The gift of maternity is inherent in all women. They are predisposed to motherhood by their design. Yet, as we know, not all women bear children. Even if a woman never gives birth, a woman's life is still inclined toward mothering. All women are entrusted with the call to care for the people within their sphere of influence. This broadens our ideas of maternity beyond gestation and lactation.

A woman's relationships with others, even though they may not be fruitful biologically, can be fruitful spiritually. Therefore a woman's life—her feminine genius—is characterized by physical and/or spiritual motherhood.

When the gift of a woman's fertility and maternity are devalued, they are misinterpreted as liabilities or threats to a woman's potential happiness, or earning power, or freedom.

Both women and men are crippled when disrespect for any of the gifts of the other are ignored, stifled, abused, or rejected. But women are demeaned when this precious part of them is reduced to a faculty to be managed, rather than a capability to be treasured.

Our beautiful maternity, and the lives and loves that issue forth from it, is why the Church continues to stand in defense of chastity and marriage, along with its opposition to the use of contraception, abortion of the unborn, and any other threat to human life.

Finally, dear woman, here's something else the Church teaches: if we've failed to live up to this teaching on maternity, if we've disrespected or abused the beautiful gifts of our womanhood, we can make our way back. The gifts of grace and forgiveness through the sacraments provide that path.

Let us trust that grace. Let us be gentle and generous in dealing with our own failures as regards our sexuality or our maternity. Jesus wants us to be healed, and especially to be healed of wounds related to our sexuality and maternity.

Let us come to Him with our brokenness, and the sins against our genius of maternity, no matter how grievous or painful.

Let us come to know this God who came through the womb to save us.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post online, January 22, 2013.