The level of any civilization is always the level of its womanhood.
—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Within its quieter moments, so much can be realized in Advent; it is a time of new and often unusual insights that can speak to our material realities but also, of course, to the spiritual.
The Holy Spirit works overtime to encourage us to live in closer contact with God, but during Advent and Lent those graces are even more abundant. One turning point for me came out of a prayer of acute frustration.
The Advent season was grinding me down. Combined with the incessant need to be making a million lists and checking them all twice, work and family demands were peaking. The constant doing was making it difficult to simply be. It was making it impossible for me to settle into silence; to pray; to prepare my heart to receive Jesus in the coming Nativity.
One miserable morning I was begging God for help, when suddenly my imagination was filled with a vivid image of the Infant Jesus in the manger, right in front of me. I reacted as any woman might: I bent toward him, saw myself lifting him into my arms and cradled him against my heart.
Suddenly, a deep sense of connection to the Child flooded my soul and my body. It was very powerful and that moment became my Advent meditation for the rest of the season. From that instant, no matter how busy I was, even the most fleeting memory of that maternal connection to the Infant would instantly ground me in the most tender feelings of awe and anticipation.
In this particular instance, I shared the Baby Jesus meditation online, and my post got shared all over the place. I wouldn’t say it went “viral,” but it was popular for several days. I heard back from people who told me that they had shared it with family members around the country, and that it was touching their hearts and helping them, exactly as it had helped me.
This is one way spiritual maternity operates, even for women who are not yet or cannot be mothers to earthly children: we desire to nurture others, so we immediately share whatever God reveals to us that we think might benefit someone else. Women are natural purveyors of beauty and love. It’s how God made us. It’s one reason that the well being of women, as Fulton Sheen observed, is so critical to the health of Church and society.
As we share these mysterious insights, the luminous power of that contact with God multiplies; it is not only shared again, but as it is reflected back to us, enriched by the addition of other responses and insights.
“Authentic womanhood” is expressed in many ways; it is like a mosaic. Womanhood must be free to be whatever God has ordained, as the saints powerfully demonstrate. Matthew Kelly coined the phrase, “the best version of yourself,” which refers to our most authentic, holy self. He emphasizes self-control, sacramental life and study of the Faith as pathways to greater freedom in Christ.
The resulting “version” of ourselves, however, will have a flavor and expression all its own. While the saints all have in common a radical trust and love of God, expressed through obedience to Holy Mother Church, each one is a unique masterpiece of grace and remarkably varied spirituality.
Women, of course, are individuals, and God’s infinite creativity is played out in the countless variations of personality, spirituality, culture, temperament, talent, physicality, and other qualities that are uniquely self-evident in women around the world. But every woman’s authentic womanhood is found in her intimate connection with the Source of all life. In Advent, to meditate upon the Infant Christ helps us to remember that spiritual motherhood can be an authentic gift and calling, and to connect with the reality that we may be mothers of one, or none, in flesh, yet mothers to many, in spirit.
This spiritual motherhood contributes to a woman’s true radiance. The generous maternal desire to share the wealth of our spiritual lives is part of the “feminine genius,” which St. John Paul the Great described so eloquently in Mulieris Dignitatem.
Lisa Mladinich is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com and the author of True Radiance and the Amazing Catechistsseries. She speaks on faith, catechetics and women’s issues at events around the country.