When I think of moms, many women come to mind.
I first think of my own mom, who fostered a love of reading and writing in my life. My grandma taught me to play piano and sew a dress. The women at the church I went to during college always make sure to say hello when I'm back home for the holidays. My friend's mom had the cool snacks and sometimes let us stay up past our bedtime during sleepovers. In my life today, religious sisters are showing me what it meant to love Jesus with my whole heart.
While some of these women are called 'mom' by their own physical children, other women in my life who taught me the depth and beauty of motherhood have never given birth.
And while I love thinking back on examples of spiritual mothers in my life, when it comes to my own story, spiritual motherhood can feel like a consolation prize.
Although I'm physically a mother to Marion, our son, I don't hold him in my arms. Instead, he's in Heaven, interceding for his parents (and giving us some incredible incentive on our journey to our Heavenly home!). Being a mom to a little saint wasn't something I expected in my story. Secondary infertility wasn't something that I had planned for, either.
Does your heart, too, know the pains of motherhood that doesn't quite look like what you thought it would?
Has Christ called you to marriage, but not introduced the second part of that vocational equation into your life yet? Is your little saint in Heaven, too? Does the experience of infertility weigh heavy on your heart? Does physical motherhood not quite look like what you had dreamed of? Is Christ calling you to be His bride alone, asking you to sacrifice physical motherhood in a vocation to consecrated life?
If any of these situations are close to your heart, it may feel like the call to spiritual motherhood is a second-rate motherhood. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
In one of my favorite pieces of writing from Saint Pope John Paul II's papacy, Letter to Women, he writes that spiritual motherhood has "inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society." He also thanks women for their generosity, a willingness to give themselves to others - especially the most weak and defenseless.
Here are three concrete things you can do to explore the call to spiritual maternity and realize that it isn't a consolation prize - it's a incredible calling from the Father. The world needs your spiritual motherhood, sister.
1. Don't wait for littles to use your maternal gifts
"If motherhood was more about what's in your heart than what's in your womb, I needed to stop waiting for a baby to use my maternal gifts," writes Colleen Carroll Campbell, author of My Sisters the Saints. "I needed to start recognizing the opportunities I already had to nurture growth in others, defend the vulnerable, and make the world a more loving, humane place."
If we're called to mirror Christ's love to the weak and defenseless in our lives, this isn't confined to physical motherhood. In her book, Colleen writes about how her experience caring for her father during his struggle with Alzheimer's gave her an opportunity to live out her spiritual maternity.
What areas of your life are an invitation for you to dive deeper into spiritual maternity? This may come in the form of praying for others, cherishing them like daughters and sons. Maybe Christ is calling you to come alongside someone in your life and walk the journey to Heaven with them.
Perhaps the Lord wants to transform the cross you're carrying into a bridge to His heart for others in your life.
"There is nothing second-rate about spiritual motherhood," Colleen writes. "It is a powerful channel of God's love in a love-starved world, one all the more potent when it springs from trials you do not choose."
Similar to the uniqueness of living out the feminine genius, spiritual motherhood looks different in the life of every woman. "In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society," John Paul II writes in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem.
2. Foster a relationship with the Holy Spirit
Honesty hour - the Holy Spirit is the one person of the Blessed Trinity that I struggle to relate to. In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is described as a dove during Christ's baptism, and a flame above the heads of the apostles during Pentecost.
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time building a personal, intimate relationship with birds and flames.
Recently though, I've discovered the hidden gem that is the Holy Spirit when it comes to developing a desire for spiritual maternity.
In Scripture, wisdom is described with feminine characteristics. The author of the book of Wisdom writes about praying for understanding. He then goes on to describe wisdom with feminine pronouns. "I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her."
Who is lady wisdom, and why do Old Testament authors refer to wisdom with feminine descriptions?
"Through all of the wisdom books (Psalms, Proverbs, Wisdom), 'wisdom' is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described with distinctively feminine, maternal, and bridal characteristics. Then, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is given a maternal and educative mission to form Christ in the world and Christ in souls," Dr. Mike Scherschlig explained.
The Holy Spirit has a maternal, educative mission to foster a love for Christ in our lives and in our hearts. Who better to turn to in prayer when it comes to deepening in our understanding of spiritual maternity? Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to partake in the maternal, educative mission in the Church (and the world!) today.
3. Entrust your spiritual maternity to Mary
"Everywhere the need exists for maternal sympathy and help, and thus we are able to recapitulate in the one word motherliness that which we have developed as the characteristic value of woman," writes Saint Edith Stein. But the maternity Edith wrote about isn't just found in physical motherhood.
"The motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy," she continues. "It must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened."
There is a beautiful, deep relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother. While the Holy Spirit offers the grace to understand a maternal mission, Mary gives us an example of what spiritual maternity looks like in ordinary, daily life.
"The Holy Spirit formed Mary to be the perfect human expression of the maternal and educative mission of the Spirit," Dr. Mike Scherschlig continued. "In some way, Mary makes present, powerful, and efficacious this maternal and educative mission. In a certain sense, we can say that Mary is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. She's the human, visible sign that makes this maternal mission present."
At the foot of the cross, Mary accepts the mission to be the spiritual mother to us all. It is for this reason that Saint Pope John Paul II encouraged us to trust Mary along our journey to her son. "Entrustment is the only response adequate to the love of a person, in particular to the love of a mother."