What is Spiritual Motherhood?

Christine French | October 22, 2019

Question: Many of us have heard the term “spiritual motherhood”. What does this mean to you? What does spiritual motherhood look like?

I have a wonderful mother who raised me in the Catholic faith and has been Catholic her whole life. But as I was growing up I struggled with faith and asked a lot of hard questions about the Church and not satisfied by answer around me. I was drawn in by many other deeply faithful Catholics in college, a wonderful chaplain and a very motherly Campus Minister, Alecia, who listened to me for hours in her office as a worked through struggles. Alecia is the first spiritual mother I was really open to receive from, but had many others before and since that time with her in college. Now I am a campus minister back at my high school.

When I began to organize our parishes first Endow group with a friend and mentor out of the prompting of the Lord on JPII’s Letter to Women, we initially assumed that it would be a group for 20 to 30-year-old women from our parish. Then one woman I really admire from our parish text me, Mary (as in Our Blessed Mother) told me to contact you for consolation. We met and as we were talking I had an overwhelming desire to invite her to join our Endow group, even though she was older than our original age range. She was a religion teacher for the parish’s middle school, ran the Confirmation program, and had already contributed to my life personally. After talking to my co-leader and praying about it more we invited her to join us.

As a result of this women joining our Endow group we invited two other older women. All three are mothers and have their own children ranging from 6th grade to out of college. As we began our first study I was deeply moved by the entire group that the Lord brought together we were all different and unique but seeking the Lord and wanting to grow in holiness and in community.

One quote in the study by Saint Edith Stein says, “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.” Over and over again I saw this lived out concretely in the support our group provided for one another: a listening ear, remembering an important date/milestone, prayers, and food.

When I was struggling a lot one day after Mass a woman from the group came over and knew something was upsetting me and just began to pray over me out loud and a different day another woman offered a hug and a listening ear when I was believing Satan’s lie that I was all alone. I got texts and dinner invites, lots of laughs when I was getting too serious, and I had people who could see through the masks I put up and allow me to be vulnerable and grow in trust first of them, then of God. I then got to share my enthusiasm with others, my knowledge of evangelization, particularly with today’s teens, and encourage people to get a spiritual director and lead spontaneous prayer, lectio divina, etc for our group. We were present for each other. This is what it means to nourish the spiritual growth of others. And the joy and other fruits of the Holy Spirit were so present as we recognized the fruitfulness of our yes to the Lord that contributed to the growth of our sister in Christ.

The study says, Consecrated women’s willingness to love all Christ’s children as their own is an ongoing witness to the truth, the power, and the beauty of the feminine genius (P. 81). For nearly 2 years prior to starting this study I had been discerning consecrated life, but this study was one of many ways the Lord confirmed I was moving on the right path and helped give me the courage to respond to the Lord’s promptings and move in with the Apostolic Oblates, lay consecrated women that take vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity with a promise of apostolic availability. I am currently in the first step, The Experience before even starting formation, but receiving a lot from the Lord here. Getting to tell my spiritual moms from the group about my day of prayer that led me to take this step was so exciting and their encouragement and support helped me stay grateful for this move even when other people in my life were not as excited for me as I begin this journey.

The beautiful thing is that the Lord will use us right where we are, in our state of life and varied circumstances to bear spiritual fruit and be a spiritual mother if we are open to His voice and promptings.

The Inconvenience of Being a Woman: Navigating the Postpartum Period

Jenny Uebbing | October 20, 2019

Question: Have you had a great experience with a health care professional who made you feel seen and heard? Have you taken a moment to thank that person, give a referral to a friend, or write a positive review for their practice?

Lately I’ve been navigating some frustrating postpartum health issues – nothing life-threatening, but life-interrupting nevertheless. I’m grateful to have decent health insurance which has enabled me to see a doctor, a couple PA’s, and one very helpful PT. Save for that last practitioner, the overwhelming response from the medical profession has been a sort of metaphorical pat on the head and a wink and a “well, this is what life with lots of children feels like. And that maybe I should drink more coffee if I’m feeling really tired, and have I thought about going to the gym to help with the weight loss? (facepalm)

Oh, and my personal favorite: an official suggestion to schedule more date nights. By a PA who winked and me and offered to write me a prescription to that end.

