Pope Francis invites us to consider more carefully the role of women in the Church. We might ponder: What is God’s design of femininity? How does motherhood, in particular, show forth the nature of God? How might it bear the image of Christ? This Holy Thursday, we will be celebrating the Institution of the Eucharist. One way to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation is to consider the ways in which women, especially mothers, share in the Eucharistic mystery of Christ.
When a woman conceives a child, the conceptum is a new creation of God. This new life is sustained by the environment of the mother’s womb and through the nourishment that her body provides. From the first moment of conception, the mother is providing for the physical body of the new person. She provides the egg, which, when fertilized, becomes the body of the new child. She provides all the nourishment necessary for the new life to grow. When the newborn baby is placed in the mother’s arms for the first time, every cell of the baby’s body finds its souce in the mother’s body. If she nurses her baby, she continues to be the sole source of nourishment for this human being.
The Church emphasizes that, while some women physically bear children, all women share in motherhood: All women are called to give themselves as a gift to others through spiritual or physical motherhood. The Church celebrates motherhood in its singular way of helping women be what humans are most essentially: a gift of self.
Spiritual mothers—whether consecrated religious, or single women, whether aunts, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers, foster mothers, or adoptive mothers—also nourish their children. Some women place plates of food before a child at the dinner table. Some women hand out food at a soup kitchen, making sure the bellies of the hungry are full. Other women feed children’s minds, teaching them how to count, how to read, how to write paragraphs and short stories. Still other women feed their children’s faiths, telling them stories of the Bible, and praying for them to “catch the faith.” An essential part of motherhood is feeding others, in some form or fashion. It is how we begin our mothering.
This charism of feeding others is a reflection of Christ in the Eucharist. Christ declared, “I am the bread of life.” He said that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him, and he in them. Then, at the Last Supper, he said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Next he gave them the cup, and told them to drink, that it was his blood.
How striking is the resemblace of a mother, nourishing her baby in utero with her body and her blood, to this Eucharistic gift of Christ? Who else on earth can boast feeding others with their bodies and blood?
Those who are special in the kingdom of God have unique ways that they reflect Christ. Certain saints receive the stigmata, bearing wounds in their bodies that reflect those of the crucified Christ. Priests stand in persona Christi as they celebrate the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Bishops reflect Christ the Good Shepherd, as they shepherd their flock, guiding them in the truth and preserving them from error. Well, mothers, too, have their distinctive ways of bearing the image of Christ. One of those ways is in sharing in the eucharistic charism of Christ. Whether a mother nourishes her child with her body and blood, or with food, or spiritually nourishes her child’s mind, character and spirit, mothers feed their children. That’s one thing all mothers do. Generally, they do lots of it.
As we enter into the celebration of the Institution of the Eucharist, let us adore him in this great mystery. Then, when women return to their homes and workplaces, let them take heart as they recognize a eucharistic theme throughout their vocation.
As women carry out their motherly duties, whether it be the expectant mother, the nursing mother, the mother of toddlers, the mother feeding her grown children back for Easter break, or whether it be the childcare worker who serve homeless children, the nurse in a hosptial, or the teacher, nourishing her children’s minds, let them rejoice in the honor it is to partake in such a special way in Christ feeding his people. May they say, with Mary:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices with God my savior,
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.