On January 18, 2018, young adults joined together for the annual Pro-Life Holy Hour at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. This vigil of prayer and fellowship was an opportunity for young adults to unite with the 3,000 Generation Life pilgrims from St. Louis who attended the March for Life in Washington, DC the next day. The following talk on the ‘The Beauty of Motherhood’ was delivered by Faith Downing to the young adults assembled.
Good evening – thank you all for having me and for being here. Thank you also for your prayers this evening for the cause and gift of life. As someone who has worked in pro-life ministry for the past 5 years, I can attest to what a necessity and blessing your prayers are to this important effort.
I am a mother to a beautiful one year old boy, Joseph Anthony, who was born to my husband and me in November 2016 and who is truly one of our greatest blessings.
Joseph is our daily reminder, and opportunity, to serve one another and to work as a team. He constantly calls us to a deeper holiness just by existing, and his presence has been a means of growth for us as individuals and for the fortification of our marriage.
Ironically, when I first received the invitation to speak on ‘the beauty of motherhood,’ I was in a moment of frustration in my own motherhood. Those of you who have ever had to physically wrangle a toddler into taking a nap may be able to sympathize, but I will be honest in sharing that at times during these long days of keeping up with an ever changing, increasingly independent little boy, I have experienced moments of feeling utterly defeated.
And really, why shouldn’t I? I am, after all, only human, limited by my own weaknesses, stretched to the capacity of my finite patience, and living in a culture that has conditioned my first thought to be ‘me, my, self’; a culture which continually whispers lies to my heart about my motherhood- the lie that motherhood is a burden, a weight, and that I am surely failing at it if my child has trouble sleeping or throws his food on the floor or if I can’t produce that Instagram-ready picture of his Pinterest-worthy first birthday.
God’s Good Timing
That’s why I know it was Divine Providence that at the same time I opened the email invitation to speak and was overcome with these feelings of defeat, I had just begun reading a book called Heaven in Her Arms, Why God chose Mary to Raise His Son and What it Means for You. I know the Holy Spirit was speaking much needed truth about my (and all) motherhood to my heart and I am confident that what God has spoken to my heart about motherhood is something He wishes to speak to each of your hearts this evening, regardless of who you are or your stage in life, whether a single or married woman, a single or married man, a college student, a mother or not.
I know it because this truth is so desperately needed in a society where the beauty of motherhood has been discarded and trampled beneath the footsteps of political advancement and crushed by the widespread acceptance of a contraceptive mindset.
The truth about motherhood is that it is beautiful, valued, and important to our Heavenly Father- and we as Catholic, pro-life people are called to know this truth and to share it, and we must share it if we want our efforts to abolish abortion and create a culture of life to be fruitful.
“Despite my doubts, failures, and instances of impatience, God chose me to be Joseph’s mother”
The truth in particular that I needed to hear about my own motherhood was the reminder that despite my doubts, failures, and instances of impatience, God chose me to be Joseph’s mother. And in fact, it was a deliberate, purposeful, and meaningful decision, made before the beginning of time that was put into action the very moment he was conceived and began to grow within my body.
This is true of every mother, and every child. Psalm 139: 13 says
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
This verse reminds us that God took great care in creating each of us in His image, and that He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs.
God Chose Motherhood
I think sometimes we are too quick to skip over the second half of this verse which reminds us that not only did God create us specifically, etching out our every detail, but He created us from the very beginning in relation to a mother- to our mothers.
In this way we know that there is design and purpose and intention in every instance of motherhood, whether planned or a surprise, whether the child lives to adulthood or passes away before birth. God knit each of us in our mothers’ wombs.
God is all powerful. He could have chosen any avenue he wanted for the creation and continuation of new life. If he wanted us to spontaneously appear, he could have done it that way. But he chose motherhood and fatherhood as the avenue through which new life would come. And the fact that he did, tells us not only much about the heart of our Father, but also about the importance which he places on these roles.
This reality is then escalated when we take time to fathom the role that motherhood has in the story of our salvation. And the fact that this story was made possible by one young women’s yes to motherhood. Just as God in His infinite wisdom chooses each mother for each child, so too, He chose Mary to be His mother, the mother of His son, Jesus.
“Just as God in His infinite wisdom chooses each mother for each child, so too, He chose Mary to be the mother of His son.”
