In her book “The Eternal Woman,” Gertrude von le Fort writes that it is “the mother who is timeless.”
In every era, even those in which motherhood is denigrated, the world cries out for mothers. Mothers are not women who have declined the challenge of a career for an easier path; they are women who have taken up a significant spiritual and physical vocation.
“It is entirely false to say that Eve fell because she was the weaker,” writes le Fort, “The Bible story clearly shows that she was the stronger and had the ascendancy over man … woman dwells in the deeper reaches.”
In other words, in a motherless age in which the concept of family is under assault, the world is desperate for the strength that only women can provide.
The significance of the feminine is displayed in the Blessed Virgin, whose courage allowed her to carry her sorrowful burden with great love. It was Mary alone, as a woman, who could open up the gate to salvation by linking her own obedience with that of her son. Without her motherhood, we would all be spiritual orphans.
Since any woman’s acceptance of motherhood is like that of Mary’s, it is through the feminine that all of us, male and female, discover our relationship to God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as ‘the bride without spot or wrinkle.’ This is why the ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine.’”
Mothers may be the ones who display this most clearly, but by no means does this mean that women who aren’t mothers are left out. Le Fort writes, “The holier a woman is, the more she is a woman.”
It isn’t physical motherhood alone that is the miracle, but the holy, feminine love that underlies it. In this, women have what Pope St. John Paul II calls a unique genius. For instance, in the Divine Comedy, Dante writes about the great love of his life, Beatrice. His love for her is purified by his trip through purgatory, and finally, she becomes a theophany as he stares into her emerald eyes. He sees time and space unfold in the reflection on her pupils, and they become a mirror reflecting the face of God. Like Beatrice, a holy woman is a mother who births Christ into this world.
When I, as a priest, look out at the mothers of our parish during Mass, I am amazed. I see their patient love with their children — how they hold them under their wing, teach them to pray, and lead them up to the altar of God. They are the true strength of our Church. Gertrude von le Fort is exactly right when she states, “The world can be moved by the strength of man, but it can be blessed, in the real sense of the word, only in the sign of woman.”
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.