There is this emotion that every now and then swells up in me and the only word I can think of to describe it is “maternal”. I’m not a mother, but this feeling has come up very often. It happened the other day when I was teaching an English (ESL) class and I noticed a teenage student was speaking more English than usual (it’s usually a battle to get teens to practice their English). I noticed this while he was speaking and I tried not to let on about my amazement at his great speaking skills, but acted as if everything was totally normal so that he’d continue speaking. At that moment this feeling of “maternal” came up: as a little swelling of pride in thinking, “wow, I helped him practice and develop those speaking skills.” It happens all the time with the youth group I lead at my parish: when someone trusts me, hugs me, confides in me or when their life changes. It happens anytime I see someone I love getting healthier and thriving, whether that has anything to do with me or not. It happens with my new surge of creativity, when I get an idea and work to make something beautiful, whether writing an article or making Christmas ornaments. It happens when I finally figure out how to care for a plant and it goes from withering to blossoming. Every time my orchid blooms, I am amazed at how it happened because I knew to water it just a little, once a week, at the roots and not on the soil. That maternal feeling swells up and I think, “yes, little orchid, I know how to take care of you!”
I call this feeling maternal because I think that best describes this variety of meanings: nurturing, caring, proud and creative. I would say that this is a distinctive feminine quality. Of course, we are all a mixture of elements and men can and should have this trait also… but I would say it is distinctively feminine. Woman is most supremely a receiver and this does not in any way imply that she is passive. On the contrary, woman is made to open herself up, receive, accept, nurture and, with this cooperation in nurturing, give life. The prime example of course is Mary. Her fiat is feminine in its receptivity (as we are all called to be… as the Church herself is called to be receptive as Bride). Mary was open to God, nurtured Him inside of her and also as He grew. While the angelic greeting for Joseph was “Go, do” (Mt 1:20 and 2:13), for Mary it was “receive”.
“Mary’s words at the Annunciation – ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life… Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb.” Mulieris Dignitatem, 18
The feminine genius seems to lie in this openness, and in this helping to grow. Many women are graced with physical motherhood in which helping someone else grow is pretty obvious. Yet motherhood is inscribed in our being and mission here on earth, whether that is physically growing children or not.
“Motherhood in the bio-physical sense appears to be passive: the formation process of a new life ‘takes place’ in her, in her body, which is nevertheless profoundly involved in that process. At the same time, motherhood in its personal-ethical sense expresses a very important creativity on the part of the woman, upon whom the very humanity of the new human being mainly depends.” Mulieris Dignitatem, 19
I think motherhood in this “personal-ethical sense” that Pope John Paul II talks about can range from helping an orchid bloom, to molding and shaping reality in so many different ways, to keeping an elderly person company, to helping someone’s spiritual life grow… spiritual motherhood! Nurturing can be of physical life, but also of someone’s humanity… wow, what a gift and responsibility.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Julie-Rodriguez-1-e1319489646953.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Julie Rodrigues is a 25-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon, is currently teaching English and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.[/author_info] [/author]