I got news last week that my newly wedded friend and her husband are expecting their first child in July of the new year. When I discovered the news,initially, I was surprised. My surprise confirmed the certainty that life does, in fact, move us forward. I have had many friends over the years get married and have babies, but news from this one particular friend stirred a different emotional response. Why this one friend above the rest? Because we knew each other when we were teenagers and when I when I saw the pregnancy announcement, it was as if the last remaining memories from girlhood and adolescence had diminished and suddenly, I was not only confronted with my friend’s motherhood, but my own desire for marriage and motherhood. She will be a mother.
I began to think. When does this desire for family begin?
After pondering a bit, I concluded with a fundamental truth that has shaped my life. We want family around us because we were born with innate desire within us. Anthropologists, socialists, and biologists would say this desire for family stems from a biological instinct of self preservation. We procreate in order to pass on genetic material to future generations resulting in the preservation of our species. Where does this biological instinct of self preservation come from?
That desire has been coded in out DNA long before we came to be. We were built to love because we were made from love. Without love and without desire to love, we would cease to be.
We are all called to family life. In all vocations (marriage, religious life, single life, consecrated single life), we are all called to be family to others. Whether we are married to God and devoted to the church family or whether we are married to a man or woman and devoted to a flourishing, physical family, we are all called to serve one another in love as just as God has done for us. As God loves us and made us for love, he has also put in our hearts the desire to love, nurture, and care for life here on Earth.
Last week, most of us around the world celebrated the Nativity of Jesus. Jesus chose to come down to us in the simplest form and through most incredibly beautiful way. Jesus entered the world the way we all do: through the female body- a body that nurtured, cared, and fed him. Jesus was born. He did not magically fall down from the sky. Just as we recite in the Creed, he was begotten not made. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was knitted in his mother’s womb. Mary obediently agreed to be the Mother of God and with her desire to please God (and for God), she brought forth Jesus.
Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying out, “Abba, Father!”
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary. It is a day we honor her holy motherhood. Through Christ’s conception to birth, death, and resurrection, there Mary remained. She was blessed for generations not only because she said yes to the will of God, but she sat with Jesus through it all. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon, in the Gospel of Luke, looked at the face of his newborn savior and proclaimed to Mary, “a sword will pierce your soul too.”
During mass this morning, the priest spoke in his homily of the beauty of God’s way. God loves us so much that he sent his son as one of us. What is so profoundly beautiful as he chose a woman to bring him forth. God created women in such a unique way. They (neuroscientists and psychologists) say that women and men are biologically identical. We might possess similar biological features, but we were not designed to be the same. We are complimentary. For instance, women posses a significantly greater percentage of estrogen in their body than men. As women have wombs, estrogen and protesterone is needed to regulate egg production in the ovaries. The increased production of these two hormones significantly impacts how a woman’s brain communicates and processes emotion. We are simply different.
Reflecting on the motherhood of Mary allows us to understand how greatly God loves us. Because of God’s specific design, women are often the nurturers of society. God chose to come to us as a vulnerable infant because he chose to have his son nurtured and loved in a unique way only a woman can.* She nurtured Jesus through her body in gestation and infancy. She fed, clothed, and held Jesus as a boy. She held Jesus in her arms in death and received him in resurrection. Mary is the essences of divine femininity. Because of her pure and holy love of God, she has shown us how profoundly God loves us and how much we can love others. Through Mary, we can understand where this desire to love comes from.
*Men are nurturing and sensitive too. I am speaking about the physical act of bearing children and feeding them from their body. I am also referring to the hormones in a woman’s body that makes her more (typically) emotionally expressive and instinctively responsive (women’s intuition).