.”

The occasion of this blessing is an all-too-rare public recognition of the tireless work done by mothers, as well as their willingness to give fully of themselves purely out of their love for their families. St. Oscar Romero called this sacrificial, life-giving love a “maternal martyrdom” to which each of us should strive. “To give your life does not only mean to be killed,” St. Oscar said during a homily in 1977, just years before the Salvadoran archbishop was assassinated for his faith. “Giving your life, having the spirit of martyrdom, is to give in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the honest fulfillment of one’s duty; in the silence of everyday life; giving life little by little? Yes, just as a mother gives.”

But as many mothers proudly stand to receive the priest’s blessing on Mother’s Day, others remain still and seated — conflicted as to whether they deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other moms, or unwilling to reveal publicly the loss they have suffered, or wondering whether they deserve to be called a mother at all. While Mother’s Day is a celebration for many, for those who have suffered the tragic loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or death after birth, it is yet another painful reminder of their broken hearts.

The motherhood of these women, however, is undeniable. If life truly begins at conception, which the Church has consistently taught, then so, too, does motherhood. Pope Benedict XVI reiterated this important teaching during a 2006 address to the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life: “God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness in each one. … Therefore, the magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end.”

Just as Mother’s Day can be an occasion of grief to those who have lost a child, so, too, can it be for women who are unable to conceive. Their motherhood — a spiritual motherhood — has been entrusted to them by God, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem, his 1988 apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women. “The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way,” John Paul II wrote. “Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way — precisely by reason of their femininity — and this in a particular way determines their vocation.”

This spiritual motherhood can take on countless forms: From being a loving, nurturing aunt or godmother, to caring for friends and neighbors, to dedicating oneself to pray for the needs of others, the opportunities to express this spiritual motherhood are boundless. And while there may still be a longing for children of their own, knowing that God has entrusted every woman “by reason of their femininity” to the care of those around her can help to soothe that heartache.

So as we offer our mothers a fitting and important tribute this Mother’s Day, let us especially remember those who, for whatever reason, might be silently suffering on the inside. Let us ask Mary, the mother of us all, to be with them, offering them the peace and consolation that can be found through her son — the child born to the Virgin who was sent to save us.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.