Our pastor opened his Mother’s Day homily today talking about St. Gianna Molla. As he told her story about sacrificing her own life for that of her unborn baby I tried to listen with skeptical ears (I do this every so often… trying think of how something sounds to a different audience than me). The result: “that woman’s not courageous! She’s crazy! How dare she leave her other three children motherless?” There are many who could hear Gianna’s story and think about what a shame it was that she was brainwashed by the patriarchal hierarchy into orphaning her kids. Then Father told a story of how his own mother, pregnant with him in the 1950’s, was given the suggestion by a friend that she should terminate her pregnancy because her other 7 children were enough of a handful. How many argue that abortion should be legal for just such circumstances?
It made me think: motherhood is sacrifice. From morning sickness to midnight feedings to waiting up for a teen to make curfew to wondering if the adult child will find his or her way in life. This kind of sacrifice is not only unpopular in modern life, but can even be seen as foolish. Anymore a woman who is exhausted from caring for her four children is met not with an encouraging word, but an admonition for overpopulating the earth… that’s what she gets! Even parenting magazines are peppered with advice on how women can “make more time for me”, buy things because they “deserve them”, or pamper themselves with some expensive spa treatment or bubble bath. What seems to be implied in many articles I’ve seen is that women need to be looking out primarily for #1: even in their relationships with their husbands and children.
Now, of course moms need to care for themselves, make time for quiet, be appreciated by their families and even splurge on themselves once and a while. But family life should be built on a sincere gift of self, a desire to put those you love ahead of yourself. The more a family lives this out, the more harmony there is in a home. The more we grasp for what we want or even what we perceive we need, the harder things get. I know this from experience, as “keeping score” in family life has sent me to the confessional more times than I would like to admit!
And obviously, no one admires the woman who leaves her toddler in the car while she gambles at the casino, or the dad who never sees his kids because he is always out with his buddies. We wag our fingers at blatant selfishness. But total self-sacrifice is frowned upon as well. If we knock out the extremes, we’re left with is a gray mediocrity where we are trying to do enough “to be a good person” while always looking over our shoulders, on guard against “being taken advantage of”. This is our culture ideal? Yuck. Do less and you’re looked down upon, do more and you’re hated for being an overacheiver.
What about the Christian view, then? The goal we are set for is higher than the best of us could ever attain on our own: complete surrender and self-sacrifice. But the blessing is that we don’t have to do it on our own! God himself to give us his power to acheive this level of perfection, called holiness. Not that we don’t fall, sometimes hundreds of times in a day. Not that this means our houses are always clean, our children always well mannered, or that we never have to dump leftovers we promised we’d eat. But our desire to strive for perfection itself is a gift of love to our families. And the saints, especially working moms like St. Gianna, help us to know that such heroism is possible for women like us!
So, let’s recognize the beauty of sacrifice for what it is, and measure ourselves by perfect charity, however far off that may be for us! Who knows? One day a Mother’s Day homiliy 60 years from now may begin with one of your stories!