"Big Four" Highlights


In Praise of Mothers

They are God’s gift to us, from conception to all that follows

By Bill Dodds

A short spring vacation on the Oregon coast with my daughter, Carrie, and her two children had me thinking about my mother-in-law. When she was raising her six children it irked her more than a little if someone at the school or parish would ask her, “Do you work?” My late wife, Monica, and I were still in our courting days when my mother-in-law-to-be explained the accurate question was “Do you work outside the home?”

Heaven—and every mother on earth—know a mother works! Pope Francis knows it, too.

In one of a series of general audience addresses on the family, the pontiff talked about the Church as mother, and about the Blessed Mother, but it was his words on “everyday moms”—including his own mama—that struck a chord in me.

“Every human person owes his or her life to a mother,” he began, “and almost always owes much of what follows in life, both human and spiritual formation, to her. Yet, despite being highly lauded from a symbolic point of view—many poems, many beautiful things said poetically of her—the mother is rarely listened to or helped in daily life, rarely considered central to society in her role. Rather, often the readiness of mothers to make sacrifices for their children is taken advantage of so as to ‘save’ on social spending.”

It would be interesting for a mom to sit down and list all the duties on her “job description.” But, of course, she doesn’t have the time to make a list like that. In fact, she rarely has an opportunity to sit down with a moment to herself.

I remember my own mother saying she had no memory of the Korean War. There were five of us siblings born from 1949 to 1955. She was more than busy on the home front.

Pope Francis described his own mother this way: “I remember there were five of us children at home, and while one was doing one thing, the other wanted to do another, and our poor mama went back and forth from one’s side to another, but she was happy. She gave us so much.” Reflecting on that, he went on to say: “Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism. ‘Individual’ means ‘what cannot be divided.’ Mothers, instead, ‘divide’ themselves, from the moment they bear a child to give him to the world and help him grow.”

And agreeing with the late Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assessment of the self-sacrifice it takes to be a mother, Pope Francis quoted from a homily of the saint-to-be: “Giving one’s life does not only mean being killed; giving one’s life, having the spirit of a martyr, it is in giving in duty, in silence, in prayer, in honest fulfilment of his duty; in that silence of daily life; giving one’s life little by little. Yes, like it is given by a mother, who without fear and with the simplicity of the martyrdom of motherhood, conceives a child in her womb, gives birth to him, nurses him, helps them grow and cares for them with affection. She gives her life. That’s martyrdom.”

Pope Francis also pointed out: “A society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always, even in the worst moments, witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength. Mothers often pass on the deepest sense of religious practice: in a human being’s life, the value of faith is inscribed in the first prayers, the first acts of devotion that a child learns. It is a message that believing mothers are able to pass on without much explanation: these come later, but the seed of faith is those early precious moments. Without mothers, not only would there be no new faithful, but the faith would lose a good part of its simple and profound warmth.”

It was a privilege, and a blessing, for me to spend those few days with my daughter and her children on that brief vacation, to watch another generation living the vocation of motherhood. What made it even more poignant was Carrie’s mom, my wife, Monica, died on January 6, 2013. Monica’s mom, Carrie’s maternal grandmother, passed away on May 1 of that same year. And my own mother, Carrie’s paternal grandmother, died on that May 27. Her mom and her grandmoms gone in less than five months.

But their lessons, and their love, live on.

Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers.