Motherhood and Civilization

Crowns fall fittingly upon the head of the Virgin during this month of May, but it is also fitting that they fall upon the head of every mother. Mothers possess hearts that act like God’s megaphone. It is of the very nature of mothers to be God’s proxy in a world weary of God. Even when a science gone awry preempts much of mothers’ biological prerogative, that ghastly preemption cannot blunt the lovely music of mothers being mothers.

Indeed, those unstoppable stanzas of God’s elegant design will be the very chords that ultimately will convince man of his doomed love affair with the brutish promises of science. All the IVF’s, surrogate mothers and sundry manufacturing devices created by unmoored science will never replace the beauteous mystery of a single mother and father cooperating with God in bringing us a single precious baby. This is God’s script, and any interference brings only the blackest nightmares. Just because some men become used to nightmares, even delight in them, doesn’t mean they still are not nightmares.

A mother’s heart is the heart of the supernatural. Mothers are not supernatural, but they prepare us for the supernatural. In carrying and raising her child, she is never far from suffering. The delivery of her child is not the end of her suffering, only its beginning. Because she desires only the good of her child, suffering is never far behind each and every day. However, it is never looked at that way, because what fills a mother’s heart is the selflessness of love. If love is the blossom, suffering is its ever-present stem. Even the Mother of God, whose Heart is Immaculate, is called the Mother of Sorrows. Richard of St. Victor called this the “violence of love.”

As it unfetters from the self, it readies the human heart for ecstasy. Recall that ecstasy is derived from the Greek, exstasis, meaning to stand outside of oneself. Ecstasy is being so beset by the joy of the beloved that one is “taken out of oneself.” We are carefully taught by Mother Church that the truest ecstasy is in the Beatific Vision, when man finally becomes himself. That training for future ecstasy begins by looking at mothers. Isn’t God a lenient teacher?

 

Not only does the supernatural radiate from the hearts of mothers, but their hearts are the cradle of the natural world. Every mother teaches us to love the world of nature, or as Edmund Burke expressed it, “the unbought grace of life.” It is important to notice that there is an order in love of a mother, unlike the disordered loves of modernity. Mothers tutor us to love the world of nature, not to idolize it. The world is not to be worshiped; it leads us to the worship only of God. Every loveliness the world presents should leave us sighing for God. Thus wrote C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory:

“[T]he books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them; it is not in them but only comes through them, and what comes through them is longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers, for they are not the thing itself: They are only the scent of the flower we have not found, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

Precisely because this lovely world of nature proceeds from the bounty of God, and bears the imprint of his finger, we cherish and care for it with fastidious attention. All of these lessons are lyrically presented to us by the wombs of mothers. In these mysterious chambers, mothers allow God to stitch together the soul he created with the bodies offered by mothers and fathers. All of this accomplished in blessed silence and dark concealment.

Here too is another lesson. Mothers teach us a proper reserve toward the mysteries of God’s good world. Some things are so beautiful that they demand veiling; they summon protection; they ought not to be on public display before the vulgar leering of the masses. Mothers teach us proper reticence toward the mysteries of the natural world, especially those touching upon the human person.

The distinguished professor of English at the University of Chicago, Richard Weaver, gives a forceful analysis of this when he wrote in Ideas Have Consequences that the withering of this reticence leads inevitably to “obscenity.” He then proceeds to diagnose societies who adopt “openness,” which is simply a window open to the obscene.

The failure of the concept of obscenity… makes a virtue of desecration. Propriety, like other old-fashioned anchorages was abandoned because it inhibited something. Proud of its shamelessness [modernity] served up in swaggering style matters which heretofore had been veiled in decent taciturnity… [This] testifies to man’s loss of points of reference, to his determination to enjoy the forbidden in the name of freedom. All reserve is being sacrificed to titillation.

The wombs of mothers are one of the most splendid works of nature and nature’s God. Without uttering a single word, they instruct men in the foundation of civilization. It is mothers who civilize us.

Finally, mothers’ hearts are the heart of wisdom. Wisdom differs from knowledge: knowledge merely teaches us what things are; wisdom teaches us how they lead to happiness. By being themselves, mothers teach us wisdom because they direct us away from the tyranny of the fleeting moment to the wisdom of abiding happiness. Two of those lessons are apposite.

The first: Human bodies are not machines, but temples. No science, no matter how formidable, has the right to manipulate, alter, frustrate or degrade them. Equally forbidden are human appetites that might do the same, no matter how much those desires tug at our heartstrings. Once the truth of the human body yields to the flights of human fancy, the human person disappears, and horrors materialize.

The second, and no less important, is the wisdom mothers teach us about love. A mother’s love is absolutely permanent, because true love is enduring. It knows no expiration date. It is contingent upon nothing. It doesn’t lapse because of boredom. It knows nothing of temporary commitment, that odd corruption of fidelity so beloved by moderns, always on the lookout for the next better offer. It stands utterly above all transitory things. Here too, Lewis is worth quoting: “love possesses too much grandeur to be reduced to mere feeling or romance.”

Love’s poetry is made of steel. Its verses defy being bent to man’s carnal dissemblings. Contrast this with the “hook-up” culture choking modern life, as it leaves man stranded in the filthy back alleys of secularism. This is a degrading caricature that undermines love and signals its demise. It is wedded only to the ephemera of the present moment. A mother’s love, and all true love, will have nothing to do with passing whimsy; hers is an echo of the permanent love of the Blessed Trinity. Man will flourish with nothing less.

Let children happily rest upon their mother’s bosom, for they lean on one of the pillars of civilization. Then let those children, especially those grown to adulthood, learn well what mothers teach. And all of it spoken without uttering a single word.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Young Mother Gazing at Her Child” painted by William Bouguereau in 1871.

Fr. John A. Perricone

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Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.

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