What is Spiritual Motherhood?

Spiritual motherhood is a beautiful concept. As with many beautiful things, we may sense it in our hearts, but attaching words to it can be difficult. It is hard to define specifically, as spiritual motherhood is often alluded to but is never clearly spelled out. It falls to us to glean what we can from our reading of Scripture and the reflections of popes, saints and holy people within our Catholic Tradition.

What seems to be the case is this: spiritual motherhood surely exists and it is as real as love. Part of the “feminine genius” John Paul II teaches about includes the gift of maternity, but when he speaks of maternity he is not limiting the experience solely to a biological reality. Speaking of motherhood in an Angelus address, the Holy Father has said “…[Feeling life within the womb] is a privilege of mothers, but all women in some way have an intuition of it, predisposed as they are to this miraculous gift.” By this he means that the things associated with motherhood, i.e., the acceptance of the other, the nurturing, the generosity and empathy, are all contained in the vocation of motherhood, but are not the exclusive province of the woman who has physically given birth. All women can know and act in these ways. Spiritual motherhood – which can be undertaken by any woman of any age or position in life – is a vocation within our larger vocation to holiness. When we undertake to mother someone spiritually, we gather that person close to our heart and offer him the special protection we would lavish on our own offspring. To care for his soul becomes our urgent mission. In prayer, we whisper his name before Almighty God. His worries become our worries; when he is tempted or confused or sorrowful, our maternal heart aches with him.  And when he comes to know success and joy, we rejoice with him. Realizing we are all members of the Body of Christ, it follows that when we tend to the spiritual health and well-being of one priest, we are helping in some small but significant way to care for the whole flock.