Outside Looking In: Motherhood'sLesson in Love

By Anne McGuire   

April 27, 2012

A recent glimpse into motherhood causes me to realize anew that I am called to the depths and richness of a love which transforms my life. Earlier this week, I spoke with my close friend Amy, who just gave birth to her first child: a little boy named Joseph. During our conversation, she shared her experience of motherhood. Reflecting on her words in the context of other life experiences stirs in me a greater awareness of what it means to love, the invitation to plunge into the depths of love, and the impact of this invitation on my life.

In his Letter to Families, Blessed John Paul II tells us that "love causes man to find fulfillment through the sincere gift of self." Indeed, "he cannot 'fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self'" (emphasis added). We learn what it means to love through the people and circumstances in our lives, as evidenced to me by Amy's experience as a young mother. Already, she has encountered the utter gift of self that motherhood calls forth from her - from the physical toll of giving birth to the total surrender of her time. 

This conversation struck me more profoundly than similar conversations, because she directly linked these challenges with learning the meaning of self-sacrifice. Through these challenges she is invited to authentically experience the truth recognized in the Letter to Families that "fatherhood and motherhood…make it possible to discover love's extension and original depth." 

As we concluded our conversation, I was struck by the difference between our states in life and by the prominent realization that I have much to learn about love. At first, I was inclined to think that this education in love which motherhood presents to Amy was something that remained, for the most part, somewhere off in the hazy distance of my future. But after further reflection, I find in it an invitation to discover what it means for me to love now. The self-sacrifice required of caring for Joseph reveals the continuous dying to self that love entails, the truth of which is universally applicable, regardless of anyone's state in life.

Love is demanding. There is no doubt about it. However, "this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others." Blessed John Paul II identifies this, noting that if love gives in to jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance, or rudeness, it will not endure. However, a love which is rooted in Christ and has the power and strength of God working within it will endure. Moreover - as other friends have helped to teach me - love opens us up; when we give of ourselves and surrender our desires to God, we find that this death to self ends not in the grave, but in resurrection. 

This invitation to discover the depths of love challenges me to perceive everything in my life with new awareness. It gives new meaning to the often-heard commandment to "Love thy neighbor." Love has no room for self-centeredness - a closing in on myself - but provokes me to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, who allows me to see the people in my life through his eyes and love them with his heart. Regardless of the circumstances of my life now or in the future, the lesson in love which I have received through this glimpse into motherhood will always hold true. As we celebrate this Mothers' Day, let us be mindful of our mothers' gift of self in their cooperation with the gift of life. And let us also remember that every person is offered the invitation of diving into the depths of love.

Anne McGuire is a staff assistant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more about the bishops' activities on conscience protection, please visit www.usccb.org/conscience.