A few months back, on Divine Mercy Sunday, I was able to speak with a wonderful priest. We had never met before, but we began to talk about various women in scripture who served Christ in some way. Veronica- a woman who had such compassion toward Jesus, when He was in need of care the moment she saw Him. The wailing women- the women who mourned the Passion of Christ, and recognized the truth of love that goes to the very end. Mary- a woman of great virtue, love, sacrifice, and femininity- our Mother. But as we continued to discuss he mentioned a woman with no name who embodied receiving the mercy of God- the woman caught in adultery. Normally, a part of scripture that is noted for teaching us not to cast the first stone, he took a slightly different approach. This woman, caught in a grave sin, could have been condemned for these actions. She was left abandoned, to be arbitrated by the self-righteous, but Christ came and spoke some truth. As the men dropped their stones, she could have run, left her home for fear of being unwanted, but she stayed. The priest just repeated, “Be that girl. The girl that stays.”
It stuck with me.
A few weeks later a friend of mine, who didn’t know about the previous conversation, showed me this image of the woman caught in adultery. She looked tired and afraid, but so beautiful. Her pain struck me. No matter what struggles she bared, she seemed so familiar.
As I really looked at the image, I saw a woman who carried shame, a woman who had been burdened by her sin, who felt outcast from her people; I saw a woman who struggled with seeing her own dignity, her innate worth, a woman like many women… a woman like myself. But I also saw a woman who was not defined by the ways in which she had fallen, rather given purpose by the way her Lord loves her, and shows sincere mercy.
One of the most beautiful things about this image, is that as she stands in humiliation, Jesus is knelt in front of her, drawing the line which invites her to see the promises of Christ, and the joy in celebration of new life.
As I further contemplated this, all I could recall was the words of the priest, “Be that girl.” The girl who stays, the one who doesn’t run away in fear. The girl who accepts God’s mercy, who may fall but gets back up. The girl who no longer aches of emptiness, but opens herself up to receive what she is really created for.
I want to be that girl.
The Image "The Woman Taken in Adultery" by William Blake can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery_but486_1_1_wc_100.jpg
I always dreamed of being a mother. As the youngest of nine children (six sisters and two brothers), marriage and family was all around me. I was an aunt at the age of two and a half- before my first memory. Being around children was a huge part of my life. What little girl doesn’t play “house” and carry around a little baby doll at some point in her life? I saw our family grow with each new little baby and it brought joy to my heart. I saw my sisters getting married and having children and knew that that’s exactly what I wanted to do, too. It never occurred to me that one day I would choose a life of celibacy… but that’s exactly what I did.
Earlier this year, I became a Consecrated Virgin living in the world. Most people, including most Catholics, have no idea what that is and to be honest, up until six years ago, neither did I. Consecrated Virginity is a vocation within the Catholic Church where women who have consistently lived a life of virginity, become forever espoused to Christ. The fruitfulness of this spousal relationship with Christ, as with most spousal relationships, is children… in this case, spiritual children.
On my journey toward discerning consecrated life, Jesus gave me the gift of experiencing spiritual motherhood. He brought a young man into my life who needed a mother; he needed a mother to be present in his life, to care for him, to pray for him, to listen, and to open her heart to receive him into her life. Spiritual motherhood is a life-giving receptivity of another. Through God’s grace, I opened my heart to welcome this young man into my life. Not only did this receptivity bring a deep understanding of my call to motherhood, planted in my femininity, but it also brought life to him. He was received and loved as a son.
My spiritual motherhood for him wasn’t something I planned. It was a gift that was given to me from the Lord. The Lord showed me the gift of motherhood He imprinted in my femininity and He desired me to share with others. He brought me closer to Our Lady, His mother, to show me the perfect model of spiritual motherhood. She is the mother of all humanity. She gives her maternal heart to each person and loves us with her feminine, motherly heart. She spiritually takes us into her womb and gives birth to us. She nurtures us. She prays for us. She fiercely defends and protects us. She loves us as her own. Our Lady taught me how to be a spiritual mother, to love someone not born of my womb, but nurtured in my heart.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (St. Edith Stein) helps women to understand the deep calling, within each of us, to motherhood and Our Lady’s guidance in living it. “The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul. For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. Wherever a woman functions authentically in this spirit of maternal pure love, Mary collaborates with her. This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in His fight against evil. Her intrinsic value is that she is able to do so because she has a special susceptibility for the works of God in souls — her own and others. She relates to others in His spirit of love.” (St. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman, 259.)
Our Lady has brought many young men and women into my life upon whom she encourages me to pour out my spiritual motherhood and it is such a gift! I used to believe that spiritual motherhood was “less than” biological motherhood, almost as if it were the “second prize” of motherhood, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through experiencing the gift of motherhood through my feminine heart, I experience a heart that fiercely loves. Without a doubt, I would give my life for any of my spiritual children. In fact, I give my life to them each day through my intercessory prayer. We all know the gift, beauty, and power of Our Lady’s intercession for us, her children. There is a deep desire in my heart to offer sacrifice and love for my spiritual children each day. Our Lady helps me to offer my pain, suffering, joys, and graces for the conversion and protection of my spiritual children. Living out my spiritual motherhood in this way, helps me to more authentically live out my feminine call to be a gift of self and to receive others into my heart.
The desire I had as a little girl to be a mother was the desire I needed to be a spiritual mother and is fulfilled in each young man or woman I open my feminine heart to love and nourish through my prayer and availability to them. I am forever grateful for these young men and women who have sought my spiritual motherhood and who have opened their hearts to receive me, as well. As women, we are all called to spiritual motherhood, whether we are already biological mothers, or religious, single, or married. Motherhood is beautifully stamped in our feminine hearts and bodies. The more authentically we live out our femininity, the more we are called to live the gift and beauty of motherhood.
Our Lady, Our Spiritual Mother, pray for us.
For more information on the Theology of the Body Institute, visit their website: http://tobinstitute.org/
Resources on Spiritual Motherhood
• “Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization” by Kathleen Beckman (Sophia Institute Press, 2014)
• “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity” by the Congregation for the Clergy (2007)
• “Essays on Woman” by St. Edith Stein
• “Mulieris Dignitatuem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” by Pope Saint John Paul II (1988)
• “Under the Gaze of the Father” by Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Amida and Archbishop Luis M. Martinez (Alba House, 2011)
• “When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer” by Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S. (Sophia Institute Press, 2017).
“Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Complete and utter surrender. In this image, these words seem to describe the attitude of Mary as she receives the gift of Jesus into her life and body. Here is a woman portrayed as so open and receptive, it seems as though there is nothing stopping her from receiving the love of God.
This surrender holds nothing back…what happens? A human being is made flesh within such a woman. And her life is forever changed.
Such surrender has major risks. Mary could be judged as an adulteress. Joseph could leave her. But, in this uncertainty, she knew the One who was confronting her with a decision, and she trusted Him.
When I reflect on my life, often I like to say I surrender to God, only to realize there is always that one thing I feel I can’t surrender to him. I tell him I surrender my vocation, only to find that I tell Him the way I want to find it. I give Him my family life, only to worry about how I can solve their problems.
It is as though I hold onto that one thing to keep control. Yes, I can give God “everything else,” but there has to be one thing, just one, which makes me feel in control.
It is scary to let go of everything. It means that things can happen to us that we did not want or plan. That can be extremely difficult. But, holding onto this false security only is an illusion. It makes us think that we are actually in charge of our lives, when the reality is that everything is a gift. And these gifts come from the hand of a Father who loves us even more than we love ourselves.
This image shows us the beauty of surrender. Yes, it is unbelievably scary. But look at this image: the Son of God became flesh in surrender; joy and peace came from surrender; beauty and love came forth from an act of complete surrender. This can be the same for us.
The plan of the Incarnation was not Mary’s own; but it was more beautiful than anything she could have intended. Yes, it was messy. Yes, it was painful. But, it definitely was beautiful. Death and separation from God became the vehicle for the utmost action of His Love…all through an action of complete surrender.
Pondering this image, ask the Lord, “What is holding me back from complete surrender?” This area shows where you lack trust in God. In this, ask Mary to give you her faith, which knew that her Father would only allow what was truly good for her. In this area of your life, ponder the Incarnation and its beauty. Such an action can lead us to a similar act of surrender.
May we all, like Mary, receive, conceive, and bear forth Christ in the world!
The image, "Our Lady of the Millennium" can be found at http://cardinalsblog.adw.org/2013/08/mary-star-of-evangelization/
Last spring, I found myself back in the United States after a summer spent chaperoning a trip to Poland for World Youth Day, immediately followed by a crazy fall semester studying abroad in Italy. I realized mid-February that for about six or seven months, I hadn’t spent more than three weeks in the same bed. I was constantly on the move, experiencing new things, meeting new people, and living as a local in a foreign country.
Yet through the craziness and busy-iness, and all the moving around, the only word I can use to describe my experience is SIMPLE.
You see posts everywhere about simplicity: “10 Ways to Simplify Your Life," “Simplify Your Home," or “Simplify Your Schedule," the list goes on…everyone seems to be trying to simplify everything. All these posts and articles seem to point to one thing: that simplicity means having everything in place. Everything is perfect, there’s no messy-ness, no clutter, no mess-ups.
But what I learned last year is a different aspect of the simple life: simple life in Christ. Don’t get me wrong, Christ is awesome and mighty and SO BIG we can’t even wrap our brains around Him. Yet, life with Him is simple because as a friend of mine pointed out to me, He is CONSTANT. It’s not that He takes away the messy-ness of our lives, but instead He orders it by becoming a priority in our lives…and then everything else falls into place.
When I look back on the crazy school year I just experienced, I realize there was only One thing, One Person who was the same, no matter what country I was in, or what language I was hearing out loud at Mass. Through all the movement and change, He was Constant, and because He was, life was simple.
When I came home for the spring semester, I realized I needed something radical to make me understand this truth and luckily Christ sent me a bunch of beautiful friends, some old, some very new, who challenged me to radically strive for sanctity through simplicity.
These men and women and I gave up almost as many pleasures as you can think of for 90 days (snacking, sweets, unnecessary shopping, drinking, overeating, social media, TV, secular music, etc.) and dedicated much of our days to times in prayer, not because we are great saints, but because we desire to be and we needed a re-ordering of our lives to set us back on track. It was hard, it was messy, it was time-consuming, overwhelming and sometimes stressful to accomplish everything in one day, and yet, it was simple.
Yes, life was simple because so many distractions were taken away, but it was especially simple because we replaced those distractions with Christ. I guess what I’ve learned most of all is when you put Christ at the upmost center of your life, you’ll want to simplify everything else because all of a sudden nothing else matters except following Him.
When Christ became the center of our lives, life became more beautiful. Our friendships became more beautiful; our ability to live as true women of Christ became more beautiful. I think of Our Lady, and how since Christ was the absolute center of her life, she was able to be authentically feminine because her life was in order. In the same way, we were able to order our priorities and truly live our feminine geniuses because we were simply ourselves: young women striving for holiness.
Radically striving for sanctity is possible for all of us, we just have to jump in and trust the Lord will bring us the means, the support, the strength, and the joy to do so