• Faith Downing

A Love that’s Changing the World (Spiritual Motherhood Series)

I’ve known their love and been forever changed by it; I’ve felt its warmth spread into the hurting spaces of my heart; I’ve witnessed the fruit produced by its outpouring into my life. It’s the love of a spiritual mother – a love recognized almost instantaneously upon reception, yet often failed to be validated for its utter importance and worth. Within her heart, every woman bears the calling to and the capacity for motherhood. In the words of St. Edith Stein, “Woman is destined to be bride and mother. Both physically and spiritually, she is endowed for this purpose.” When a woman responds “yes” to this call, when she embraces this purpose, whether biologically or spiritually, joy and hope are conceived, fruit is produced and the result is an abundance of life.


Around the time of Mothers’ Day, we are drawn to think of the biological mothers who bore us, passed onto us our traits and perhaps raised us into the women we are. Yet, just as surely, we should use this time to think with fondness of many other women who pour into our lives as only a mother can; teachers, godmothers, aunts, sisters, friends, mentors.


Women who love us, delight in us, speak truth into our hearts, serve us in our sufferings, cover us in prayer, walk alongside us in our journeys with Christ and point us to His most Sacred Heart in our moments of need. Women who make their hearts a home for us, a place to be sheltered, celebrated, heard and seen. Though not our mothers biologically, they are mothers to us, and live out motherhood in our lives and theirs all the same.


I witness it now in the lives of my own children – the joy brought to their lives by spiritual mothers who love them, serve them, sacrifice for them and pray for them daily. Their lives are better for the knowing of these women and the reception of their love. I witness it in the strength of our parochial school and the sweet Dominican Sisters who have nourished it, grown it, sacrificed for it and brought beauty forth from it; these “little mothers” show the children of our parish the very heart of Jesus and invite them into it with the earnestness of a mother’s beckoning. I witness it in the caretaking fields; women dying to themselves daily to ensure the bodies and souls of others are cared for. Are these instances not motherhood at its most beautiful and pure?


I was struck once by the realization of how highly God must regard motherhood, that He chose to enter our humanity through it. Yet, He didn’t end there. At the cross, Jesus gifted us with the reality of spiritual motherhood with three simple and profound words “Behold your mother”. In giving His own mother to John and, in turn, to all of us, Jesus shows us that spiritual motherhood is meant to be part of our lives; it is willed to be part of our lives by the God who knows us intimately and who Himself understands the great importance of a mother’s love.


Having witnessed it and felt its immense impact, I’ve come to think of spiritual motherhood as sacramental – making the invisible reality of God’s heart for us a visible reality in the lives of others. To be a spiritual mother is to impact the course of eternity. While not always recognized or celebrated by the world, it is a reality that is essential to the building up and restoration of God’s kingdom. Every act of spiritual motherhood draws those involved deeper into the heart of the Father. When a woman steps into the life of another soul entrusted in some way to her care and nourishes, cherishes and prays for that soul – whether for a moment or a lifetime – she lives out a purpose meant intentionally and uniquely for her. In the words of St. Catherine of Sienna, by “being who she is meant to be, she sets the world ablaze.”


So, to all of the spiritual mothers who have given of the deepest parts of your hearts, you are seen. Your impact is rippling through the Church in an astronomical way. You are making disciples. You are forming saints. You are influencing eternal souls. Your love is changing the world.