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The saintly work of motherhood...

A beautiful reflection that we just had to share this mother's day.

When I am doing ministry with young women, there is one question that comes up often. They ask me, ”Who are the saints in the Church who were mothers...and why are there not more of them?”

There are certainly a few I could name, but I did not have a good answer to the second part of the question until I became a mother myself. A few years ago, I entered into the holy, bewildering, sanctifying adventure that is motherhood, and it was only after this when I realized why there are not more Saints who were mothers...

The sacred work mothers do within the walls of their homes doesn’t often fall under the commonly understood definition of “saintly.”

Changing thousands of diapers with patience and perseverance doesn’t fall under the commonly understood definition of “holiness.” My religion textbooks told me of many beautiful, holy women who wore habits as they served the poor, but they didn’t speak of beautiful, holy women who wore pajamas as they nursed their babies through the night.

To be holy is to lay down one’s life - to die to self - in devotion and surrender to God. When a woman enters the vocation of motherhood, whether biological or adoptive, God indeed calls her to lay down her life for Christ and His Church, all the days of her life.

This is where holiness happens.

This is the unseen holiness of motherhood.

It is a mother navigating her child’s special needs, a mother taking her son with autism to every kind of therapy she could never have imagined existed, a mother researching her child’s newly diagnosed condition in the middle of the night after an appointment that left her breathless and paralyzed with fear of the future.

It is a mother choosing adoption and loving her one, two, or 12 children with a depth and courage so sacrificial when you hear of it or see it with your own eyes it takes your breath away.

It is a mother waiting up at night for her teenage son to get home, worried for his safety, standing in the painful middle between holding on and letting go and trusting that the Lord would take care when she isn’t able to anymore. It is a mother surrendering to the reality and the consequences of every decision her children make, good and bad.

The unseen holiness of motherhood is a mother forgiving her children for shattering her heart in ways known only to her and to Christ who holds the pieces together.

It is a mother wearing a worn-out apron, preparing Thanksgiving dinner year after year while her family enjoys, never once complaining over the silent expectation that she will carry the holiday load. It is a mother helping her son pee into a bottle in the car during a potty training emergency, a mother packing lunches late into the night thousands of times for the next day of school, a mother educating her children with determination and joy in her home for a dozen years and more.

This is the unseen holiness of motherhood.

It is a mother persevering through 40 weeks of crippling nausea as a “yes” to God’s will to bring one more new life into this world. It is a mother enduring a home birth, a water birth, a birth that felt as though the suffering would never is a mother being opened on an operating table to bring forth new life with the message, “This is my body, given up for you,” engraved onto her body in a way that will never disappear.

It is a mother who is up all night on countless nights for countless years, feeding and rocking and shushing and surrendering to her vocation in the black of the loneliest of nights. New mothers are given plenty of ideas about how to decorate the nursery, but they aren’t told of how those nurseries will become holy ground where suffering is endured and extravagant love is poured out. Saints are made in nurseries at night across the world.

This is the unseen holiness of motherhood.

It is the mothers who gave 100,000 baths and spoke one million bedtime stories and sang one billion lullabies over their children as the laying down of their lives each day. And I anticipate that in 100 years young women will still be asking this question…”Who are the Saints who were mothers? Why are there not more of them?” And this will be the reality and the will not know who they are. You will not find them on tapestries in churches, you will not find statues of them, and you will not hear their names or see their pictures anywhere. They won’t be the patron saints of anything.

Oh, but if they were.

Oh, but if they were…

They would be the patron saints of diaper changes, Thanksgiving dinners, and sleepless nights. They would be the patron saints of playgrounds, overcoming worry, and potty training. They would be the patron saints of recitals, sports practices, and carpooling. They would be the patron saints of tears and hugs and navigating teenage rebellion. They would be the patron saints of breastfeeding and c-sections, of pregnancy and of the adoption process.

They would be the patron saints of letting go.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux said of her relationship with the Lord, “In the evening of this life I will come before You with empty hands...”

And I do believe this is what an innumerable host of mothers who have gone before me did with arms open wide. They arrived at the radiant countenance of God with stretched-out hearts and stretched-out bellies and hands altogether emptied out from the letting go and the laying down of their lives in ways no soul ever knew.

The vocation of motherhood is soaked with the grit, the surrender, and the holiness that the pursuit of sainthood asks of each one of us - and the multitude of mothers who are Home with God singing holy, holy, holy for all of eternity is more vast than you or I will ever know.

And so, as we celebrate mothers this weekend, let us pray...

All you holy women, those women who died to themselves each and every day out of sacrificial love, surrender, and service of a King...

Pray for us.

Written by Emily Wilson

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