Friday, May 11, 2007

On Christian Motherhood

God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Mary's child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers, as they see the hope of eternal life shine on their children. May he bless the mother of this child. She now thanks God for the gift of her child. May she be one with him (her) in thanking him for ever in heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (from the Rite of Baptism.)

Parents are among the only people I know of whose job consists in putting themselves out of a job.

While this is true for fathers and for mothers, I sometimes think that mothers are the ones who are really aware of it. Generally speaking, mothers are the ones who spend so much time teaching their little ones, bringing them from a state of helpless, soggy wiggliness to a state that's pretty darned near civilized in a matter of five short years.

Walking. Talking. Basic hygiene. Dressing themselves--hilariously at first, and then quite soberly. Potty training. Putting on socks, and then shoes, and then learning to fasten or tie the shoes. Remembering to ask if they need a coat. Learning to pick up their toys (even if the grand adventure called Life that's occupying all of their attention makes them a bit surly when asked to do this). Remembering, on their own, to say "please" or "thank you."

Till the day dawns when you offer to help with any of these things, and the response you get back is a quick, confident, "No, thanks, Mom; I can do it." And as they proceed to do whatever it is, competent without you, you draw a quick breath.

You feel like celebrating. And you feel like crying.

Celebrating, because you've been waiting so long for this emergent self-sufficiency. And crying, because pretty soon they won't need you very much at all.

True, you can say to yourself, as your mother said to herself, and her mother to herself, that you will always be his/her mother; that he/she will always be your baby. On one level that's quite true. But unless you're prepared to distort the beauty of motherhood into something smothering and twisted, to take steps to stunt the little one's growth so that he/she will remain dependent on you, emotionally if not physically, for far longer than a child should, then you are going to have to let go.

In one sense, you've been letting go since the little one emerged from your womb. But in another sense, it can be frightening to contemplate the future, when your children are grown, when they call you from what seems like a million miles away to wish you a happy Mother's Day.

But the alternative is wrong, plain and simple. For as the Rite of Baptism says, above, our children are a gift, not a right, not a possession, not a 'mini-me.' And like us, they are ordered not to this world, but to eternity.

The greatest joy a Christian mother can experience will be akin to the joy that Our Lady experienced when she was assumed into Heaven. There, joyfully greeting her Son and taking her place in the court of Heaven, the Queen of all Mothers knew the joy that we are promised in the Rite of Baptism, the joy of thanking God for the gift of our children. The hope and goal of our lives as mothers is not to cling to our children here on earth, but to be with them for all eternity. There is no greater fulfillment of our vocation to Christian motherhood than this, no greater happiness than being reunited in Heaven with the ones we were privileged to bear on earth.

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