A Word in Season
Wanted: Spiritual Fathers and Mothers
Credible witnesses force us to ponder their advice, to trust their examples so that they change us. Or they cause us to desire change, drawing us to want more of what we find so attractive in our friend, our mentor.
I spend many pages in my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, taking up the idea that women are called to spiritual motherhood. In fact, the bodacious mission of women is this very holy and noble calling of maternity. It comes from the very nature of womanhood, this maternal gift that is, at once, physical and spiritual.
The world longs, too, for spiritual mothers. That is why Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was considered a living saint while she was on earth, and is halfway to canonization within the Catholic Church. She, the religious sister who never bore a child, gave birth to a revolution of love in India and around the world. Mother Teresa, being the personal channel of mother-love to thousands, became the founder and Mother Superior to the Missionaries of Charity in a worldwide mission.
We miss her, don't we? But that is the point. Mother Teresa's kind of love is attractive and amazingly filled with hope and inspiration. She was a credible witness.
We women must become like her, but with our unique identities. We must be formed with the heart of Christ and the bosom of Mary who cherishes Jesus' love completely, such that we live its transformation both in ourselves as we pass it on through our mothering, both physical and spiritual.
In the absence of finding true spiritual mothers—yoked to Christ and the graces of the Church—many people settle for lesser substitutes. One attraction to popular media personalities like Oprah and Lady Gaga is that they proffer a pseudo-mothering of their audience, a maternal leadership that speaks of the dignity of accepting others. Though I may ultimately disagree with some aspects of their respective messages, I understand their attraction.
People long for the sage wisdom of spiritual mothers, of knowing a woman's love that says, "I see you with my heart, I recognize your pain and your gifts, I can help ease your burden and walk with you as you grow." Maternal love is designed to be strong enough to stretch to accommodate growth, yet powerful enough to let go, releasing another into the arms of God.
Yes, the world, and the Church within it, is in need of spiritual heroes, much like the saints who have shown up throughout history. The would-be saints today are the men and women who stand alongside us when we are vulnerable or confused, offering timely help: in them we find the ancient way of discipleship in Christ made new.
That is what evangelization is all about, this personal witness that brings about a positive response and change in us, a passing on of the faith from one person to another.
Many of us know women and men who have been a holy influence in our lives. Some of us can look back with incredible fondness to the ones who have handed on the faith to us, or taught us a moral code that helps navigate daily life. Some of us may not have been as fortunate.
It is at this juncture that we see the benefit of the spiritual fathers and mothers in our lives, and our deep, deep need of them. And if we understand this reality, we need to take action.
We must become them.
We ought to pick a patron saint or two or three who might mentor us in developing the spiritual gifts we admire. Then we've got pray to Jesus, and do our work every day, staying close to the grace in the sacraments. All of us should find real-life mentors who challenge us in the spiritual life.
At first, it might seem like something strange welling up in us, the desire to be like the ones who inspire us. But that is the calling, not just for the few like Francis or Teresa, but for all.
With grace and fidelity, let us yield to this call's development in us, for that is the true long-term response to the gift of our baptism, until one day, God-willing, we become the mentor, the spiritual hero—the credible witness of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood—whose noble discipleship shapes future saints along the way.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.