Now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t hanker for a prescription to get thee to a wine bar, but for a 35-year-old college educated woman with 5 kids and a busy life, it’s a little frustrating to be patronized thusly.

Yes, it is a lot of work to have five kids. So is it, I imagine, a lot of work to command an aircraft carrier or lead a medical research team or litigate a corporate fraud case. I wonder if those professionals find themselves similarly dismissed in the exam room for being just a little too impatient with their suboptimal bodily performance and perhaps being chided for having too-high expectations for their quality of life.

Somehow I doubt it.

I was thinking of this and other things related to being female, namely, fertility, and I got to thinking that a significant piece of the problem is perhaps that we – all of us, culturally speaking – have reframed female fertility from a wonderous and naturally occurring aspect of human life to a disease to be managed with the utmost care and pregnancy a condition to be indulged in sparingly and only with the greatest trepidation.

And I don’t just mean the American College of Gynecology who, in their welcome admission of the existence of a “fourth trimester” to cover the immediate postpartum period (duh) are all-too eager to impart their wisdom on sexuality and contraception to a woman who pushed or had cut out of her 21 days earlier an 8 pound human being. But yes, best to get her nice and sterile again ASAP lest we get ourselves into this situation again.

I have a theory that part of the reason maternal healthcare is so bad in our culture has to do with the expectation that a woman will maybe undergo pregnancy two or three times in, say, a decade-long period and then be done with the whole thing, so why put many resources into supporting and researching best practices and good postpartum care?

Why put time into studying the natural effects of hormones if a woman is just expected to go back to repressing them?

Why encourage women to have healthy, fit, functional pregnancies if it doesn’t matter if they blow it since it’s “only” nine months, maybe eighteen if they go for a second kid? (I’m pretty sure whoever coined the term eating for two was not planning on a woman doing so four or five or nine times, thereby annihilating her metabolism). On the other side of the coin, why strive to help women to recover their fitness and ideal physical and emotional health if we’re conditioned to think that being overweight, overtired, and overwhelmed is simply par for the course of motherhood?

“We don’t know, that’s just what happens after you have a baby!” is not an acceptable answer from a civilization that has produced cochlear implants and iPhones and the internal combustion engine.

But I think until we start demanding better care and refusing to accept “schedule more date nights” or “just take this pill” as appropriate answers for real medical issues, this is what we’re going to get.

Women should be able to find competent postpartum and maternal healthcare that sees their endocrine and reproductive systems not as dangerous threats to be chemically suppressed and neutralized, but as essential components of the delicate whole of their entire bodies. And they should be treated with the respect and dignity that is proper to the human person. There has to be a solid middle ground between “suppress it and forget it” and “we don’t know what causes that.”

New mothers should be leaving the hospital or birthing center with a prescription for physical therapy, instructions to schedule an insurance-covered, comprehensive physical at 2 weeks and 6 weeks and 12 weeks postpartum, recommendations for supplements, plans to check hormone and vitamin levels with lab work, and a general reassurance that her body has just accomplished something demanding and incredible and also utterly and completely normal.

Maybe it’s too much to hope for from a culture that spends much of its emotional and political energy on so-called “women’s issues” ensuring that female healthcare remains strictly limited to accessing free chemical contraception and the inalienable right to end your pregnancy if you don’t want your baby.

But maybe it’s something we can work towards, one mother at a time, expecting more for ourselves so that we can one day hand over a greater collective wisdom and a higher standard of care to our own daughters.

Because I am a woman, not an inconvenience. My body is strong and capable, not weak and declining. And my fertility is an intricate and intelligently designed gift, not a disease. Help me to honor these truths and you’ll be practicing real medicine.

Have you had a great experience with a doctor who made you feel seen and heard? Have you taken a moment to thank that person, send a referral their way, or write a positive review for their practice? Maybe we can’t close the health gap that exists between the sexes on our own, but we can recognize and affirm doctors and other medical professionals who rise above the status quo to provide competent and compassionate care.

College Gals, How do you Keep it Together?

Karli Smith | October 20, 2019

Question: The Lord is calling me to be a good student. Sometimes, I just can’t seem to make it to Mass on Sundays because of the amount of homework that I have for the following day/week. I’m really trying to be a good Catholic but I can’t do it all. There are too many things that I am called to do. How do I discern what is a priority?

I remember my last semester when I found myself lying awake at night, anxious about getting to sleep because of all that I had to do the next day as a nursing and theology student as well as part time employee for two jobs. I was just trying to keep my head above water so as not to drown in responsibilities. I had cut out almost every other facet of my life excluding school and work, and even though I didn’t miss my Sunday Mass obligation, live a life transformed by Christ, for Christ, in love of Christ. So, how does this work practically?

First, it means fulfilling our Sunday obligation by going to Mass. Our Lord commands this day set aside for His worship, not for His own benefit, but for ours. It is in the celebration of the Mass that He grants us the gift of the Eucharist, the very body and blood of Christ, by which we receive the grace to persevere in a life of faith. Prayer is also essential. Just like in any other relationship, our relationship with God can only be sustained and fruitful if we spend quality time with Him. Prayer is quality time with God, which provides further grace and continues to sustain in us what He has already generously bestowed. This quality time can be spent in silence, meditation, casual conversation, written prayers, singing praise, or reading Scripture. C.S. Lewis depicts the importance of our need for the Lord in our lives when he wrote, “A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel for our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.” 1

To do this requires prudent planning and use of time. Having time to relax, fulfill our responsibilities, and invest in relationships with friends and God, is not impossible, it is simply a matter of prudence and self-discipline. If we do this not only will we be able to get work done, but we will be able to be fully present and appreciate the time we have to spend relaxing and having fun with friends.

Sometimes, even this doesn’t quite solve the problem. We have to face the reality that we piled too much on our plates. I realized throughout my years in college, that in my enthusiasm to be active and involved in all the amazing opportunities there were, there was a temptation to overcommit myself to the point of doing nothing well. The better choice, I discovered, was choosing and committing to a couple activities I could fully invest myself and my time in, and to do them well.

There was a time that I hadn’t been in the chapel for a long period of time, and I found myself thanking God for so patiently waiting for me to visit Him, and asking His forgiveness that He had to wait so long. I realized that if I was going to be the woman I desired to be and was created to be, I could not merely make time for God in my schedule, but that I had to build my entire schedule and life around Him. I wanted to make Christ the true center of my life, and treasure of my heart. No longer did I want to put other gods above Him; I wanted to dethrone my pride and vanity, my laziness and selfishness, my entertainment and comfort, to place the King of Kings in His rightful place on the throne of my heart. This meant making sacrifices. Some days, I needed to forego gym time, or time with friends, or Netflix, or taking a short break and falling into the black hole that social media can suck me into during my study time. Other times it meant inviting my friends to pray with me or accompany me to Mass as a part of our time spent together. Even harder, sometimes I had to practice self-discipline and make myself go to bed earlier in order to get up for early morning Mass when I knew the rest of my day was going to be really busy. Sometimes the best way to make sure to get to Mass and spend time in prayer is by taking time on Sunday to look at the week and choose a time everyday to spend with God, even if it’s only 10 minutes. Put it in my planner, on a stickie note, or in your mind’s list of things to do, and consider it an unbreakable appointment. It’s also important to make this time during a part of the day when you will be able to be present and thoughtful, and when you know you will be able to keep your commitment. For some of us, we know we cannot make it first thing in the morning, because there is a chance we won’t get up on time, for others it can’t be at the end of the day, because we would most likely fall asleep.

