The Love of a Mother

One of the meditations I present in my forthcoming book, Growing in Love and Wisdom, is titled The Kindness of Others. As are the other meditations in the book, it is adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist analytical meditation I learned during my years as a Buddhist.

The meditation on recognizing the kindness of others is premised on the idea that reflecting on the kindness shown us by others can help us develop a universal love and compassion that generates in us the desire to work for more than our own happiness.

Tibetan Buddhists use the mother as the primary object of meditation because the love of a mother for her child is viewed as a key way to understand and to generate universal compassion and loving kindness. The idea is to take the loving and grateful response that spontaneously arises toward this person, who has shown us such unconditional love and cared for us so solicitously, and extend it to all beings.

Just as Tibetan Buddhists view the love of a mother for her child as possessing particular significance, motherly love has a special place for Christians. We have numerous Biblical images of God as mother, as in Isaiah, where God promises that “as one whom a mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” (Is 66:13) We have the image of Mary, Christ’s mother, as our mother and we see numerous artistic representations of Mary cradling the baby Jesus or supporting the crucified Jesus. Oscar Romero observed that, “Mothers are like the sacrament of God’s love. The Arabs say that God, who we are unable to see, created the mother who we are able to see—and in all mothers we see God, we see love, we see tenderness.”

On this Mothers Day, we give special thanks for the love of our mothers. I pray that reflecting on the love we have been shown by our mothers, and all who have cared for us, may help us deepen our own love and compassion for others.


The Mother of My Lord

Today’s Gospel is Luke’s account of the encounter we refer to as the Visitation. It is a story we all remember well. When the angel appears to Mary, one of the things the angel tells her is that her cousin Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, has conceived a child – the child who we know will be John the Baptist. And so Mary goes off to visit Elizabeth. When Mary enters the house and is greeted by Elizabeth, the baby inside Elizabeth leaps in her womb with joy. And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out in a loud voice, “Blessed are you, Mary, among all women, and blest is the fruit of your womb.”

And then Elizabeth says something else, making her the first person to designate Mary in this way: “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me.” The title reminds us that the incarnation is not simply God taking on human form or a human becoming God. Instead, in this act of the incarnation, God was conceived and birthed in Mary’s womb, thus becoming simultaneously fully human and fully divine.

The Mother of the Lord. Psychologist writer Sydney Callahan writes, “The truth revealed in this Marian title astounds me. A woman bears God within her womb. God unites the Divine Word with human flesh. When we think of God as Mary’s newborn infant, we see the Lord of all creation in need of human love. Jesus is totally dependent upon his mother’s care. What risks God takes in loving us! And how much God expects of human kind in bringing the new creation to birth! Mary is the first to known the humility of God.”

Callahan’s words are good ones to take to prayer as we enter these final days before Christmas.

Grace Cafe’s Recipes for Faithful Mothering

As part of the Catholic Company Reviewer Program, I was sent a copy of Grace Café: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering, by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. As the title suggests, the book is aimed at Catholic women with children and seeks to affirm and encourage them in their familial vocation. Having just finished reading it, I have mixed reactions.

There are some very positive things about the book. First, for those mothers lacking a familiarity with the various papal encyclicals and other statements on the role of women, it provides useful education. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotes from a number of such documents. Second, it contains a good discussion of a number of important points, such as ways to find time for prayer in the midst of incredible busyness, the value of instilling a sense of the sacred and of prayer in children from an early age, the need to be in the present and to savor the time we have with our children, and importantly, the need to have some gentleness with ourselves when things don’t go according to plan. Third, many of the “recipe cards” that end the chapters contain practical and useful advice.

What bothered me most about the book is the implicit criticism I sense in it of women with children who choose to work. Although the author clearly accepts that not all women must be mothers and that some mothers will be forced by economic necessity to work, there seems to be an underlying suggestion that unless one is forced to do so, a mother should be at home with her children full time. While I respect the decision of women who make that choice, I don’t believe that either our faith as Catholics or the needs of our children demand that every mother do so.

Perhaps related to the last point, I found a curious lack of attention to the role of the father in the family. Fathers, too, are an important part of the moral and spiritual development of children and there are many parts of the book that (intentional or otherwise) seem to present the task as solely the province of the mother. This may be explained by the author’s own childhood experience: at one point she talks about the fact that her father worked long hours to support their large family, leaving her mother with the sole “responsibility of leading her children on the path of holiness and keeping us on the straight and narrow.” But it need not be the experience of everyone.

With those reservations, I think there are many mothers, particularly those who feel unappreciated, who will find the book very encouraging and helpful.

Update: Please be sure to read the comment to this post written by the author of Grace Cafe, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, which addresses my reservation about the role of the father. And thanks for Donna-Marie for commenting.

Mary, Mother of the Church Podcast

This podcast, titled Mary, Mother of the Church , is the fourth in a planned series of six podcasts drawn from an 8-day guided retreat I gave in June 2007, on the theme of Embracing Mary. The podcast begins with Jesus’ words to Mary and John at the foot of the cross and considers Mary’s role as, not only the mother of the disciple Jesus loved, but as the mother of us all and of the Church.

The podcast runs for 18:02. You can stream it from the icon below or can download it from here. (Remember that you can now also subscribe to Creo en Dios! podcasts on iTunes.)