5/16/2014 11:25:00 AM FAMILY LIFE: Edith Stein on the Gift of Motherhood
St. Edith Stein
Fr. Matt Libra
Fr. Matt Libra
Today is a good day to be thankful for our mothers. Moms are those who believed in us when we did not believe in ourselves. They are the ones through whom we first experienced human love, and visible witnesses of what it looks like to love another more than ourselves. The vocation to motherhood is a gift.
In 1931, one of the great leaders of the women’s movement in Europe, Edith Stein, wrote about the “feminine singularity” that prepares woman to answer that great vocational call to motherhood. Drawing from Genesis 2:18 (“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him”), Stein explains what it means that God made woman as a “helper” to man.
For her, man and woman make up the most intimate community of love. Woman stands as an equal at man’s side “to master the earth and to care for offspring. But her body and soul are fashioned less to fight and to conquer than to cherish, guard and preserve.” Woman is endowed with the unique gift to look into the other and see all that they can be. She is able to see past the smallness or faults or weaknesses of the other and somehow see the whole person. In a sense this is the vocation of every woman.
To be a “helper” means to share a complementarity with man, that is to be what he cannot be so that together they might make the world fruitful. Stein continues, “The clear and irrevocable word of Scripture declares what daily experience teaches from the beginning of the world: woman is destined to be wife and mother. Both physically and spiritually she is endowed for this purpose.”
To be a wife means to be strong, strong in her identity as woman. When a woman knows who she is and inwardly strives to hold her desires and sensitivities in right order, then she truly can be “support and mainstay” of her husband. As mother, woman nourishes and protects true humanity and so brings it to full development. She somehow intuitively treasures the gift of another life, knows how to protect it and labors to help it grow to full and healthy maturity. Whereas it is easy for man to focus on one thing and get trapped in a one-dimensional development, “woman’s attitude is personal…she is happily involved with her total being in what she does.” Her particular interest for the living, concrete person exemplifies the greatness of the feminine genius.
At bottom, Stein believes that the vocation to motherhood is something beautiful. She says, “the intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul.” How beautiful it is to see a woman who loves to be a mother, how exciting to see that young girl discover joy in her vocation to motherhood, how blessed the man who finds a woman who helps him allow God to work in his soul. Today is a good day to thank God for the gift of motherhood.
The writer is a priest at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland. After completing studies in philosophy at Mount Angel Seminary and a theology degree at the Angelicum University, he completed a license degree at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies. He grew up in Lebanon, Ore., the oldest of four and is a godfather of 13.