Editor’s note: I wish to thank Janet Quinlan for this wonderful guest contribution as we continue to celebrate Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s elevation to “Venerable”. Be sure to visit Janet, one of our CatholicMom.com sponsors, at her wonderful website Embroidered Heirlooms. LMH
“Woman has a mission to give life.”
There it is, perfectly summed up. Nothing flashy, nothing famous about it – just a simple statement with extraordinary consequences. This is a quote from Venerable Fulton Sheen’s masterful book, The World’s First Love, Mary Mother of God. As so many, I have a strong devotion to Our Lady. I have read many excellent books on her virtues, and have tried to model her “Serviam”. But Sheen’s insights on motherhood, femininity, and what it means to be an authentic woman go beyond any other book I have read. It amazes me that a middle-aged, celibate man can have such a profound and practical understanding of femininity and motherhood. As you read the book, you realize his understandings and insights are because of his deep, prayerful devotion to Our Lady.
As a mother of seven children, I have home schooled for over 14 years. With my husband, we are guiding them through the minefields of high school, college, and early adulthood. I have given them my love for my faith by living, embracing and breathing Catholicism in our home-quietly and consistently instructing them in the theology of the Faith. I am no different than most of you reading this. And yet when I opened a children’s boutique, somehow in the eyes of many, “I became something”.
A number of women have walked into the boutique and have commented, “This is so beautiful… Was this your life’s dream… You must be so proud of what you’ve done here…etc.” I thank them for their kind comments, but, to their surprise, quickly let them know this business wasn’t my life’s dream. I am profoundly grateful that Our Lord has given me talents to do what I love to earn money. But in the end, it is just work. Work to be sanctified, for sure, but it doesn’t define me or “make something of me.”
My life’s dream was always to give life-to be a mother. I am happiest when I am nurturing, laughing, listening, and challenging my children. I am happiest when I am not thinking about myself, but of my husband and my family.
In a world where true femininity and womanhood is constantly assaulted, we need frequent encouragement from holy men and women in our pursuit and dedication to the vocation of motherhood. This book is a must read. Sheen’s thoughts are both encouraging and challenging to the Holy pride of our vocation that we should feel. Through his study of Our Lady’s life, we are given our goal, our preeminent model.
He challenges us to be ‘Heaven’s instrument on earth’. “Whether it be the unmarried daughter who cares for the mother with her Fiat of surrender to service, or the wife who accepts the husband in the unity of the flesh, or the saint who accepts little crosses proffered by her Savior….there is present in varying degrees the beautiful picture of woman in her sublimest vocation – making the Total Gift, accepting a Divine assignment, being submissive for Heaven’s Holy purposes. Not to be this for any woman lowers her dignity. Woman’s unhappiest moments are when she is unable to give; her most hellish moments are when she refuses to give.”
He identifies the qualities of Mary that exemplify pure femininity. “The more a woman is holy, the more she becomes a woman….The hidden wish of every woman in history, the secret desire of every feminine heart, is fulfilled in that instant when Mary says: ‘Fiat’ – ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word.’ Here is cooperation at its best. Here is the essence of womanhood – acceptance, resignation, submission. . For submission is not passivity but action – the action of self-forgetfulness.”
He shows us Mary’s ultimate fiat and sacrifice. “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” John 2: 1-5
Mary’s last recorded words, were in effect, words that began the process of her Son’s death. She was faithful to the point of putting in motion the beginning of the agony. She knew a miracle would cause a stir. She knew that once He performed that first miracle, their quiet life in Nazareth would be no more. She was well versed in the Scriptures, and knew that the Son of God would be put to death. And yet, she still asked Him, for the sake of the happiness of a wedding party, to begin His public life.
If God could ask such a sacrifice from this mother, how can we complain of the little, insignificant sacrifices God asks of us as we fulfill our vocation as mothers.
“As every woman begets a child, so every child begets a mother. The helplessness of the infant, in language stronger than words, solicits the mother, saying: “Be sweet, be self-sacrificing, be merciful.” A thousand temptations of a mother are crushed in that one radiating thought: “What of my child?”…The child makes the fatigue and weariness of the mother, as he makes her joy in his success and her agonies in his falls from grace. The child brings the impact of another life, and no mother escapes his vital rays.”
Sheen reminds us we need Mary. “We may be tempted to say, ‘Our Lord is enough for me. I have no need of her’. But He needed her, whether we do or not. And, what is more important, our blessed Lord gave us His Mother as our Mother. As with Cana, she knows what we need before we do. She is the link. The mother is not the doctor, and neither is Mary the Savior. But Mary brings us to the Savior.”
As women, may we seek the wisdom we need to nurture our faith, our vocations, and our actions.
May we increase our love for our Heavenly Mother, and always seek her friendship, her intercession, and her gift of selfless love.
Copyright 2012 Janet Quinlan