“I didn’t know it would be so hard!” That was the second time in a week I’d heard those words from a mother’s lips, this time before morning Mass from a teary-eyed mother asking for prayers for her teenage son. As I saw the searing pain in this beautiful mother’s eyes, I thought of the sword that pierced Our Lady’s heart, and of all of the varied swords that have pierced the hearts of mothers throughout the ages.
Having spent the last two weeks with my daughter Gaby and her three young sons, ages 5, 2 ½ and 14 months, I am reminded of just how sacrificial and self-giving motherhood calls a woman to be, and how demanding it is to continually pour oneself out in love for the good of others. “There’s no rest for the weary,” I kept joking with Gaby amid the whirlwind of non-stop activity with three very busy little boys. But she pressed forward, stretching herself to be patient, to speak kindly, and to use the last bit of the day’s energy to sing lullabies and pray with her boys before they go to sleep.
“(Women) will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15). This is God’s promise; but it is a promise with a provision: faith, love, holiness and self-control are required for “saving” motherhood. I dare say those virtues are what the world needs most right now.
Yesterday was the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel; Mt. Carmel being the location innorthern Israel where hermits dedicated to Our Lady gathered to live and pray in the 12th century. It was on this same mountain that the prophet Elijah won a showdown with the infamous queen Jezebel, who had led Israel into idolatry through perverse pagan practices, including sexual rituals offered to the fertility gods. Jezebel’s legacy is one of grasping for power, using domination and control to get her way. Her life eventually went to the dogs, by which she was eaten. She is the antithesis of Our Lady, whose legacy is one of total self-surrender to God in faith, love and holiness—and whose life ended by being received bodily into heaven to be crowned as Queen of the Universe.
Jezebel or Mary? Each generation of women faces the perennial question of which way we will go. It is an ever-present temptation to take matters into our own hands, and to reject the demands of love that press in from every side—especially the ones that engage our hearts and bodies in a posture of expansive, self-giving love. The choice of which way to go seems to play out most poignantly on the sacred ground of our fertility and in how we welcome new human life into the world.
The Catholic Church’s age-old teaching concerning human life is profoundly counter-cultural, and it is becoming more so daily. At this moment in history, it takes heroic virtue to practice the teaching of the Church, that is, to be open to life and to receive each child as a gift from God. This entails rejecting the notion of “controlling” one’s fertility through contraception, along with surrendering one’s body to God in “faith, love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:15). Such an act of faith can be daunting when one has embraced a contraceptive mentality for many years. I know it was for me.
Thankfully, I am encountering more than a few young women today who are going the way of the Church, my daughter included. They are going the way of Mary by saying “yes” to life, even in the face of great cultural odds. “Yes” when they don’t have the whole thing figured out. “Yes” when they may be subject to persecution. And “yes” when it means that they will have to truly stretch themselves to be conduits of love in a cultural climate that frowns upon having more than 1.8 children per family. Their stance takes bravery and selflessness, along with radical trust in God.
What the world needs now are many more women like them who incarnate faith, love, and holiness for us. And above all, self-control. These young women bear the piercing sword of this age—the rejection of life as a gift from God, meant to be received in His way, on His terms, in His time. They are a sign of contradiction for a world longing for real love and longing for the way of Christ, who is the way of Mary.
“Called to give life, married couples share in the creative power and fatherhood of God…they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are in a certain sense, its interpreters.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2367