Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

What the world needs now

Spiritual Mothers — Like YOU!

By Pat Gohn
Here’s a wonderful attribute of your feminine genius: All women are called to spiritual motherhood. By virtue of being created feminine, the genius behind God’s design of you, body and soul, inherently equips you for motherhood.
All women have the gift of maternity, and it is lived in two ways: physical motherhood and spiritual motherhood. Physical mothers come to mind most obviously. They birth and raise their own biological children, or raise children as adoptive mothers, stepmothers, or foster mothers.
Spiritual motherhood means nurturing the spiritual, moral, emotional, and cultural life in others. Not all women give birth to children, yet all women are called to exercise a spiritual maternity in the world—giving care and nurture to others through their own maternal gift. (And, of course, spiritual mothering should be part of every physical mother’s care!)
To understand spiritual motherhood or spiritual maternity properly, we need to broaden our understanding of the gift of maternity. Growing up I considered maternity limited to nine months of pregnancy. Later in life, I read John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignatatem (“On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”) and gained a new perspective.
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…. This entrusting concerns women in a special way—precisely by reason of their femininity—and this in a particular way determines their vocation…. A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting… (par. 30.)
In this section of the document, John Paul describes the universal vocation of all women, not just women who bear children. God entrusts all women, by reason of their femininity—their design—to care for humanity. Maternal care, in a spiritual way, is not limited to childcare, but should be active in all phases of a woman’s life. Spiritual mothering doesn’t smother or infantilize teens or adults but loves and serves them according to the needs of the person one is caring for. It brings a motherly touch to our human relationships, and to our work—especially the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, is a powerful example. Mother Teresa displayed spiritual mothering in action. Her words, actions, and prayers mothered millions—not biologically, but spiritually.
**************************************
Ten ways you can spot a spiritual mother…
  • She nurtures others to become who they are meant to be in God’s eyes.
  • She recognizes, affirms, and protects human dignity.
  • She performs spiritual and corporal works of mercy with maternal care.
  • She helps others by her encouraging words and charitable service.
  • She prays for and with others as an intercessor for them, especially priests.
  • She practices the arts of friendship and hospitality.
  • She passes on what she knows as a mentor when asked.
  • She is a joy catalyst.
  • She keeps Christ close in her heart by imitating Mary.
  • She is a woman of holy influence who helps to give birth to saints.
Spiritual motherhood is part of the mission of women
The Catholic role of godmothers has something to say about spiritual mothering, especially when viewed as something more than a title—a real ongoing opportunity to help someone grow in their faith. Yet spiritual motherhood suggests that “godmothering” is not limited to a sacramental role alone.
Almost 50 years ago, Pope Paul VI closed Vatican II with this message:
“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which women achieve an influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling” (Address to Women, 1965).
God’s plan of entrusting humanity to our womanly care means that, as women, we must step up and lead others using this wonderful maternal gift via spiritual and/or physical motherhood. We must become, more and more, women who reflect the love and life of the gospel. We are called to be saints, and spiritual motherhood is part of a woman’s path to holiness.
Spiritual motherhood abounds in all women saints, but here are a few you might look up to:
Spiritual mothers who were married and gave birth to children:
  • St. Anne
  • St. Monica
  • St. Frances of Rome
  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • St. Gianna Molla
Spiritual mothers who were religious sisters:
  • St. Clare of Assisi
  • St. Teresa of Avila
  • St. Thérèse of Lisieux
  • St. Katharine Drexel
  • St. Marianne Cope
Spiritual mothers who were single laywomen:
  • St. Mary Magdalene
  • St. Agnes
  • St. Joan of Arc
  • St. Rose of Lima
  • St. Kateri Tekakwitha