This simply falls short of the truth. We seem to be suggesting that one calling (vocation) is better than another. Certainly, one is more common.
Children today seem to be one of many items that we must check off our bucket list, as one of life's "great experiences", right up there with the Taj Mahal and walking the Camino. Children can be viewed as an appendage (albiet a delightful, tiresome yet incredibly meaningful appendage) in our jam-packed lives. At times, I am very guilty of this.
I have had the priviledge to meet very devout and dedicated religious and lay conserated women (women who choose to make some kind of profession of chastity, poverty and obedience). They truly have taught me so much about motherhood.
Pope Francis said of those women making a vow of chastity, that a type of fertility is still part of their lives - “the consecrated are mothers: they must be mothers and not 'spinsters'!"
Here's why. Many people who choose this vocation live out some undeniable features of motherhood. What they have shown me has helped me as a mother and as a member of my community (secular and spiritual).
1. Family is first and foremost about self-sacrifice not self-fulfillment.
We might experience self-fulfillment as part of family life but this is a bonus. The lay consecrated I have met are at the service of others, almost at all times. They are mothering people toward the love of God and toward one another. They do it with gentility, truth and kindness (true marks of so many mothers).
2. Peacemaking is vital work to a high-functioning and happy home.
The women I have met in celibate vocations are busy at the work of sewing peace in both the secular and spiritual communities of our town. They provide leadership, teaching, service (sometimes food, sometimes counselling, etc.) that help to heal the hearts and bodies of people and parishes. They offer safe arms to fall into (physically or metaphorically). They bring peace.
3. They understand children are a blessing for a broken world.
Not an appendage. Not an item on a bucket list.
A dear friend (with no particular religious affiliation that I know of) made a wise observation: of those people in her life who had made a deliberate decision not to have children of their own, the ones who were most happy where those who made a conscious effort to make and invest in meaningful and long-lasting relationships with children (maybe nieces, nephews or other children in their spheres). My own daughter loves to visit our local lay consecrated community. They truly give her their utmost attention and love.
4. Mothering is not just about raising good humans but about nurturing souls.
In this way, mothering transcends any birth or blood connection but gets down to the nitty gritty of life. It about drawing people toward who and what they are called to be... in gentility, love, and sometimes with a bit of a firm hand.
5. Joy in the midst of sacrifice, hardship and vulnerability is a salve to the world.
When I am with women in consecrated communities I have great hope that joy is possible in all circumstances, even amid the most incredible suffering and pain. It is a mystery, but a reality that I see before my eyes. It is amazing. It makes my soul soar when I see this in action. I can only hope to become such a mother, a mother who brings this same gift to my family.
I often hear Catholics and non-Catholics alike express sympathy for priests and nuns who "are denied having children of their own". In many respects, I think these comments point to an underdeveloped understanding of motherhood and fatherhood.
Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body points to a true-calling of the religious to family life. They help bear, raise, care for, guide, love and yes, sometimes correct, many "spiritual children". The terms husband, wife, father, mother, brother and sister are equally applicable to marriage and family life as well as the religious life. Who can deny that Mother Teresa lived out a vivid expression of family and motherhood?
The Catholic Church often gets lambasted for having a narrow view of family life. But in many respects it offers a much more gracious perspective than secular society. There should be no spinsters in the Church or in our society. Just women in many walks of life offering a mother's love in all its varied and needed forms.
Happy Mother's Day.