I realize that putting a celibate man's name next to the word motherhood might seem a little dissonant at first, but hear me out. Watching the way Benedict is ending his reign as Pope has left me reflecting on the idea of vocations. At the end of the day, all vocations are the same at their core, they just have different outward expresses and challenges. For all of us, be we married, single, priests, religious, or even the Pope himself, our vocation is the deepest expression of our love for God lived out in the manner God has called us to live that love. Each vocation gives us opportunities for service, but comes with its own challenges. Each vocation requires us to give up some worldly kind of freedom for the sake of deep spiritual and emotional rewards. Each vocation within a specific outward vocation has its own nuances. Some priests are called to be Pastors, some teachers, others Bishops or even Pope, just to name a few. Even in the vocation of marriage there are connected vocations, such as whether we work or stay home, are blessed with children or not, etc. Although our specific vocations may differ, we have so much to learn from each other in how we deal with our challenges and flourish in our joys.
So as I sat, children all around me at a soul crushing 5:45am listening to the Pope share his final words of wisdom, I struggled to hear in his words some hope and guidance. My youngest daughter, who was the reason all the other kids were awake at that unseemly hour, was screeching in her exhausted rage as I leaned forward, feeling urgently the need to be part of this historical moment, but also to absorb as much parting wisdom from our dear Pope as I could. While I may have missed the bulk of what he said (and thank God for the modern age of the internet, I was able to read it later), what I did catch gave me a glimmer of hope in the midst of the child drama.
At times in our vocation, God is going to call us, invite us to cast our nets into the deep, to do something we believe so totally beyond our ability that we shrink in fear. As you may know, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was very reluctant to accept his election to the Papacy. He is a quiet man, very private, who was for many years before John Paul II passed away trying to retire, but JPII wouldn't accept his resignation. God had a plan bigger for him that he sought out or expected. In the end, the universal Church is now giving thanks for nearly 8 years of devoted service, not to mention a lifetime of service before that. We give thanks for his always saying "Yes", even when his own inclinations would have lead him to retreat many years before he became our Peter.
So how does this relate to motherhood, or specifically my motherhood? It starts with my initial belief of what my vocation was. I had been for many years sure that God was calling me to the desert, to the quiet devotion of religious life, even a cloistered religious life. I found that life so incredibly attractive, especially when I could pair it with my love of reading and theological studies. But God had a different plan. First He brought me a husband (just in time might I add), a man who respects my love of a simpler life, makes way for me to continue my intellectual pursuits, and supports me entirely in my desire to serve in the Church in whatever capacity I'm able. God took my expectations of how I would use my gifts, and turned them on their ear. Then He gave us a child, then children, then lots of children. I have always loved children, but the idea of my being a mother was laughable to me. I was sure even as a teen that while I had an infinite capacity for love, I am not so great with all the details necessary to keep a tiny baby alive, and then nurture that person into adulthood. But here I am, with my fifth baby on the way. There are still days when I'm overwhelmed and the worry of how I'm going to be who these wonderful little people need me to be. At every step on my journey, I've had moments where I've looked to the Lord and said "Okay, enough Lord! Please, don't ask any more. This is harder than I thought", but at each moment God asked a little more, and gave me what I needed to manage this new challenge.
Watching Pope Benedict give his final catechises to the crowd, now at the end of his worldly vocation, going off to the desert of cloistered life I'd once craved, I saw a man who had given everything to God. He never held himself back, not even when his health and will were failing in the face of demands greater than he believed he could endure. But he survived it all. He has come through at the end, visible proof that while God may take us and challenge us, stretch us, and even bend us when we make ourselves pliable to His will, He will never break us. Our God is so gentle with us, giving us everything we need to find fulfilment and joy in the face of challenges that we think are greater than we can manage. If we fall upon the mercy of God and strive to have a deep relationship of prayer always as our guide and foundation, we will find daily reward in our vocation.
So I add to my heavy list of thanks for our dear Pope for one more day: Thank you, Pope Benedict, for reminding me that even when I'm afraid, I can always trust my life to God, knowing that He will carry me through the challenges. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for loving us.