In this, the month devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, it seemed fitting to examine the sorrows inherent in motherhood. Let’s begin with a quote by Saint Pope John XXIII in his Journal of a Soul. It is a little long, but hang on – I think you’ll find his message to be profound:
During this retreat, the Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me, and for the success of my priestly ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ And also I want all the undertakings in which I shall take part during this present year to be done in this spirit, in so far as I have a share in them; all are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord: plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing, without the slightest attachment to them, ready to destroy or abandon them at a sign from those to whom I owe a obedience.
O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self love, but the will is there and comes from my heart. Help me! Help me!
The keen sense of my own nothingness must ripen and perfect in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them. Although I am only just 30 years old, I begin to feel some wear and tear on the nerves. This will not do. When I feel irritable I must think of my own worthlessness and of my duty to understand and sympathize with everyone, without passing harsh judgments. This will help me to keep calm.
The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with women. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Past experience is an encouragement for the future. Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. It would be dangerous if in this work I were to presume on my own powers for a single moment. – Journal of a Soul, page 179 – 180.
If we changed PRIEST to MOTHER and 30 years to _____ years old, John XXIII could have been reading about the vocation of motherhood. Allow me to walk you through the passage.
The Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me and for the success of my [motherly] ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ The joys of motherhood are often discussed. But the difficulties, not so much. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, but motherhood is actually a cross. Despite all its joys, there is a very painful aspect to our vocation. Whether concerned about a child’s character, sufferings, future decisions, safety or any number of other issues, our hearts can become overwhelmed with a love so powerful that it would be better expressed as excruciating sorrow. At times, the responsibility of a mother to lead her children to heaven is too daunting to comprehend.
Until recently, I never paid much attention to the Seven sorrows of Mary, but I’ve been reading about them lately. Mary was such a powerful example of Paul’s instruction in Roman’s 12:1, “… Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Each day we must we willing to crawl back up on that altar, regardless of the cost. It can be a challenge, but we must continue to persevere in faith.
And also… all the undertakings… are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord: Plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing… This is the greatest challenge of all. We all know of parents who have done their best to raise their children to become saints, praying and sacrificing daily for them; but their children still left the faith, lived in sin, and tormented their parents with their decisions. This is devastating to witness and causes considerable anxiety for countless mothers who, in general, would claim to be devout in their Faith. Is it possible that we’ve learned to trust God with everything but the salvation of our children? More than anything, we must let go of our own pride and know that whatever happens, Ours is a God who answers prayer, and that He will lead our children Home.
O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self-love, but the will is there and comes from the heart. Help me! Help me! We can only carry on from day-to-day by the sheer grace of God, because when we presume to act on our own, it is disastrous, as noted by Pope John XXIII.
Most of us would like to say that the keen sense of my own nothingness [has ripened] and [perfected] in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them, but if you’re anything like me, more often than not it only causes you to question everything you do as a mother. Like many parents, my husband and I have some children who, although they are certainly not perfect, tend to be kind, gentle, patient, compassionate, diligent and full of faith. And we have others who, while good at heart, insist on rocking the boat and questioning virtually everything we say. Because of the friction that parent/child relationships inevitably bring from time to time, I’ve taken to frequently questioning myself. Have I not been kind enough? Strict enough? Loving enough? Available enough? Am I too matter of fact? Or too wishy-washy? Am I to harsh? Or to meek? Sadly, while we often turn to The Lord in desperation, in reality, we tend to lean too hard on our own understanding. Why else would we be so unsure of ourselves? Trust more than anything will result in a foundation of peace that enables patience and kindness to bloom.
The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with [children]. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Recently I read the biography of Saint Monica, who suffered for many years as she begged God to lead her son back to Him. I found Monica’s story one that offers much in the way of hope and perspective. Unfortunately, most of us are not living saints. When dealing with our children, too often kindness and dignity go out the window when everyone needs mom and the chores all need to be done. There is a solution. We must take time out to strengthen our relationship with God. We must, must, MUST pursue holiness for ourselves. That intimate relationship with Our Lord will establish a profoundly spiritual dimension to our vocation and will enable us to approach our children with the delicacy and prudence necessary for long term success.
Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. When my oldest was five years old, I remember sobbing through a rosary, begging Mary to lead my children to her son in spite of me. Being aware of our lack of power is usually not the problem; hopefully that knowledge helps us to spend more time on our knees. All failings aside, we must remember that it is by God’s grace alone that our children will grow to know love and serve Him, and it must be our daily prayer that, like Saint Joseph, one day in the not-so-distant future each and every one of them will die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.