I was lying under my dining room table–I’m not sure what prompted me to do that, except that I was totally maxed out and the stress of final exams makes people do crazy things. My mom walked by and saw my two feet poking out from the table. She paused (as anyone would if they saw a 17-year-old in such a position).
“Cait?” she asked, “what are you doing?”
“I don’t know” I sighed. Perhaps it was my pitiful sigh, or maybe it was the fact that I was lying under there, but for some reason, my mom decided to lie down next to me. We lay there quietly, looking up at the bottom of the table. “Mom, I’m not like the other girls…I’m not funny, I’m not a good athlete…I fall up the stairs almost once a week, I’m not outgoing, why can’t I have what they have?”
“Well,” she said, “you have other gifts, you’re empathetic, you’re generous, you’re loving…those are really important too.”
I laughed, “yeah, but no one wants those gifts; they don’t make you popular.”
“God wants them,” my mom replied. Then we went back to staring at the table, and I was filled with a little bit of peace. God wants my gifts. I wasn’t totally content; after all, they weren’t going to get me Prom Queen, but they did count for something.
Looking back, I wish I could have told 17-year-old Caitlin that those gifts, the ones God wants, are the only ones that matter. When we reach the gates of Heaven, God won’t ask us how many athletic letters we’ve earned, or if we were named Prom Queen, or if we were the funniest people in the room; but He will ask us if we used our talents for His glory, if we loved every person we met, if we were generous and forgiving. I wonder if it would have made a difference if I had known then that I, as a female, was endowed with specific qualities.
Mary perfectly recognized and appreciated her nature as created and given to her by God. All women are called to do the same. It is this uniquely feminine nature that Pope St. John Paul II calls the “Feminine Genius.” Furthermore, he explains that the gifts of receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity are distinctly bestowed upon women.
Yes. You heard that right…. maternity. But it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means.
I think this gift is perhaps the most misunderstood and undermined in our society. Young women are filled with false, contradicting messages about what it means to be beautiful, to be a woman.
We are told to be skinny, or have the body of an olympic gymnast; to be assertive, but not be bossy; we are offered birth control as teenagers; abortions are mainstreamed; we are part of the “hook-up culture”, we are told to be anything we want to be… as long as we’re pursuing a career and not aspiring to be a housewife.
All women — single, religious, married — are called to to be mothers. Yep… all women. When people hear the word maternity, they typically think of the qualities of a mother, of women who have given birth to children. Rarely do we think of it as a gift that is bestowed upon all women, because when we think of maternity we assume we are talking about physical maternity. But there is another type of maternity that is equally important, and that is spiritual maternity.
Living Out Our Vocation
Not all of us are called to be physical mothers — that call comes from the vocation of marriage — but we are all called to be spiritual mothers. Spiritual motherhood involves nourishing the spiritual and emotional life in others, to emulate the life of our Holy Mother Mary. Think of Blessed Mother Teresa. While she never had any biological children, Mother Teresa nurtured and loved every person she encountered physically, but more importantly, spiritually. As such, her maternal love transformed the world.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) explained that “woman’s intrinsic value can work in every place and thereby institute grace, completely independent of the profession which she practices. . . Everywhere she meets with a human being, she will find opportunity to sustain, to counsel, to help. . . Everywhere the need exists for maternal sympathy and help”.
As young women, we can use the gift of our maternity to lead others closer to Christ. Mother Teresa said “not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Whether it’s taking time to pray with a friend, offering a word of encouragement, being sympathetic, taking the time to listen to someone, writing a letter, or cooking a meal, we are all capable of doing small things with great love.
The world needs mothers, the world needs you and me to get down on the floor and lie under a table and remind each other of our God given gifts. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Do not be afraid to share yourself with others.
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