In the light of revelation, motherhood is a privileged sharing in Godís creative love, for he entrusts each individual in a special way to woman
Motherhood as a privileged sharing in God's creative love was the theme of the Holy Father's weekly catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday, 20 July. Continuing his discussion on the role of the laity, the Pope spoke of the "key-position" women enjoy in the Church and in society. Here is a translation of his address, which was the 95th in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. Whatever may be the professional opportunities women enjoy in society and the Church's apostolate, nothing can ever compare to the pre-eminent dignity that is theirs through motherhood, when the latter is lived in all its dimensions. We see that Mary, the model woman, fulfilled the mission to which she was called in the economy of the Incarnation and Redemption by way of motherhood.
In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (n. 17), I emphasized that Mary's motherhood was united in an exceptional manner with her virginity, in such a way that it is also a model for women who consecrate their virginity to God (cf. n. 17). When we discuss the consecrated life we will be able to return to this theme of virginity consecrated to the Lord. Continuing our reflection on the laity's role in the Church, in this catechesis I would like to consider woman's contribution to the human and Christian community through motherhood.
The value of motherhood was raised to the highest level in Mary, the Mother of God the eternal Word, made man in her virginal womb. Because of this motherhood, Mary is an essential part of the mystery of the Incarnation. In addition by her union with Christ's redeeming sacrifice, she became the Mother of all Christians and of all people. In this respect too there shines the value attributed in God's plan to motherhood, which finds its unique, sublime expression in Mary, but whose reflection from that highest summit is seen in all human motherhood.
Value of motherhood is contested today
2. Today more than ever, perhaps, the idea of motherhood has had to be reevaluated. It is not an archaic concept, belonging to the mythological dawn of civilization. However much woman's roles can be multiplied and broadened everything in heróphysiology, psychology, almost connatural habit, moral, religious and even aesthetic sentimentó reveals and exalts her aptitude, ability and mission in bringing forth from herself a new being. She is much more disposed than man to the generative task. In virtue of pregnancy and childbirth, she is more intimately bound to the child, close to its whole development, more immediately responsible for its growth, more intensely sharing in its joy, sorrow, and risk in life. Although it is true that the mother's task must be co-ordinated with the father's presence and responsibility, it is the woman who plays the most important role at the beginning of every human being's life. It is a role that highlights an essential characteristic of the human person, who is not meant to remain closed up within himself but to be open and selfgiving to others. This was stated by the Constitution Gaudium et spes: "man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself" (n. 24). This orientation towards others is essential to the person by virtue of the highest source of Trinitarian love, from which man takes his origin. Motherhood represents an apex of this personalistic and community orientation.
3. Unfortunately, we have to note the value of motherhood has been contested and criticized. The greatness traditionally attributed to it has been presented as a backward idea a social fetish. From an anthropological and ethical standpoint, some have considered it as a limitation on the development of the female personality, as a restriction on women's freedom and on their desire to take up and engage in other activities. Hence many women feel compelled to forgo motherhood not for other reasons of service and ultimately, of spiritual motherhood, but to be able to devote themselves to professional work. Many even claim the right to suppress the life of their own child through abortion, as if the right they possess over their own body implied ownership rights over the unborn child. And if some mothers have preferred to take the risk of losing their life, they are accused of folly or selfishness, and in any case, of being socially backward. These aberrations show the fearful effects of abandoning the Christian spirit which can guarantee and re-establish human values as well.
4. The concept of human personhood and communion derived from the Gospel does not allow us to approve the voluntary rejection of motherhood out of a mere desire to gain material advantages or satisfaction from performing certain activities. This is actually a distortion of the female personality, which is destined to unfold connaturally in motherhood.
The marriage union itself cannot be consumed in a selfishness for two: the love that unites the spouses seeks to extend itself in the child and to become the love of parents for their child, as proven by the experience of so many couples in past centuries and in our times as well: couples who have found in the fruit of their love the way to strengthen and orient themselves and, in certain cases, to recover and be renewed.
On the other hand, the person of the child, even when just conceived, already enjoys rights that must be respected. The baby is not an object that the mother can dispose of at will, but a person to whom she is obliged to devote herself, with all the sacrifices that motherhood entails, but also with the joys it provides (cf. Jn 6:21).
5. Even in the psychosocial conditions of the world today, woman is thus called to be aware of the value of her vocation to motherhood as an affirmation of her own personal dignity, as the capacity and acceptance of extending herself to new lives, and in the light of theology, as a sharing in God's creative activity (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 18). This sharing is more intense in woman than in man by virtue of her specific role in procreation. Awareness of this privilege led Eve to say after her first childbirth, as we read in the Book of Genesis: "I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord" (Gn 4:1). And since motherhood is a contribution par excellence to the propagation of life, in the biblical text Eve is called "the mother of all the living" (Gn 3:20). This name makes us think of the realization in Eveóas in every motheróof the image of God, who, as Jesus proclaimed, "is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:27).
In the light of biblical and Christian revelation, motherhood is seen as a sharing in God's love for men: a love which, according to the Bible, also has a maternal aspect of compassion and mercy (cf. Is 49:15; Dt 32:11; Ps 86:15; etc.).
Woman has key position in Church and society
6. Along with the motherhood lived in the family, there are many other marvelous forms of spiritual motherhood, not only in the consecrated life, of which we will speak in due course, but wherever we see women working with maternal devotion on behalf of orphaned, sick or abandoned children; on behalf of the poor and unfortunate; in many works and projects inspired by Christian charity. In these examples the basic principle of the Church's pastoral work, that of humanizing contemporary society, is magnificently fulfilled. Truly, "woman in virtue of her special experience of motherhood seems to have a specific sensitivity towards the human person and all that constitutes the individual's true welfare beginning with the fundamental value of life" (Christifideles laici, n. 51). Hence it is not an exaggeration to define woman's place in the Church and in society as a "key-position".
L'Osservatore Romano July 27, 1994