God chose motherhood to be an integral part of our salvation. Again, our omnipotent God could have enacted salvation any way he desired, but he chose the Incarnation. And it must be with beauty and awe that we behold this decision, that our God would choose to become one of us, to grow and develop for nine months in the womb of a mother, to be born—and to let the significance of this choice for motherhood mean as much to us as it does to our heavenly Father.
Mary After the Nativity
Encouraging me in my own journey of motherhood, Heaven in Her Arms reminded me that the role of motherhood in our salvation story does not end with birth; it does not end with Mary holding Jesus in the peace of the nativity scene.
This book, which so much truth about the beauty at the heart of motherhood, and, in particular, at the heart of Mary’s motherhood, was authored by a Protestant woman, Catherine Hickman who says,
“God’s personal selection of Mary to be the mother of His son is worthy of our faithful attention.”
And the reason I even bring this up is because I think sometimes, at least for me in my Catholic upbringing, there is a tendency to focus on Mary as we know her, post-crucifixion, as our mother, the gift given to us by Christ in his last words spoken from the cross. Focusing on this alone, we can easily forget how deeply human her role in the life of Jesus was, on a basic biological and societal level. We may forget that not only did God choose Mary to bring Jesus into this world, he chose her to bring him through it.
There is, of course, much that can be left to the imagination since most of Christ’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is not documented in Scripture; personally I have always loved pondering these years, especially now as a mother myself- wondering how Mary handled her toddler’s curiosity as he grew and explored the world, or with what lullaby she might have sung him to sleep.
“The most tangible evidence of the importance of Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, is Jesus himself.”
But I think the most tangible evidence of the importance of Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, is Jesus himself. Jesus is human, he was impacted and influenced and taught by his parents, just as we all are. Who he became as a man reflected the love and values they instilled in him.
Hickman highlights a few of Christ’s qualities received from Mary and Joseph. She points out that what we see of Christ during his years of ministry, his obedience with which he serves his heavenly Father, his knowledge of Scripture- all of these things, are at least in some way reflective of what he learned from his mother and father- but surely in a particular way from Mary, whose own obedience and faith in God’s promises allowed for his birth to happen.
For me, the most poignant example is Mary’s willingness to ask God a question—as we see her do in Luke 1:34 when she asks Gabriel about Jesus’s conception,
“How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
“Mary’s inquisitiveness to the angel revealed her trust in the Father. Inquisitiveness was an important virtue in Mary because she would be the role model for Christ in His relationship with His Father. He questioned the rabbis, He questioned the established religious powers, and He even questioned the Father in His time of need; where do you think He learned to do that?”
I don’t know about you, but to view Mary’s role in Jesus’ life in this light, in such a real, human way has renewed my understanding of how important she is to Christ, to me, and the value of her motherhood to every Christian who follows and loves Jesus. In the same way, we can and should look to the saints to be reminded of motherhood’s value.
Like Christ, the saints had mothers who instilled in them virtues and faithfulness, Mothers such as St. Zélie, the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux or St. Ann, the mother of Mary. These are holy women begetting holy women through their love and care.
We look to examples like St. Monica who by her zealous prayers and love for her child not only brought Augustine back to Christ, but supported in a tremendous way, his journey to sainthood.
And of course, we are inspired to value motherhood by those saints whose lives stand as tangible examples of its beauty despite the sacrifice entailed, saints such as St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who willingly and gracefully gave her life for her child; And, one of my personal favorites, St. Teresa of Calcutta, who, while not a mother biologically, became a spiritual mother who spent her life as a gift given to the least of God’s children.
And that too, I think, is another element of the beauty of motherhood- that it is not limited to the biological. In every feminine heart, God has placed the capacity and call to the maternal; this capacity to love and stretch and give of self in a way that only a mother could is a hallmark of the feminine genius- and a call found in the vocation of every woman, whether or not she is married or has biological children of her own.
“Maternal love such as this is intended to point us homeward towards heaven, a tangible reminder to us of the love with which the Father loves us.”
Maternal love such as this is intended to point us homeward towards heaven, a tangible reminder to us of the love with which the Father loves us. This comparison between a human mother’s love and the divine love of the Father is found in Isaiah 49:15:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
It is astounding and telling that the love of even an imperfect mother could be likened in comparison to the perfect love of God.
