The Thinking 


May 13, 2017


Elizabeth Corbin (Mrs. Griffin Gatliff) & Daughter Elizabeth, Gilbert Stuart; 1798

IN HIS book The Nature, Dignity and Mission of Woman, Fr. Karl Stehlin writes about the deeper significance of the institution that we celebrate on Mother’s Day:

All motherhood comes from the Mother of all mothers. The Immaculate Mother of God is the model for every mother; her motherhood is the ideal, the basis, the heart, and the goal of all creaturely motherhood. Here in a surprising new way the nature of woman proves once again to be the expression and image of God on earth. The polarity and complementariness of man and woman…, which in the interdependence of their different and often opposite characteristics reflects the all-encompassing Oneness of God, appears here in the special relation of mother and child. This is probably the most intimate relationship that there can ever be between human beings.

In this sense Mary’s Divine Maternity is the most perfect creaturely image and manifestation of the most intimate relation between Father and Son within the Most Holy Trinity. In Mary this is at the same time a spiritual and a bodily reality: bodily, since she is the physical mother of God, and Christ is flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood; spiritually, since she conceived Him “first in her heart and then in her body” (prius in mente quam in corpore). Thus in her own motherhood she becomes the prototype and ideal of all bodily and spiritual motherhood. If God Himself defines the most intimate possible relationship between Himself and a creature as the relation between mother and child, then we can say that all earthly motherhood finds its deepest meaning in connection with the Divine Maternity. Mary’s  motherhood is the model and standard of every sort of motherhood on earth, and every instance of motherhood on earth is meant to be an echo of the Divine Maternity. That means that the mother (and by analogy the father also) experiences her motherhood fully when she views it in light of Mary’s motherhood.

Madonna of the Fir Tree, Marianne Stokes

The parents see their child as a gift from God; they see in the child the presence of the Child Jesus. Conceiving the child and carrying it in the womb becomes for the mother a living reminder and “representation” of the conception of the Eternal Word and of carrying Jesus Christ in one’s heart. The birth and the raising of the child are understood as symbolic of the divine mission, that is, the sending forth of Jesus Christ into the world and His proclamation which gives birth to Christ in souls. Jesus Himself confirms this way of looking at it when He says that whoever does His will is “brother, sister and mother” to Him (Mt. 12:50).

Mary’s Divine Maternity makes comprehensible to the Christian, and in particular to the Christian woman, the mission that she has to fulfill in her short life. We have to continue the mission of the Son in the world, to be His instruments to help lead people home to Him, to prepare the way for the sake of their eternal happiness. This is nothing less than a spiritual fatherhood or motherhood with respect to souls, which in a certain way become our children. How do they become our children? Through our prayers and sacrifices, our example, and the dedication of our lives, we impart Christ to them, communicate the grace of Christ to them, and act as instruments of the Immaculata, so that she can bear Christ in their souls: and that, of course, is her Divine Maternity. “What do you want me to do?” each one of us must ask God. The answer is always: “Be a father or mother of souls! Imitate the motherhood of My Mother in your life.”

The meaning of spiritual motherhood goes still further, however. In imitating the Mother of all mothers, a woman finds a special relationship to Christ Himself, who wishes to be visible here on earth as a “small and insignificant” child. That is why He conceals Himself also under the unassuming appearances of bread and wine. And He wants us to love Him as Mary loved Him, as a mother loves her child, for there is no more intimate loving relationship on earth than the one between mother and child. Naturally this does not mean the purely natural, physical bond and certainly not the kind of motherhood that has been distorted by original sin and is often full of egotistical needs. This “maternal character” of our relationship to Christ is a compliance with Mary’s being, and it is guided by her maternity. But in what way was she the mother of the eternal Son? How did she raise Him, live with Him, speak with Him? Surely the most profound reverence for His majesty was combined with the deepest possible intimacy of her immaculate love. And so that this might not be something abstract and unreal for us, God gives us a very realistic analogy that is experienced intensely.

The most sublime experience in human life is being a father or a mother. Motherhood in its most profound fulfillment leads to the deepest union with Christ.

Finally, this “participation” in the Divine Maternity and living according to its principles leads us to a correct understanding of the presence of God within us: the true mother lives completely for her child, is utterly devoted to it, sacrifices herself for the child. Now, however, this precious jewel is God Himself, the Incarnate Word. Profound reticence, sacred silence and the most intense recollection characterize Mary’s relationship to Jesus. Thus her Divine Maternity teaches us something that has been almost entirely lost in our noisy times: prayer in silence and recollection, living in the presence of God. It has become unspeakably difficult for us to be quiet. Modern man flees from silence and can no longer keep silent. Even a spiritual person finds it difficult to maintain an inner tranquility, so turbulent and noisy are the stirrings in his heart. Now, though, he welcomes into his heart the great mystery; something takes place within him as on the day of the Annunciation: God comes into his soul. He can now cherish this mystery and carry it within him, as an expectant mother carries her child within her. However, since God lives within us and bestows upon us His eternal light in indescribable silence, the mother must become very quiet and respect the presence of the Divine Child within her in profound, adoring silence. Mary’s Divine Maternity becomes the “model” for our life with God. For a woman who experiences her motherhood in its profound symbolic significance as the expression and realization of God’s coming to earth as a Child, her maternity itself becomes a straight path to perfection.

[Stehlin, Fr. Karl (2013-05-31). The Nature, Dignity, and Mission of Woman (Kindle Locations 972-973). Angelus Press. Kindle Edition.]

Images courtesy of It’s About Time


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