Even with planning, life is full of the unexpected and unplanned. Perhaps the best perspective to have in such situations is to trust that if you give quality time to God, even and especially when it seems like you don’t have enough to give for Mass or prayer, He will often make the time you need to fulfill all of your other responsibilities. That is, He will in a sense multiply your time. In fact, Our Lord Jesus Himself says, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure by which you measure will in return be measured unto you.” 2

In all circumstances, though, we can and should make our entire lives a prayer of praise and gratitude to God. St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 3 This can be done by requesting the Lord to be present through a simple invitation such as, Jesus, I invite you to be present with me during my studying, or, Holy Spirit, I thank you for your faithful presence, and particularly invite you into my time cleaning and cooking, that you may make this time Holy. You can say a short prayer before beginning to study or taking a test. Some friends of mine have small stickie notes or prayer cards taped to their laptops as a simple reminder. Or, you could begin your day with a morning offering, to give God your entire self and all your day’s activities. St. Josemari­a Escriva said, “we can raise the level of our efforts we can try to turn the work we do into an encounter with the Lord and the foundation to support those who will follow our way in the future. In this way, study will become prayer.” 4 In this way we will live a life of Catholic faith. Our worship of God will extend far beyond the hour spent in Mass on Sundays. In fact, in doing all for the glory of God, we are actively living out our call with which we are sent forth from the Mass when the priest gives His final blessing to, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We will live a life, seemingly simple and average, if you will; yet, in reality, we will be living an extraordinary life, a life of greatness for which we are made.

1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

2 Luke 6:38

3 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

4 Josemaria Escriva, Furrow and the Forge, p.526

How College Roommates Prepare us for Marriage

October 20, 2019

Question: As a single woman in college, how can my roommates prepare me for marriage?

I came to realize that, even as a single woman in college, God provided me a very real means of preparation for marriage and family life in having roommates. It is in the intimate space that you come to think of as home, where other people come to know you your virtues and vices and you can come to know theirs. Living with roommates offers a glimpse into the daily life of marriage calling you to stretch and grow in ways that dating cannot.

Loving Through the Little Things

More than ever before, I have come to see my personal weaknesses, wounds, and vices. When I was able to humbly step outside of myself and take an objective look at the circumstances, I came to recognize not so much my roommates accumulating unwashed dishes, for example, but my love that was so little, weak, selfish, and impatient. I was, and continue to be, challenged time and again to love as I am called to love with patience, kindness. Most of the time, sitting down and learning to articulate these seemingly unimportant bothers helped me and my roommates avoid big fights. It stretched us in our ability to serve charitably, to be more thoughtful of one another and our shared spaces, to respect boundaries and differences, to be patient with one another, and to sacrifice little preferences in order to reach a compromise.

Communication Learning the Love Languages

In time, my roommates and I also came to recognize differences in our love languages and charitably navigate how to best. Some of my roommates were more assertive and direct and some were more silent and less likely to speak their mind. I had to learn to be more aware of how I perceived the communication of my more outspoken roommates, and how to gently encourage more communication from the more cautious roommates. Communication enabled us to share our thoughts and feelings to one another, as well as to express our love which also had many different ways of being given and received. It is easy to love another in the way that I most easily express and receive love. However, unfortunately, assuming that another person receives an action or word as loving when they do not receive it as such, has left me wondering why they don’t seem to notice my effort, and has left them feeling unloved. It was important for me to love each individual roommate in the way that they receive love. It was also helpful when I could recognize that, even if I don’t feel loved in a particular way, my roommate was going out of their way and making an effort to love me so that I was able to thank them and affirm them for their efforts to love me.

Prayer the School of Love

There is so much more that can be learned and so many more ways that living with roommates can prepare you for marriage. It forces you to stretch yourself and grow in humility, patience, sacrificial love, and your ability to communicate, compromise, and love in the little ways. There is one aspect of this experience that is imperative for living with roommates, and for a healthy married life prayer. Prayer is the only way that I have been able to live with other women. I need the grace of Christ, so that He can love through me, and for His grace to be poured forth on the hearts of those I lived with as well, so that, where we were, He would remain in the midst of us.

