Posts Tagged ‘Mothers’

Erik_Erikson“Erik Erikson” by ?Original uploader was Waveformula at en.wikipedia – http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/psychology/Erik_Erikson_2.png.htmlTransferred from en.wikipediaImage comes from WP Clipart[1] which ONLY features public domain images and provides extensive source information on their “Legal” page: [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Erikson.png#/media/File:Erik_Erikson.png

The great twentieth-century psychologist Erik Erikson once fittingly described the mother as a young child’s “first geography”:

[The child] may indulge in experimental excursions on her body and on the protrusions and orifices of her face (…) and the basic maps acquired in such interplay with the mother no doubt remain guides for the ego’s first orientation in the “world.”

(Erikson, p. 220)

So the early experience of the mother in a certain sense informs our view of the world — both as far as “mother earth” is concerned and in relation to our wider worldview — subsequently.  But it is not just a question of physical features.  We human beings are profoundly interpersonal creatures; and as infants, when we are totally dependent on our providers for our every need and extremely sensitive to our environmental influences, we absorb the emotional states of those closest to us.  This, like much of the infant’s experience at this basic formative stage, can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact.

Now let’s imagine, from a Biblical perspective, the experience of the first human babies, whose whole existence early on subsisted in a loving and provident mother who, at the same time, bore within herself an unnameable sadness, a deep and incurable scar left by the memory of a primordial Fall from Grace — which Fall affects all the world, since it is mankind’s “stage.”

This broad psychological, emotional and spiritual inheritance, this great “genetic memory,” certainly finds its way into the psychology of humankind as a whole, and of each of us individually, in various ways.

Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin“Angelos Akotanos – Saint Anne with the Virgin – 15th century” by Angelos Akotanos (attribution) – scan from A Guide to the Benaki Museum, by Angelos Delivorrias. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg#/media/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg

Having gone from a natural to a Biblical perspective, let us now move from the broadly Biblical to the specifically Catholic.  I’d like to reflect a bit (speculatively, of course) on the infancy of the Blesséd Virgin Mary, whose “first geography” was her own mother, St. Anne.

A brief refresher on the Catholic understanding of Mary: She was by a special grace from God preserved from all sin, both Original and personal, from the moment of her conception.  Hence, she was outside the realm of Original Sin alluded to above.

St. Anne, however, was not.  She was most certainly a very holy woman, but she was not without the effects of sin…Original or personal.  She, unlike the child she bore, had a part in the sadness of our human condition.

Since Mary did not inherit Original Sin in the first place (unlike the rest of us), neither did its effects in her mother pass on to her (as it tends to do with the rest of us).  But Mary was not outside the realm of human sympathy.  This means that without any participation in the guilt of humanity, she would presumably have inherited and intuited from her mother a connection with human suffering, with the tragic “geography” of human existence, and from this a deep sense of compassion…

Madonna and Child“15th-century unknown painters – Madonna on a Crescent Moon in Hortus Conclusus – WGA23736” by Unknown Master, German (active 1450s in Cologne) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg#/media/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg

…and this she would have given to her divine Son, Jesus Christ, in giving Him a human nature.  He, in turn, would subsume all this in His own flesh and lift it up in His Resurrection.

Christ's Wounds

“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

Mass-attending Catholics will recall this past Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts Our Lord’s post-Resurrection appearance to St. Thomas the Apostle:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

(John 20: 27-28)

We’ve all been wounded in one way or another, and we all know woundedness in the depths of our being.  But the good news is that Christ’s own Wounds are not only sympathetic, but saving.  Hence we can say that the Apostle Thomas was the first to come into intimate physical contact with the new geography.

As you might have guessed, I do have more to say on this subject.  But it can wait 🙂

Images from Wikipedia


Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd ed.). NY: Norton.

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RunawayBunnyThis is going to be a quickie — in the wake of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d draw people’s attention to an “oldie-but-goodie” by Margaret Wise Brown: The 1942 picture book “The Runaway Bunny.”

