Faith Alive

Catholic News Service

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    Motherhood extends and enlarges the love that is revealed in the vocation of marriage.

    Our vocation as we grow older is to pray, to be supportive, to rejoice in our children and grandchildren, to credit ourselves for success and forgive ourselves for expectations never met.

    Mothers depicted in biblical accounts show the heroic virtue required to meet the challenges of motherhood.


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    Motherhood: A vocation that grows and changes

    By Effie Caldarola

    Catholic News Service

    In 1916, Padraig Pearse was executed by the British for his role in the Irish Easter uprising.

    Pearse was more of a scholar and a poet than he was a warrior. But like many in the fledging rebellion against the British, he had a romantic view of Irish martyrdom.

    One of his best-loved poems was about his mother, and as we celebrate Mother's Day, the words that he attributes to her about his own approaching death might touch every mother's heart: "Lord, thou art hard on mothers: / We suffer in their coming and their going."

    Pearse was prescient in suspecting that he would die young, leaving a mother behind in sorrow. A mother who had given birth to him in pain would be doubly burdened by the pain of his death. Any mother who has experienced a child's death knows this terrible reality.

    But mothers also experience "their going" in other, less heartbreaking but still profound ways. From the moment a child begins to grow in the womb -- or we hear that an adoption is imminent -- we know that change is afoot, that someone who is entering our life is beginning the inevitable journey away from us.

    The child of our heart will eventually grow up. Any mom who has cried in the car after leaving her child at the first day of kindergarten or bid farewell to a child in a dorm room at a college far away knows this pain of separation and change.

    The conundrum of a mother's vocation -- for surely this lifelong and deeply heartfelt commitment can only be called a vocation -- is that, even as we hold our children to our hearts, we prepare them for independence, for "their going." It's both the glory as well as the loss that accompanies the vocation of motherhood.

    A major part of the decision to embark on any vocation is the commitment to serve the world through our calling. It's why someone chooses to be a priest, a sister or embarks on a marriage. Our response to this call is a response to God, and therefore a chance to make the world a better place.

    And so it is with motherhood. Although most people will tell you that children have greatly enriched their lives, we don't have children for our own sake. The days have passed when we need them to bring in the harvest. And we may hope they are a bright spot in our old age, but we don't have children for that purpose.

    Instead, motherhood extends and enlarges the love that is revealed in the vocation of marriage. Love desires life.

    In his fascinating book, "Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity," Andrew Solomon explores how love works through the differences between parents and children. His book focuses on children that are very different from their parents, including the child prodigy, the deaf child, the child with Down syndrome, the gay child.

    And yet, in many ways he describes what every mother knows -- every child, no matter how she resembles you, is her own person.

    "Parenthood," Solomon tells us, "abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger."

    Permanence is one of the markers of vocation -- the vocation to religious life, a marriage, a decision to have children -- they're all meant to be "until death do us part" commitments.

    And although everyone changes and grows within a vocation, motherhood casts us into a vocation where the "other" changes dramatically and where the control we initially feel gradually deserts us.

    Every mother and every child can identify at least a bit with Solomon's statement: "From the beginning, we (parents) ... long for what may be life's most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us."

    And therein lies another conundrum of this vocation: There comes a time when we step back and acknowledge that, even as our relationship blossoms, our work is largely done. Certainly, we remain supportive and present, and if we're lucky, involved with grandchildren.

    But as our children mature, our vocation demands a certain detachment. The mother of adult children may have a tongue sometimes scarred from biting, but her prayers for her children never end.

    Our vocation as we grow older is to pray, to be supportive, to rejoice in our children and grandchildren, to credit ourselves for success and forgive ourselves for expectations never met. We did the best we could. Mothers must not be "endlessly sad" if a child sometimes chooses a different value than our own.

    In Pearse's poem, he imagines his mother saying, "I will speak their names in my own heart/ In the long nights;/ The little names that were familiar once ..."

    It's what the vocation of motherhood produces: a heart that always remembers the little names, that always -- no matter how old our children are -- speaks their names in prayer in the long nights.

    (Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)


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    Motherhood, a labor of love

    By Kelly Bothum

    Catholic News Service

    Few women are prepared for the life-changing experience that motherhood brings. Sure, they may discover new curves in old places after having a baby or even develop a keen knack for multitasking during the toddler years, but these physical changes pale in comparison to the internal ones.

    For it is the living, breathing -- and occasionally terrifying -- act of raising children that causes the most profound changes. It is in these transformative moments that women become mothers, a vocation unlike any other.

    As a Catholic woman raising children of faith, motherhood can open a window to a deeper relationship with God.

    We see the great potential in our children and we strive to help them live up to all that is possible. We ache when they make mistakes or cause pain to others and themselves. We understand the power of forgiveness as well as the opportunity for second chances.

    Our relationship with God, through Jesus and his mother Mary, can provide a trusted guide for how to raise our families. Through prayer, we can find the answers to life's questions.

