Motherhood is also a hard sell these days, as Jonathan Last reminds us in his disturbing book, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting.” In most environments self-identified as Catholic, one will not hear any mention of “generous parenthood” or “heroic parenthood.” In most diocesan marriage preparation programs that I am aware of, there is little or no discussion of the “grave reasons” justifying the spacing of children or decision to have no more children, through natural family planning. And many surveys have indicated that self-identified Catholics contracept and abort at the same rates as their non-Catholic counterparts. Fertility in general, and female fertility in particular, is treated as a kind of disease, or at least an unfortunate condition that must be prevented and perhaps even ultimately blocked.
This should not be surprising. A culture that does not value the interior freedom of virginity is not likely to honor the lavish generosity made necessary by fruitful motherhood. In rejecting both virginity and motherhood, both the pseudo-Catholic culture and the secular culture reject woman’s deep and vivid charism, which is a capacity for self-donation, that feminine genius of “the gift of self” that Saint John Paul extolled throughout Mulieris Dignitatem. Spurning Mary as the Icon-of-the-Virgin and Mary as the Icon-of-the-Mother, is it any wonder that our culture is filled with so many unhappy women? What can be done?
John Senior, in his sublime “The Restoration of Christian Culture,” says that we must relearn from the Virgin Mother “the language of love.” It is a language rooted in the freedom of the Virgin and comes to fullest expression in the fruitfulness of the Mother. Its premier articulation is Mary’s “Fiat!” to her God-given identity as a woman. How shall we as Catholics re-center God’s wisdom revealed through Mary, the most blessed among women? A detailed answer to that question would be vast, but I think we can confidently identify a few starting points.
Luke 2:19 depicts Mary “pondering these things in her heart.” We would do well to ponder as she pondered and what she pondered by refreshing our commitment to the Rosary. We would also do well to review again and pray along with great Marian art—especially paintings from the medieval and renaissance masters, as well as the icons of the Byzantine Church. Finally, we would surely be wise to re-immerse ourselves in the Church’s theological reflections about Mary, so as to come to love her ourselves as the Church has always loved her. Father Gaitley’s “33 Days to Morning Glory” would be a simple and sound place to start.
The human vocation is to love as God loves — so says Saint Ignatius Loyola in his famed “Contemplatio.” Human unhappiness is but a symptom of the human failure to love. The feminine genius of self-gift, so frequently lauded by Saint John Paul, finds its perfect expression in Mary, who is Virgin-and-Mother — the woman who is most free and most fruitful. The restoration to women of the happiness intended for them by God can only be found in imitation of Mary.
When I write next, I will speak of Lent—its promise and its peril. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.