Mothers, take time to read this to your kids.  Afterwards, you can tell them, “That’s how much I love you.”

Basically, the book deals with a mother rabbit’s assurance to her young son that she would pursue him lovingly if he ever ran away, and that no matter what he did to get away from her, she would always set out to find him.

While reading this book, I thought to myself: “Yes — this is precisely how mothers reflect the love of God.”

For God lovingly pursues us even when we run away from Him:

When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8-9)

Photo from Wikipedia

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Imagine your five-year-old daughter is facing a malignant brain tumor diagnosis.

Peter Kreeft and his wife had that experience about 35-40 years ago.  Kreeft chronicles the experience in “A Close Encounter With the Angel of Death.”

Here is what he had to say about his wife’s display of motherhood during the ordeal:

The next image impressed on my memory is her mother camped out on the floor of her hospital room, not leaving her daughter’s side day or night for weeks, patiently (she is not a patient person) enduring all her grouchiness, fussiness, and cussedness because it might be her last.  Every word, every grouch is infinitely precious.  Not because it is good but because it is hers.


The mother lion guards her injured cub.  She will not relax her vigil until all is well, though the whole world may sneer and call her unreasonable and overprotective.  That is a judgment on the world, not on her.  For she is enacting a mystery, a ritual that is larger and older than the world.  Not only in her own name does she act, but also as representative for something transcendental, a mystery the human race has always felt and known until these times of uprootedness: Motherhood with a capital M (…) Her vocation speaks with authority — an absolute, and imperative, a divine revelation.”*


All human beings are made in the image of God, Who is love itself.  Therefore, all human beings are free agents who, paradoxically, find their true fulfillment only in the sincere gift of themselves to another.  All human beings are called to that kind of love.

But parents live out that love in a special way.

By the total gift of each to the other, a married man and woman are able to generate new life; together, as parents, they make a sincere gift of themselves to their children to see that they are brought up well, that they are well formed as healthy and unique persons, and that they have good lives.  Mothers and fathers are both called to this singular form of love.

But mothers live out even that love in a special way.


For the first nine months of a child’s existence, he is basically one with his mother.  From the very beginning, she gives him her very body as his first “home.”

Having ushered this new life from the world of the womb into the vastly bigger world outside of the womb, the mother continues to be the child’s base of security as s/he explores his/her world, thus giving him/her the firm support s/he needs in order to develop confidence, to explore, to learn, to grow, to mature, to form relationships, and to discover his/her unique identity.

Therefore, as mother, a woman rightly enjoys a unique and unequaled closeness to, unconditional love for, and investment in the well-being, safety, and happiness of her children.

JohannesPaul2-portraitIn his apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem,” Blessed John Paul II even went so far as to say that “in many ways, (a husband) has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” (emphases his).

He also said this:

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb.  The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her.  (…) This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings — not only towards her own child, but for every human being — which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.  It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. (emphases his)

Through the vocation of motherhood, women realize in the almost-definitive manner the way in which women reflect the Image of God.  Women — especially mothers — represent for us the heart of God — the closeness of God to His People, the tenderness of the Divine love, God’s constant presence to and concern for His creation.


If there are any women reading this right now, let me say this: Even if you are not a biological mother, you are not a jot less of a mother for it.

And even if you are not a mother at all, you share in this dignified vocation.  Reflecting on my experience in the world, I marvel at how women tend to be the least afraid to work with the vulnerable, the most ready to reach out to those in need, the most generous in the giving of their time and talents, and the most likely to work in professions that bring them close to the members of our society that are, for various reasons, most in need.

My concluding remark may sound corny or clichéd, but I don’t care: Let us celebrate our mothers.  We could live a thousand thousand years, and in the end I still don’t think we’d quite fathom how much they truly mean to us … as individuals and as members of the human family.

Happy Mother’s Day, and God bless you to all of the mothers out there.

* For Kreeft’s full personal account, click here: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/close-encounter.htm

Images obtained from Wikipedia

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