Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Julie Paavola to our CatholicMom.com team of writers. I recently had the great pleasure of spending time with Julie at an informal “retreat” of Catholic Mom writers here in California. Julie brings her beautiful spirit and a great talent for writing to our family as she prepares to launch a new book next Spring. Please join me in welcoming Julie! Lisa
Fortitude is one of seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It means having strength to endure. I, for one, feel nervous about this virtue because the implication is that I’m going to need it for some kind of ordeal. I’m not sure I want an ordeal, thanks very much! Yet as I think about the Gifts of the Spirit in the context of the calling to motherhood, I realize mothers need fortitude on a daily basis.
As a Gift of God, fortitude means more than just will power. St. Teresa of Avila famously exclaimed, “I have a very determined determination.” She was speaking of her decision to be faithful to God no matter what. She also challenged her daughters to be like “strong men” in their commitment to God, not wimpy or sad. As we read in 2 Timothy 1: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self discipline.”
How many mothers do you know who project timidity? The same Holy Spirit that gives us the capacity to be firm in our commitment to the spiritual life gives us the grace to mother with “power, love and self-discipline.” What does this mean on a day to day basis for our busy lives as mothers?
First, we can avoid relying on our own strength alone. The psalmist says, “O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me” (Ps. 22:19). We must call on God frequently during the difficult moments of our day. The shortest, best prayers for family life are, “Help” and “Thanks!”
Second, why not assume God will bless us with success? Mothers today face all kinds of criticism from without and from within. We are often our own worst critics. Yet this thinking does not help us and may discourage us (discourage, literally “without courage” and the opposite of fortitude). Think positive! Assume you have that “spirit of power” which can enable you to discern the best course of action in your parenting decisions. Search and pray for guidance, then trust the Lord and leave the outcome to God.
Finally, practice self-discipline. Most of us think of discipline as something we teach our children. Yet, one of the first life-lessons parenting teaches is, “Discipline begins with me.” If I want to teach my children self-control and patience I must learn to exhibit them myself. Being with children all day can bring out the best and the worst in us. Yet God has promised us the Holy Spirit to help us grow in the kind of patience and love we need to mother well.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:14) Love is the central virtue of motherhood. It is the motor that drives the practice of all the virtues and keeps us spiritually fit. In the coming weeks, as we look through the remaining Gifts of the Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord—let love be our sole intention.
Copyright Julie Paavola, June 22, 2010, Feast of St. Thomas Moore