Called to Motherhood

When I began seriously discerning whether I am called to religious life, I had many doubts and questions.  But one that quickly rose above the others circled around a desire to be a mother. 

 After I graduated from college, my friends and siblings began to marry; I figured my time would come, but I was enjoying my life and busy with my career.  Eventually, I went back to school to obtain my law degree and I began to question whether I ever wanted to marry and have children.  But by the time I graduated law school and moved to Alaska to start a new phase in my career, my heart told me another story and I fully intended (and hoped) to meet a good, faithful man and start that family.  Boy, did God through me a curveball that summer when He prompted me to look at a different path!

 Interestingly, it wasn’t the thought of missing out on a spousal relationship that troubled me most.  Since high school, I had been very content with it being “me and God”.  Admittedly, I was stubborn and selfish in many ways (still am in many ways); but, when I sought Him, I loved being free solely for Him, to be able to tarry in prayer was and remains a secret joy.  The thought of living my life consecrated to Him alone, on the one hand, brought a sense of freedom and peace.  But the thought of not ever having children bothered me greatly, and I told Him so.

 As I struggled with this desire and how it fit with were I thought God might be leading me, I saw a young nun speaking about her vocation discernment.  Suddenly, she had my full attention when she expressed she had felt exactly as I was and the information an older nun provided her: all women are called to be mothers – to bring forth life into the world.  Some are blessed with biological motherhood.  Others are called to be spiritual mothers. 

 Spiritual motherhood.  It dawned on me then that my desire to be a mother was in large part to be able to pass on the faith and lead others to Christ.  How much more might I be of service in this capacity as a nun or sister?

 I decided to learn more about the vocation of women in general and the Church’s teaching on motherhood, particularly spiritual motherhood.  While I cannot express it all here, I do wish to share one story, one example of spiritual motherhood by Nicholas Cardinal of Cusa (1401-1464), which was published in “Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests” by the Congregation for the Clergy:

 A Cardinal’s Dream

 Nicholas Cardinal of Cusa (1401-1464), Bishop of Brixen, was not only a great Church politician, reputable Papal legate and reformer of spiritual life for the clergy and the faithful of the 15th century, but also a man of silence and contemplation.  He was deeply moved by a dream in which he was shown the spiritual reality which has meaning for priests and indeed, for all people to this very day: the power of self-offering, prayer and the sacrifice of spiritual mothers hidden in convents.

 The Offering of Hands and Hearts

 Nicholas and his guide entered a small, ancient church decorated with mosaics and frescoes from the early centuries, and there the cardinal saw an amazing sight.  More than a thousand nuns were praying in the little church.  Despite the limited space, they all fit due to their slender and composed nature.  The sisters were praying, but in a way that the cardinal had never seen.  They were not kneeling but standing; their gaze was not cast off into the distance but rather fixed on something nearby which he could not see.  They stood with open arms, palms facing upwards in a gesture of offering. 

 Surprisingly, in their poor, thin hands, they carried men and women, emperors and kings, cities and countries.  Sometimes there were several pairs of hands joined together holding a city.  A country, recognizable by its national flag, was supported by a whole wall of arms, and yet even then there was an air of silence and isolation around each one of them in prayer.  The majority of nuns, however, carried one individual in their hands. 

 In the hands of a thin, young, almost child-like nun, Nicholas saw the Pope.  You could see how heave this load was for her, but her face was radiating a joyful gleam.  Standing in the hands of one of the older sisters, he saw himself, Nicholas of Cusa, Bishop of Brixen, and Cardinal of the Roman Church.  He saw the wrinkles of his age; he saw the blemishes of his soul and his life in all their clarity.  He looked with stunned and surprised eyes, but his fright was soon mixed with an unspeakable bliss.

 His guide whispered, “Now you see how sinners are sustained and carried and, in spite of their sins, have not given up loving God.”

 “What about those who do not love anymore?” the Cardinal asked.  Suddenly, he was in the crypt of the church with his guide, where once again, more than a thousand nuns were praying.  Whereas the former ones were carried in the nuns’ hands, here in the crypt, they were carried in their hearts.  They were exceptionally serious because the fate of eternal souls was at hand.  “So you see, Your Eminence,” said the guide, “that also those who have given up loving are still carried.  It happens occasionally that they become warm again through the ardent hearts which are being consumed for them—occasionally, but not always.  Sometimes, in the hour of their death, they are taken from these saving hands into the hands of the Divine Judge, and they must also answer for the sacrifice that has been made for them.  Every sacrifice bears fruit.  However, when the fruit offered to somebody is not picked, the fruit of corruption ripens.”

 The Cardinal was captivated by the women who made an offering of their life.  He always knew they existed, but he saw now, clearer than ever, their importance for the Church, for the world, for nations and every individual.  Only now was it so surprisingly clear.  He bowed deeply before these martyrs of love.

 A deeper understanding of the vocation of women and the facets of motherhood in all its beautiful forms resolved most, if not all, my questions and doubts regarding my vocation to motherhood.  My vocation lived as a spiritual mother fits the true desires of my heart and who God created me to be; and I have a deep, abiding peace at the thought of dedicating myself to God alone in this way. 

 Mother M. Sofia Cicchetti describes the life of a cloistered nun and spiritual motherhood, imitating the contemplation of Mary, as follows:

 There is nothing out of the ordinary here.  You can only understand our contemplative and cloistered life in the light of faith and the love of God.  In the largely consumerist, pagan society that we live, almost every sense of beauty and awe before God’s great works in the world and humanity seems to have disappeared, as well as the adoration of his loving presence here in our midst.  A life separated from the world, but not indifferent to it may seem absurd and useless.  Nevertheless, we can joyfully say that giving our time entirely to God is not a waste.  Let everyone remember a prophetic, fundamental truth: to be fully and truly human means to be anchored in God and live from the breath of God’s love.  Like many, we strive to be like ‘Moses’ with his arms lifted high and his heart wide open to the universal love, and at the same time, very concretely interceding for the good and the salvation of the world, thus becoming “collaborators in the mystery of redemption”.  Our task is not based on “making” a new humanity as much as “being” a new humanity.  Keeping all of this in mind, we can very well say that we have a life full of meaning and not by any means wasted or ruined.  We have not closed off or run away from the world, but rather, we gladly give our lives to the God of Love and to all our brothers and sisters without exception…  We know that we have been called to become spiritual mothers in our silent and hidden life…  Our life shall be ‘a witness to the apostolic efficacy of contemplative life, imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.’

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