The vocation of motherhood is a call to sanctity just as a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is. While it is true as St. Paul says, the married person does not have a heart reserved for singular devotion to God, caring for husband and children is in itself a path to holiness. The number of saints who were mothers is too many to enumerate. However, the fact that the Blessed Mother lived and sanctified this vocation is enough to demonstrate its greatness.
Motherhood is neither a right nor a decision. Rather it is a gift bestowed by the Author of Life on those whom He chooses to bless. This is something all too often forgotten in our era of science, technology and planning of parenthood. Motherhood is certainly not a vocation without trials, tribulation or suffering. This is evident to every mother from the very beginning in the sacrifice of her body that she makes during pregnancy and the agony of childbirth. Yet, this suffering pales in comparison to the joy a new child brings. (Or at least shrinks a little once it is past!) In a like manner, the vocation of motherhood offers a uniquely designed road to sanctification beset with roses and thorns along the way. However the glory and happiness offered at the end of the journey far outweighs the difficulties of the path.
As Catholic mothers, we are called to witness to the world how the vocation of motherhood is a gift. We are called to a paradoxical life which the world does not understand. It is through humility, sacrifice, and the complete emptying out of oneself that true greatness is found. Motherhood is not a vocation of awards and recognition. It is often a hidden life, with only God truly knowing and appreciating all the love and work that goes into each day. The very nature of motherhood develops the virtue of humility by the constant requirement to put needs of others first. (There are few things in life more humbling than changing another's diaper!) In reality, by her example, love, and constant giving, a mother is helping God form the character of a new soul. She is raising a new saint for Heaven.
Jesus says "Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me." Every mother needs to recall from time to time that in the constant demand to meet the needs of her family, she is fulfilling this service to Jesus Himself. She must also remember to take time for herself. For if she gives without ever being replenished, the ultimate end is burnout. A mother needs some quiet time for herself every day for spiritual reflection, pursuing her own interests, emotional recharging, or simply for peace and quiet! Taking time to be grateful and allowing her husband and children to give back to her is the source of a mother's seemingly tireless bounty of love.
Another method in which the Lord calls us to holiness though motherhood is the special way in which we can come to know Him as only parents can. In knowing Him more deeply we may love Him more completely. By allowing us to participate with Him in creation, we begin to understand the paternity of God in a very small and veiled manner. By our own experience as parents, we can come to understand the love of God in an entirely new fashion. Most of us find it difficult to imagine a love more powerful than the love of a parent for child. Yet this love dissipates when compared to the love which God has for each and every one of us. In our dealings with our own children, we are reminded that we are in fact the children of God. As such, sometimes we are disciplined, asked to do thing we don't understand, and don't get immediate gratification of all our desires. From a child's perspective we may feel God is unfair or unjust, but when we reflect upon our own role as parents, we can glimpse that everything Our Lord decides for us is decided with love and our own best interest in mind. Parents have the ability to grasp this concept greater than anyone else.
God ordained a mission for each of us and mapped out the path for us to fulfill it from all eternity. He knew us before we existed and as the bible so tenderly puts it, "knit" us in our mother's womb. The path He designed for each of our sanctifications is different from that which He devised for anyone else. In conclusion, though a mother may not have the time or ability to spend endless hours in contemplative union with God, she need not feel that she is incapable of achieving greatness in the eyes of Our Lord. Rather, Our Lord is capable of achieving greatness in her, especially in the ordinariness of her life. This is the secret of St. Therese - not finding holiness in accomplishing monumental feats, but finding monumental holiness in the love attached to the simplest and smallest incidences of life. In this may every mother find true joy in her vocation.
Gwen is a guest writer for RoL. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children.