Friday, 17 August 2018 06:00

Motherhood in the Words of Fulton Sheen

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Human motherhood is twofold in its essence, and is a more complex thing than motherhood among the animals. There is, first, the physical act of giving birth, which women share with all of nature. As the tree bears fruit and the hen hatches her eggs, so every mother, by the act of birth, is bound up with the life of all living things, and of her it may be rightly said, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.''   

But human motherhood has a second and far lordlier aspect - that of the spirit. The soul of a child does not emanate from the mother's soul or body, but is freshly created by God Himself, Who infuses it into the body of the unborn child. Physiological motherhood is glorified by this co-operation with God Himself, Who fathered the baby's soul and then permitted a woman to clothe it in her flesh. The human mother does not bear a mere animal but a man, made to the image and likeness of the God Who created him.   

Every child born of woman has, then, two fathers: his earthly father, without whom he could not have life, and his Heavenly Father, without Whom he could not possess a personality, a soul, an irreplaceable “I.” The mother is the essential partner through whom both fathers work. Her own relationship to the child has two resulting aspects: there is the mother-baby aspect, wherein the child is physically and almost absolutely dependent on the mother. But there is also the mother-person relationship (expressed at baptism, when the child is given its own name). This confirms the dignity and separate selfhood of even the smallest infant and foreshadows his right eventually to lead his own life and to depart from his parents to cling to a wife of his own.   

Every birth requires a submission and a disciplining. The earth itself must undergo harrowing before it passively accepts the seed.  In woman, the submission is not passive: it is sacrificial, consciously creative, and for this selflessness her whole nature has been formed. It is well known that women are capable of far more sustained sacrifice than men; a man may be a hero in a crisis, and then slip back to mediocrity. He lacks the moral endurance, which enables a woman to be heroic through the years, months, days and even seconds of her life, when the very repetitive monotony of her tasks wears down the spirit. Not only a woman’s days, but her nights - not only her mind, but her body must share in the Calvary of motherhood. That is why women have a surer understanding of the doctrine of redemption than men have: they have come to associate the risk of death with life in childbirth, and to understand the sacrifice of self to another through the many months preceding it.   

In a mother two of the great spiritual laws are united into one:  love of neighbor and co-operation with God’s grace - and both of them are applied in a unique way. For love of neighbor, to anyone except a mother, is love of a nonself; a mother’s neighbor during pregnancy is one with herself, yet to be loved differently from the self. The sacrifice sometimes involved in neighborly love now takes place within her flesh: the agent and the object of her sacrifice are both contained within her.   

And the co-operation with grace in a mother, although it may be unconscious on her part, yet makes her a partner of Divinity:  every human mother is, in a sense, “over-shadowed by the Holy Ghost.” Not a priest, and yet endowed with a kind of priestly power, she, too, brings God to man, and man to God. She brings God to man by accepting her mother’s role, and thus permitting God to infuse a new soul into her body for it to bear. She brings man to God in childbirth itself, when she allows herself to be used as an instrument by which another child of God is born into the world.   

If motherhood is seen as a matter involving only a woman and a man it is seen too astigmatically, and without the honor that is its due. For to comprehend the real significance of motherhood, we must include the spiritual element that goes to make a child - we must see the human woman co-operating with her husband, the father of the human baby, and with God, the Father of a soul that is eternal, indestructible and unlike any other ever formed throughout the history of the world. Thus, every human motherhood involves a partnership with the Divine.

If you enjoyed the wisdom that Fulton Sheen has shared in this chapter of his book, you can download a pdf copy here. 

Way to Happiness by Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen

New York: Garden City Books, 1949