Being a Cosmic Mother or Father

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What is a Cosmic Mother or Father? It’s all linked with this amazing American girl Katie Davis and my post yesterday about women in the priesthood.

In yesterday’s post I explained why it is impossible for women to be Catholic priests: because the priesthood is tied in with both the economy of salvation and the anthropology of what it means to be human–either male or female. Part of this was a discussion of what it means to be human and how priesthood and sexuality are linked.

I suggested that it is within our masculinity and femininity that our humanity is fulfilled, and that being a wife, husband, mother and father is how that masculinity and femininity is best completed. Readers quite rightly asked how this works for people who are single or committed to consecrated lives of celibacy.

The answers given by others in the combox were illuminating, and they can be categorized in a two aspects. The first is that every Christian person is called to eventually give themselves in an act of total, lifelong commitment. We must all find a way to die to ourselves. This is what is implied in our Lord’s call that anyone who would follow him must take up his cross, and by St Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” This death to self is most often lived out in a life of self sacrifice within Christian marriage. However, this total self giving is also necessary for the single person.

This is why the church provides the vocation of celibacy for those, who for whatever reasons are not married. This vocation to celibacy can be formalized through the priesthood or the various callings to the religious life. It can also be realized through the vows of consecrated virgins and some men who are consecrated, while not being part of formal religious orders.

This is part of what is termed the nuptial relationship with Christ, or to put it more frankly, “Being married to Jesus.” Christ is the bridegroom. We are the bride. This relationship is true whether we are married to a human spouse or not. The celibate Catholic shows us what it means to be married completely to Christ, while married people picture for the celibate the complete self offering that marriage involves. A Catholic who is single should actively seek to discern a way forward to one commitment or the other: married life or the celibate life in priesthood or the religious life.

The second aspect is being a mother or father. For most people their humanity is fulfilled within their masculinity and femininity as children are born to them. Being a father and mother brings them to personal fulfillment as a human being. What then of the single person or the couple who are infertile?

People in such a condition must be looking always for a solution to this problem. The answer if for the man to ask God to give him new ways to “be a Father” and for the woman to ask God for new ways for her to “be a Mother”. These roles can often be discovered within one’s service to the whole community of the Church. So a man who is single may be called to the priesthood and find his call to being a Father so fulfilled. A woman man be called to a profession, volunteer work or a vocation where her natural role of mother can be fulfilled. For an example check out this 22 year old “mother” of fourteen.

Lest anyone imagine that I am proposing an Ozzie and Harriet, “Honey I’m home!” kind of gender role assignment, I am not. (Although I’m not criticizing the Ozzie and Harriet type of family life either!) What I am suggesting is that the role of Mother and Father (for married people too) continues to be a very creative and positive way for both men and women to view their lives and their vocations. Furthermore, it means that how we serve as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers has a cosmic dimension. That is to say, eternity is woven into our daily lives as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. That is why we call marriage a sacrament.

In many different ways people can fulfill their spousal commitment and function in mother and father roles, and indeed, whatever job of position in life they find themselves–to view what they do from the perspective of being a loving Mother and Father to those around them may amplify and complete their lives. Of course, this also assumes that we know what a good mother and Father actually look like.

In our society the roles of Mother and Father have been broken. We forget what it is like to have a strong, loving, compassionate, earthy and powerful mother. This sort of mother has been lost in either the feminist career mom  model or the cutsie Barbie doll trophy wife type woman or on the other hand the overworked, submissive doormat type woman. I’m thinking of the strong Jewish, Italian, Pennsylvania-Dutch type Mamas who are fully feminine, but don’t take no crop from nobody.

We have also forgotten what a good Father looks like. We have the strong, macho, workaholic dads who provide for their families, but who are never there. We have the dominant male who tramples on the wife and kids, and expects his supper to be on time. We have the metro male who stays at home and does the mommy stuff, but we have forgotten the St Joseph type–the strongly masculine, spiritual and hard working man–the true Christian gentleman and Father.

As we learn to become spouses both through marriage and our relationship to Christ, and as we learn to become mothers and fathers  in a multitude of creative ways–we also learn how our lives might conform to the life of God the Heavenly Father and the Blessed Virgin–our heavenly mother.

My final point is this–if we use remember these two aspects: the need for all to offer themselves in a nuptial relationship of total self giving (and therefore to be a spouse)–and the need for all to seek a way to be a Mother and a Father, then we will align ourselves, our humanity and our sexuality with the natural order and also with the plan of salvation for the world–which has humanity–both male and female deeply written into it.

It means that our soul’s salvation may have more to do with our sexuality than we thought–now we begin to understand why the Catholic Church has always demanded sexual purity and been against any sin that destroys marriage. It is because our marriages (or for unmarried people our spousal commitment and our parental commitment) orders our lives towards redemption. In this way our ordinary lives take on a cosmic dimension and eternity is written into our daily lives.

This is the “deep magic from before the dawn of time”. Ponder the mystery if you can and see how it can be lived within your life. If we did this our lives would be more peaceful and our homes more lovely and our lives more dynamic and our church more on fire and our world transformed.

  • http://cotlb.blogspot.com Julie

    I read this article when you published it and found myself still thinking about it today. So often when we (Catholics) talk about gender we just talk about women, or men. I think this really gets at what it means, at root, to be a woman or a man, and why it matters. Good food for thought here.

  • Daniel

    Dear Fr. Longenecker,

    I’m going through the annulment process and have wrestled mightily with the idea that my annulment request may not be granted and I might not be able to marry. Your words about “the vocation of celibacy” shed light on a possible future that might not allow, for me, the marriage sacrament. I’ve never thought about celibacy as a “vocation”. It would be nice to hear more about this so I, and others in my position, may find peace with the Church’s decision, i.e., denial of an annulment request, that might not go as I would like. Thank you for giving me a new way to think about my situation.


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