In many ways, motherhood is a mirror held up to this love which we see in the reflection of the cross. Enduring suffering, dying to self out of love for the other, these experiences are assured to every mother on some level and at some point in her journey. How boundless are the opportunities of a mother to be able to imitate Christ on a daily basis. From the very moment she becomes a mother, a woman is given the unique opportunity in her life to echo the words spoken by Christ at every Mass:
“This is my body, given for you.”
The sacred mirrored in the sacred.
It is no surprise to me that motherhood has come under attack in our modern culture, a culture in which instantaneous gratification has become not merely the norm but the expectation and our sense of wonder has given way to scrolling through newsfeeds on a handheld screen. We have been bombarded with the fabricated idea that we are somehow at the center of our own universe.
Recently a dear friend of mine who is a new mother herself made the comment,
“I never realized how selfish I was until I became a parent.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her as we mused together that perhaps one of the hidden gifts in motherhood is its ability to draw you so far out of yourself. In my own heart, I have found motherhood to be like a canyon- a space set deep and wide within me, no ceiling to contain it, created over time through the erosion of self, and a work of love hand crafted by the creator of the universe.
The Gifts of Motherhood
“I can now look at things and see that they are good, simply because they have been created, simply because they exist.”
In becoming a mother, I have learned so much of the heart of my heavenly Father. I have witnessed His goodness anew through the eyes of my child again and again, particularly in this past year as he has grown from infancy to toddlerhood, discovering new things and mastering new skills on a daily basis. From lights on a Christmas tree to the light switch on the wall, everything is a reason for celebration to him and a chance to learn.
Every human person, whether man, woman, or child is made in the image of God. We all reflect our Creator. The experience I am having now in motherhood, seeing things that I’ve seen a thousand times as if for the first time through the eyes of a little one, has given me the opportunity to see the world as God sees it—with such love, and such excitement for what He has created. I can now look at things and see that they are good, simply because they have been created, simply because they exist.
I’ve been gifted with greater insight into how God loves us and also how much it hurts him to see us fall; it breaks my imperfect human heart when I see Joseph hurt or when he cries. How much more compassion and empathy our perfect Heavenly Father must feel in the midst of our suffering.
The greatest gift though, that being Joseph’s mother has given me is the continuous call to holiness, the continuous opportunity to imitate Christ in how I love and serve my son, as well as the humility to realize that this is not something I can do myself. I need Jesus. I need grace to be the mother that I want to be, and even in moments when I fail to meet even that expectation, I need a lot of grace.
“While motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done or been asked to do, it is also without a doubt, the most beautiful.”
Prior to motherhood, I don’t think I ever really experienced the totality of the realization that, in my heart of hearts, I need Jesus. While motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done or been asked to do, it is also without a doubt, the most beautiful.
Every instance of motherhood is this opportunity for holiness. The Enemy has launched a full-scale attack on motherhood and on the family. We cannot and should not leave here tonight without truly considering and praying about how we can combat this attack on one of God’s most beautiful and deliberate gifts to us.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the full answer, but I do know that at the forefront of our efforts needs to be a better understanding and sharing of how much God values motherhood, to the point that His design is in every instance of motherhood, and I think the way this will best and most effectively be translated to people is in how we love them.
Thinking in particular of how we must love the women and mothers we encounter who are considering abortion—these women are going into Planned Parenthood and abortion facilities and are being told outrageous lies about their motherhood: that it means nothing, that it is a burden, something that will disable them, something that they have to be freed from—when in reality it is one of the greatest gifts they could ever receive.
I think that when we love and value and respect motherhood, and when we love our mothers and we love our children and our spouses, and when we love the women we encounter the way Christ has loved us, then we will become the voice that speaks the truth about who they are to their hearts. It is there, at the heart-to-heart level, where we will really begin to see the shift to the culture of life which we desire and hunger for.
Bio: Faith Downing is a Catholic twenty-something wife, mother, and pro-life activist from the Midwest. She was a founding member of Lindenwood University’s Newman Center where she became involved with the campus’ Students for Life group. After volunteering as a sidewalk counselor with Coalition for Life during college, she joined their staff as Operations Coordinator. She currently serves as Outreach Coordinator for Birthright St. Charles. She married her husband Paul in January of 2016, and the two had their first child, Joseph Anthony, in November of that same year. She is a blogger with Her Soul Proclaims and is the lover of a good plot line, flower crowns, and the message of Divine Mercy.