Healing from Miscarriage

Michaelene Fredenburg | October 20, 2019

Question: My friend just had her second miscarriage and is understandably devastated. I myself have not experienced this and don’t know how to be there for her other than to bring her dinner and check in. I feel useless and it hurts to see her pain. Any suggestions on how to help women heal from this experience?

Dear sister in Christ,

I’m so sorry for your friend’s losses. The helplessness that you are expressing in the face of her pain is quite common. Since our culture typically treats loss after miscarriage as a non-event, we often find ourselves unsure what to do and how to support family and friends. However, what you are doing acknowledging the loss of her children verbally and showing your love and concern by providing for her practical needs is most likely exactly what she needs. And this is something that she, and her husband, will need for some time to come.

If you aren’t already doing this, you may want to make yourself available to spend time with your friend and allow her to share about the loss of her children. It can be awfully hard to listen to such deep pain; however, this is one of the greatest gifts that you can offer her. Think back to a time when you lost someone close to you. I imagine that it was a relief to be able to talk about that person and all that they meant to you. In addition to talking about your loved one, there may have been other times that you simply needed someone to sit with in silence. Your friend needs the same opportunity to use as many or as few words to express her grief. So although you have not experienced a reproductive loss, you have experienced other losses that will provide some insight into how to help.

Assuring your friend that what she is feeling is normal will also help her quite a bit. If it’s appropriate, you can share with her that everyone experiences grief differently that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve and that there isn’t a set timeline to grieve. You can also feel confident assuring her that although it doesn’t feel this way right now, things will get better. Your friend will never forget her children, but remembering them will be less painful as time goes on. (Something again that you can probably personally relate to when thinking about a loss in your life.)

And finally, don’t forget to express your condolences to the baby’s father and ask how he is doing. As you can imagine, men are often completely forgotten in the midst of loss due to miscarriage. Although men tend to show their grief differently, studies indicate that they are equally impacted and that their grief often goes unresolved due to the lack of support from family and friends and the culture at large.

Sister, it sounds like you are doing a terrific job supporting your friend. In addition to what you are already doing, you and your friend may benefit from visiting MiscarriageHurts.com. This anonymous healing website features activities to work through the grieving process, as well as a place to memorialize, and a place to find further help and support.

Trust Me, You’ve Got This. Because He’s Got You.

October 20, 2019

Question: I am feeling hopeless. Looking around at our country at large and my local community it is clear there is a social breakdown happening that is threatening relationships all around me. There is such division, tension, and instability in personal identity, family life and politics yet my friends seem so numb to it not caring about its effects or objective truth. I understand our gift of feminine genius and ability to contribute to human flourishing, but how do I make a difference when I feel like no one cares?

Dear sister,

I really feel your heartache in all of this. What you say is right: things are tough right now. If you have a sensitive spirit and a big heart, social realities weigh heavily. Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, abuse of children, the hook-up culture, poverty, disease, natural disasters not to mention war and atrocities in many parts of the world. What came to mind when I first read your question is what John Paul II was so fond of repeating: do not be afraid! (You can see an example here.)

The longer I have pondered the message of St. John Paul, the more I have been convinced of its importance for us. Fear has many effects on us, all of them toxic. Stress, for instance, and confusion. When we are afraid, we don’t think clearly and it’s hard to see things in proportion. All of this paralyzes us.

I have a baby boy who is 11 months old. He has just learned to climb up stairs, and he often starts up them eagerly. But about two-thirds of the way up, he stops and looks back, sees the huge set of steps behind him, and becomes terrified. He doesn’t know how to come back down. And his fear keeps him from moving forward. He begins to panic and cry. When I rescue him he calms down immediately, and his good spirit returns. And this, I think, is the message of the Gospel, the message of St. John Paul the Great. Be not afraid! A savior is coming. He has conquered the world. He will lift you up and hold you!

