Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spiritual Motherhood

I mentioned in a previous post the idea of spiritual motherhood. The idea is that the virtues that go with being maternal can be exercised by those who don't have children at all, and by women (with or without children) in arenas other than just caring for children. This makes a lot of sense to me. (In case you hadn't gathered, I'm of the firm persuasion that women and men are different. And while many women see that idea as a badge of inferiority, I can't remember a time at any age when I'd have wanted to be a boy. How was it not best to be just what I was?)

I assume I'm not the only one who's observed that women with kids - let's say at the age of 50 - are generally, though not without exception, different from women who don't have kids. I guess, overall, they're just less about themselves. Less self-doubting. Less self-conscious. Less selfish. And there are absolutely exceptions in both directions. But that's something I've seen. And one of the things that scares me about IF is that I might become a fragile, never-quite-grew-up woman if I get to grandmother age (and BTW, I don't mean 50! That's not grandmother age - just ask my mother) and never have kids. It's not that I think the childlessness will outright cause it (although I think the kids would prevent it). But that my bitterness will make me brittle and unhappy and self-obsessed. And then I won't be proud of whom I've become. Is this crazy? I don't know, it seems kind of sane.

Anyway, here's JPII on spiritual motherhood, from his Letter to Women. He says:

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the "genius of women".

Here I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless. In this work they exhibit a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society. At this point how can I fail to mention the witness of so many Catholic women and Religious Congregations of women from every continent who have made education, particularly the education of boys and girls, their principal apostolate? How can I not think with gratitude of all the women who have worked and continue to work in the area of health care, not only in highly organized institutions, but also in very precarious circumstances, in the poorest countries of the world, thus demonstrating a spirit of service which not
infrequently borders on martyrdom?
These ideas draw substantially from Edith Stein's essay "The Ethos of Women's Professions," which also appears in Woman (which I discussed before). Here's a snippet:

Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning. Lifeless matter, the fact, can hold primary interest for her only insofar as it serves the living and the personal, not ordinarily for its own sake. Relevant to this is another matter: abstraction in every sense is alien to the feminine nature. The living and personal to which her care extends is a concrete whole and is protected and encouraged as a totality; this does not mean that one part is sacrificed to another, not the mind to the body or one spiritual faculty at the expense of the others. She aspires to this totality in herself and in others. Her theoretical and her practical views correspond; her natural line of thought is not so much conceptual and analytical as it is directed intuitively and emotionally to the concrete. This natural endowment enables woman to guard and teach her own children. But this basic attitude is not intended just for them; she should behave in this way also to her husband and to all those in contact with her.

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