I love to garden. There is something mysterious that happens out in the garden during the spring growing season. One day, everything looks like the day prior, until one day everything looks different! Over the weekend, I planted a raspberry plant that I secured from a local seller. She had encouraged me to pick off any flowers (as sad as that might seem) that emerged early, before the plant had enough time to establish a root system; to flourish, initially, most of the plant’s energy needs to go into the ground.
After I had planted it in my garden, I just sat there staring at this marvelous little plant that would hopefully produce fruit in the coming years. I wondered if God might be doing something similar with me. To be honest, I could relate to the plant losing its flowers and the natural “blossoming” of its fertility. While my husband and I have not been blessed with a child, perhaps He is doing something deep in our “root system”, too. Perhaps there are other purposes my husband and I are called to during this present moment in our lives. Hopefully, we will be fruitful in any way He plans for us. I marvel at the tenacity of plants.
How is God going deep and establishing a strong root system in us? I ponder the last few years: the heartbreaks, the longings, the hope and where we are now. God has many different paths for His children to walk; for some reason, at this point, the scenery in our marriage looks a bit different than couples with children. Through our path, I’ve come to realize that I have the heart of a mother, even if I don’t have children. I have discovered several ways to integrate this call to be a mother more fully into my life. Here I speak only of the spiritual realm, though there are many ways to heed this call.
I would surmise that to understand spiritual motherhood, we need look no further than the role of the Blessed Mother. Is she not our spiritual mother? Are we not to model our lives like hers to live a Christ-like life? Here are some ways the Blessed Mother’s spiritual motherhood inspires me.
The Blessed Mother visits and comforts those in Purgatory. We can do this too! I’ve long been a proponent of praying for our brothers and sisters in Purgatory, especially during the month of November, but anytime will do. For anyone interested in a deeper dive on ways to intercede for these souls, I’d recommend the book Charity for the Suffering Souls. Additionally, the Flame of Love movement, based upon the life and diary of Elizabeth Kindleman, is a recent movement to help spread Our Lady’s Flame of Love (Who is Jesus) throughout the world. I recommend considering reading The Flame of Love, The Spiritual Diary of Elizabeth Kindleman – this diary has been enriching to my own spiritual motherhood journey.
The Blessed Mother intercedes for us daily through her powerful maternal prayers. In Fr. Cliff Ermatinger’s book, St. Therese of Lisieux: Spouse and Victim, he discusses how two saints applied the fruits of their love to save souls. In his discussion, he notes that “St. Catherine of Sienna acted as spiritual mother for the condemned convict, Niccolo di Toldo, and stormed heaven for his conversion in something of a foreshadowing of St. Therese’s spiritual maternity for a condemned man named Pranzini, whom Therese adopted as her own spiritual son…As spiritual mothers to lost souls, both mothers merited what their children needed but were not capable of asking for or earning. This is only possible through a certain communion with God…” (p.15).
I found these stories especially touching, since I think, for many of us who so achingly desire children of our own, we feel have this love to give that has not been given an outlet. But taking these holy women as an example, we can still pour out our love for others through an adoptive act of prayer. We can still help others; we can choose. Even if this doesn’t totally fulfill our desire, we can offer even that to God.
The Blessed Mother is the Immaculate Conception, and St. Joseph protected her and Jesus. In more modern times, Blessed Fulton Sheen similarly challenged the flock of believers to spiritually adopt children who are in danger of being aborted by praying for them daily for 9 months and giving the child a name.
John Paul II says that holiness is measured according to the “great mystery” (described in the letter to the Ephesians) in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom. In the context of the “great mystery” of Christ and of the Church, all are called to respond – as a bride – with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church’s Bridegroom (Mulieris Dignitatus, n.27). One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is how much creativity God allows His children in their responses to carrying out His message. As my husband likes to remind me, we live our life like Mary and/or Joseph because we don’t see God’s big picture plan; we have a small view that we try to be faithful to day to day. Sometimes it is hard, and we have to adjust, but we try to go forward in faith. We focus on the things most important to us: our marriage, our extended families, our daily work and creative outlets, through the lens of our Catholic faith. And we try to do small things daily that express love for others.
I’ll be the first to admit that spiritual motherhood and spiritual adoption isn’t what I expected to find in marriage, and I’ve wrestled with it. But where in the past I might have been tempted to feel powerless, I now realize I am part of the rich fabric of Creation, and the Body of Christ. Those of us with the heart of a mother are needed right now. I’ll close with a quote from St. Paul: “Stand firm, then, my beloved brethren, immovable in your resolve, doing your full share continually in the task the Lord has given you, since you know that your labor in the Lord’s service cannot be spent in vain.” (I Corinthians 15: 58)
Suzanne and her husband live in the Midwest, where they enjoy hiking, camping, and playing card games.