The cloister garden, with a statue of St. Dominic, at Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park.
Called to the fullness of ‘spiritual motherhood’
January 12th, 2011
By Tara L. Clemens
When I first started seriously discerning religious life, the prospect of not being a wife and mother was difficult. In one sense, it is similar to deciding whether to marry at all – a married person has made the choice to forgo marital intimacy with all others, to give themselves wholly to their spouse. Ideally, before marriage, each person has prayerfully discerned that their beloved is the one God has provided, the one who will be their spouse until death, and they are ready and willing to make the necessary sacrifices to live a married life.
As a person discerns religious life, you are walking a similar path – prayerfully discerning whether God would have you forsake marital intimacy with all others and belong only to God. Your discernment continues after you enter a convent or monastery until final vows, when you make your commitment to God, having made the necessary sacrifices that would impede a religious life.
While I’d never been in a rush to get married – I enjoyed being single and free for God alone – I had, at the same time, assumed that someday I’d meet “Mr. Right-for-me” and we’d get married and start a family. At that time, it was a more difficult prospect than giving up a career, as much as I love my work. Nonetheless, I had long realized that someday my family needs may require I sacrifice part or all of my career, so I’d already come to terms with the possibility.
Looking back, I realize I struggled more with giving up motherhood than giving up being a wife.
Then one day, I was listening to (global Catholic network) EWTN and a young sister was describing her calling to religious life. She, too, struggled with the idea of not being married and having children. An older sister told her two things which gave her peace:
Just like the woman in the Gospel, she needed to break the alabaster jar of her life. In other words, she needed to give herself over completely to Jesus and his will for her. He knew what would make her supremely happy and for what purpose she was created. Second, she began to study and understand spiritual motherhood and, as Pope John Paul II described, the feminine genius.
All women are called to be mothers; all women are called to bring forth life into their homes, their communities, the public square, the world. But God equips us and calls us to do this in different ways. For most, this means being a mother in the traditional “raising a family” sense, being involved in parish life, careers and so on. But for women religious, it means spiritual motherhood for the church and the world.
As I studied this more and began to understand my vocation as a woman and particularly the spiritual motherhood of contemplative nuns, God gave me great peace and joy about my vocation and where I felt him leading me.
A few resources I found helpful in understanding the special call and gift of women were Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” and his “Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women.” Also, in 2007, the Congregation for the Clergy published a short, wonderful document on spiritual motherhood called “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.” Finally, I was also informed and inspired by Alice von Hildebrand, author of “The Privilege of Being a Woman”; Johnnette Benkovic, author of “Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life”; and Genevieve Kineke, who wrote “The Authentic Catholic Woman.”
From January 14, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.