The Sunday after Valentine’s Day, couples with “big” anniversaries this year were recognized and invited to renew their wedding vows during Mass. One couple, whose only child is a Sister, was part of the group. At one point during the blessing the priest made a reference to their children and grandchildren. At the mention of grandchildren, this particular couple was visibly saddened.
As I have come to terms with the reality that I will never have biological children, the Lord has been gently teaching me the importance of spiritual parenthood. It is something that is not often talked about, but is essential to the life of the Church. If spiritual children exist, I don’t see why they shouldn’t also be spiritual grandchildren – as is the case with the couple mentioned above(and you Mom and Dad!).
Since I am a woman, I will mainly focus on Spiritual Motherhood here, but the same basic principles apply to Fatherhood as well. Also, as I heard in a great homily once, Motherhood is always in reference to Fatherhood and they cannot be separated from each other.
Jesus, being the fullness of divine revelation, added a new dimension to what it means to be human with His coming – a central theme in the writing of our two previous Holy Fathers. In “Redemptoris Mater,” JPII tells us, “”Motherhood,” too, in the dimension of the Kingdom of God and in the radius of the fatherhood of God himself, takes on another meaning…Jesus teaches precisely this new meaning of motherhood.”
Christ revealed that we are all family – spiritual bonded as the children of God. He revealed a spiritual dimension beyond relations according to the flesh. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:20-21).
He showed this most strongly by giving us Mary as our mother at the foot of the cross. She is the ultimate spiritual mother, and weeps for all of her lost adopted children.
Over at theologyofthebody.net, Katrina Zeno (author of Discovering the Feminine Genius) gives us a wonderful description of spiritual motherhood and takes it one step further in making a connection that I had not:
Spiritual motherhood is nurturing the emotional, moral, cultural, and spiritual lives of others. This means women can be spiritual mothers anywhere: At the grocery store, in the office, working in the fields, even flat in bed. When a woman makes a meal for a friend, gives someone a spiritual book, prays the rosary, provides a listening ear, or monitors what her children watch on TV, she’s nurturing the emotional, moral, cultural, and spiritual lives of others.
The Catholic Church has always encouraged spiritual motherhood, only under a different title – the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, etc., emphasize caring for a person’s tangible needs while counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, comforting the sorrowful, etc., nurture others in less tangible, but still critical ways.
During my last visit with the TOR Sisters, I had the privilege of sitting in on a talk about spiritual motherhood given by Sr. Therese Marie. Not even trying to sugarcoat the issue she started off with the heart of the matter: spiritual motherhood is suffering and everything we do affects our spiritual children. You initial reaction might be to reject that statement, but hear me out.
Taking care of a baby has helped me realize how much having a family is a complete death to self. You are utterly a slave to your children – their needs to come first. Babies especially demand attention – you have to drop everything the moment they need you, wake when they wake, and generally attend to their every need. Yet, there is unreasonable, inexplicable joy in all of this.
Having these experiences causes me to wonder if this – family life – is a more admirable sacrifice, a more complete gift of self. A few days ago an important and earth shattering revelation hit me like a ton of bricks – my spiritual children are crying out at every second to be loved! They are equally demanding of my attention and care, I just need to learn how to hear them. Everything I do affects my spiritual children.
Today, ask God to reveal who your spiritual children are, whose salvation has been especially entrusted to you. Because we are physical beings meant to be in relationship with one other, they are probably people you know. I can think of a few of my friends whom I know have been entrusted to me as spiritual children.
There are people all over the world who have no one to pray for them – orphans crying out for the warm embrace of a mother and father. You may be asking, how am I supposed to know who to pray for and who my spiritual children are? Most of the time, we probably won’t know the answer to this. This is when we go to our model of motherhood, the great mother of all, Mary Most Holy. She knows the needs of all her children and can teach us how to be mothers – so just ask!
Another important, but little known, ministry is spiritual motherhood specifically for Priests. If you feel called to this, check out this website.