    "I had no family around while raising my two children. I relied on God's wisdom, comfort and help. When I was worried about my children I entrusted them to God's tender loving care and help from the Holy Spirit to enlighten them in their choices," said Marilyn Vallejo of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

    "Their upbringing of doing your best, being kind, being loving, being forgiving were all tied to God's commands and following the life of Jesus."

    Whether through birth or adoption, motherhood is a labor of love. It's not a job where you go off the clock or have the option to take a sabbatical. Even when they do it well, mothers often yearn to be better, not to win accolades from others but for the sake of enriching their children's lives.

    "I guess the short version is that I feel like I have a slightly better idea of God's love, learned by the lessons of parenthood," said Amylee Udell, 42, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. "I saw how children can be imperfect but love so purely and how their imperfections do not make them unlovable."

    Being a mom also has given Udell a better understanding of boundaries and how the church sets its own boundaries out of love and respect.

    "While the secular world often sees these as dictates set down the line for us to blindly follow, I now see as coming from love and living out of love. They are not dictates, but fully explained and reasoned for those who want to understand and available for us to freely choose -- or not," she added. "Ultimately, that's what my adult children will do."

    It can be overwhelming to contemplate the depth of God's love for us, but we get an idea of it in our own feelings for our children, Vallejo said.

    "Because I am a parent and I understand how to love a child so much and unconditionally, I am so amazed that God gave up his only begotten son for me. His great love for me is hard to comprehend," she added. "I could never give up my children for anyone. I could lay down my life but not sacrifice my children."

    That kind of love is what makes forgiveness so powerful, Udell said. Moms know what it's like to be hurt, but they also know the joy that comes from seeing their growing children make small improvements.

    "As I imagine God did, I'll love my children if they stray and pray for their return," Udell said. "And I want to show them that the Catholic Church is about love. That even though there is truth and they may struggle with it, there is always, always a way back to love."

    (Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.)


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    Heroic mothers in the Bible

    By Marge Fenelon

    Catholic News Service

    On Mother's Day, we think lovingly about the women who mother us, either physically or spiritually, and we're compelled to honor them for who they are and all that they've done for us.

    There are other mothers, however, who deserve honor as well. These are the mothers of the Bible who, through their motherhood, have contributed to the founding and building of the church. The Bible contains accounts of heroic women whose virtuous actions paved the way for the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation.

    While the Virgin Mary is the best-known mother in the Bible, this Mother's Day it's worth noting four other women, especially considering how their motherhood impacted the people of God.

    The first is the mother of the seven sons in the Second Book of Maccabees who all perished at the hand of the wicked King Antiochus because they refused to violate God's law and eat pork (2 Mc 7).

    This unnamed mom was the epitome of nobility, giving her sons strength to suffer death in the name of God. She knew that dying would give life and that choosing to live by succumbing to the king would bring death.

    Next is Naomi, wife of Elimelech and mother of Mahlon and Chilion (Ru 1:1-18). When all three men died, Naomi was left alone, save for her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. With the threat of famine, Naomi urged the two women to return to their homelands, where they likely would find food and new husbands to care for them.

    In her desperate situation, Naomi could have begged them to stay with her. Instead, she exemplified prudence and kindness in seeking their welfare before her own.

    Jochebed was the mother of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. She was determined, ingenious and completely dedicated to her children. When Pharaoh ordered that all Hebrew male babies be killed upon birth, Jochebed managed to hide Moses and send him adrift in a basket on the Nile.

    Miriam spied on the child, assuring that Pharaoh's daughter would find him. Upon the girl's suggestion, the princess agreed to having Jochebed nurse and tend Moses (Ex 2:2-10).

    How difficult it must have been for Jochebed to surrender her child! Yet, it was far better to give him up than to see him die.

    It was love at first sight for Jacob when he met Rachel, and he ended up serving her father for 14 years to earn her hand in marriage. Sadly, Rachel was barren and lamented her childlessness. She wanted so desperately to be a mother that one day she told Jacob, "Give me children or I shall die!" (Gn 30:1).

    God finally granted her wish by making her the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Her ardent desire for children ended in the ultimate sacrifice -- she died in childbirth. Rachel is a prime example of a woman devoted totally to motherhood -- both in life and death.

    As we honor our physical and spiritual mothers this Mother's Day, perhaps we might honor the mothers of the Bible who played a vital role in who we are today.

    (Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is


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    Mothers "ought to be listened to more," said Pope Francis in a catechesis on the family at a general audience Jan. 7, 2015.

    "Despite being highly lauded from a symbolic point of view -- many poems, many beautiful things said poetically of her -- the mother is rarely listened to or helped in daily life, rarely considered central to society in her role," the pope continued.

    Pope Francis spoke of his own mother and how much she loved and worked for him and his siblings: "She gave us so much."

    "Mothers," he said, "are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism" and a "society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always, even in the worst moments, witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength."

    Mothers often are the ones who pass on the faith, the pope said, and teach children their first prayers and first acts of devotion.

    "Dearest mothers, thank you, thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the church and the world."


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Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

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