Notice something important about this. A mom who rescues a stray little one doesn’t say: baby, the stairs are small, don’t worry. No, she scoops up her little one to comfort his distress. Of course, the stairs are small for her, and she knows that in time her child will learn to handle them, with her help. But in the moment of trial, her motherly heart seeks only to comfort, to save.

Just so with Our Savior, Jesus. He doesn’t say that our problems are small. If they were small we wouldn’t need a Savior. Instead he says trust in me. I’ve got you.

What has all of this to do with your hopelessness? Only that hopelessness comes from a certain kind of forgetting that there is a Savior. We find ourselves a little stuck, a little overwhelmed, a little crushed by things, a little bit stuck on that high stair. We can’t go forward, we can’t go back. Fear and negative emotions overwhelm us.

The good news is that you don’t have to think your way out of this. Possibly the last thing you can do well in the midst of hopelessness is think. I said that hopelessness was based on a certain kind of forgetting that we have a Savior. I didn’t mean that you are literally forgetting, but as a Catholic community I think we have often forgotten how to hold out our hands for the Savior. So there we are, stuck on the stairs, and we don’t know how to call for help.

I’m going to get to some very practical advice in a moment, but I wanted to put it in this context, because the language of the Gospel is so much this: that we should become like little children, that we should see Jesus as our shepherd and we the lost sheep. It is little to raise our hands and cry out for mom on the stairs. It is little to wander closer to the shepherd. It is little to try humble things instead of big things. And yet, this is the structure of reality as God created us, it’s how we are made. And it’s how we nurture our feminine genius.

So here is my practical advice, advice that worked for me at one of the lowest parts of my life, when things seemed dark, confusing, and unsure. I was twenty-two years old, had no idea where my life was going or what I was supposed to do next. I was in graduate school but I still felt directionless. I only knew that I wanted to help somehow, that I wanted to be a gift to others, that I wanted to make a difference.

In complete desperation, weary of thinking through things, I got the idea to just get myself into Church every day, where I could see the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus in the tabernacle, and I asked for His help to see what I should do. I asked Him Lord, show me the way. Sometimes I prayed this prayer after catching a daily Mass; other times I just stopped in. I thought that I wasn’t strong enough to pray, so I just put myself physically in the presence of God. I went into His house and asked for the grace to see. What I didn’t know then is that I was praying! That simple act was a physical, bodily cry for help like my baby on the stairs who throws his hands into the air as if to say pick me up!

So, here is a simple plan to start to climb out of hopelessness:

1 Put yourself into the presence of God every day, at a Church, or an adoration chapel; aim for just a five-minute check-in. You have to be with Him, you have to crawl onto His lap and He can fix everything in those moments. We are physical and Our Savior is physical.

2 When you are in His presence, do two things: first, make an act of hope say, Jesus, I hope in you! Jesus, I trust in you! Second, pray to see what you can do to make a difference in the suffering of the world. One saint that I know of recommended the short prayer Lord, that I may see! Domine, ut videam!

3 Do all of this, as much as possible, without thinking. Try to do it the way you go to the store when you need milk (or coffee!). You don’t think. You assess your need. I need coffee. And you get a coffee. This is just the same: you need God. So you go to Him.

The world is starving from a lack of God. Sister, you are feeling this, and it weighs on you. The only way to start remedying this is to be the change that the world needs. Humanity as a whole can’t have a relationship with God. He is a lover who loves your soul and needs your soul as he loves and needs all the other souls he has made.

And when you go to Him in prayer, it will spill over to others: you will become better because he will change you; and you’ll start to see how you can use your unique gifts and talents to make things better around you. You probably won’t be asked to start a religious order in India (though you might be!); and you probably won’t be told to go to South Africa as a missionary (though you might be!). But whatever it is, God will inspire your heart with your own personal mission for the salvation of the world, a mission that is totally you, and totally yours. And you’ll set out with the confidence of a woman in love.

Trust me, this works. You’ve got this. Because He’s got you.