The Cross and Joy of Motherhood

Theotokos

As we journey along the hard yet joyous road of motherhood, the most holy Theo­tokos accompanies each of us, mothers, and inspires us. As mothers, we have been granted the very special gift of ex­periencing in a very small and imperfect measure the feelings that the Mother of God must have gone through and still do as the Mother of us all.

When we read and pray the words of Saint Luke’s Gospel “And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will  be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.” We cannot but share the feeling of wonder and awe of the Theotokos, as she replies “How can this be…?”

Every mother has experienced a shadow of this wonder when she dis­covered or was announced that she car­ries a child in her womb. The mystery of conception is so great that it is with awe we must receive the gift of life within us.  At times, the amazing joy is shadowed by practical considerations and anxieties, just as the Mother of God felt “troubled” since the time and circumstances did not seem propitious in human terms. Ulti­mately, any worries about material con­siderations are subdued by the unspeakable joy of motherhood.

The baby’s first cry, so dear and yet so painful upon the first breath of life marks in some way the pain of separa­tion. After the pangs of labour, the joy of a mother at seeing her baby for the first time also contains a grain of sadness, what was perfect oneness is now two per­sons, mother and child. From that mo­ment onwards, motherhood becomes an exercise of dying to oneself a little each day in order to give more. A mother gives up her own will and desires in order to minister to the needs of her child. Just as Mary follows her Son all the way to the Cross to “minister to him” and has her heart pierced, so does every Christian mother, called to bear the sufferings and to partake in the joys of their child.

Every step towards the independence of a child brings great joy to a mother’s heart. Can we ever forget our child’s baptism and first Holy Communion, their first word or first step, the emotion of the first day at school? And yet with each new step they take towards independence, they need us and want us a little less. The wisdom of love teaches us that letting go is a part of motherhood’s daily cross. We have to view our children as a gift and ourselves as the custodians of these spe­cial gifts, always remembering that all comes from God and belongs to Him. In this light, we can better understand the words of the Gospel: “he who loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me” Matthew10:37.

Through all our anxious moment when our children are ill, sad or appear lost, we must remember, that these feel­ings are only a drop in the ocean com­pared to what the Mother of God must have felt caring and protecting the Son of God Himself. Similarly, what must She have felt when she discovered her Son missing while journeying away from Jer­usalem! When she finds Him, just like any mother, she is both relieved and per­turbed saying “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have sought you anxiously?”

“She will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self­control” Timothy 1:15. Mother­hood lived in Christ is indeed a way to holiness and sanctification. As our chil­dren grow, we must diminish in their life, to allow for their own ministry to flour­ish. All four Gospels depict the Mother of Christ standing and watching by Cross as the apostles and Jesus’ followers have run away in fright. We stand with Mary and the Galilean women at the foot of the Cross, bearing our own children’s small crosses and sharing in the suffering of The Most Holy Mother of all.

By Mary and Martha

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Tending the Garden …

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… Of our Hearts

Reflections by two spiritual sisters who started gardening this summer and dedicated their allotments to Sts. Hilda and Melangell

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In every fruitful garden, there is a collab­oration between the Creator, Maker of all seeds, plants, soils and the gardener who has a specific role.  Genesis  2:15; “Then the Lord God took the man He formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it”. Whether the gardener has the wisdom and awareness to understand or not, every little happening in his garden is the fruit of this blessed cooperation, in which all aspects are mystically interconnected giving life and purpose to each other.

Together, we have embarked on vari­ous gardening projects, and as we have learnt about the life of plants, through re­flection on many wonders and failures in nature, a clear parallel emerged between the life of a garden and spiritual life. Be­low, are just a few fruits born from these conversations.

The soil

The journey of growth begins in winter, with the preparation of the soil, which needs to be “made ready” to receive the seed, just as our souls need to be made ready to receive the Lord by weeding out, digging and enriching. It is a most sober­ing reflection that if you weed a patch of land with the greatest care and dig it over making it thus perfect for planting, but delay planting, the land will become overgrown with weeds in the blink of an eye. Similarly, if you ready yourself for the Lord by uprooting all your passions and destroying all evil propensities (if such a thing were possible), but delay in placing Christ therein, in planting the seed of the Holy Spirit, your soil will only become fertile ground for new, over­ grown passions. Secondly, as soon as you stop tending and watering your heavenly garden, it will begin to wither, giving space to weeds. Therefore, it is necessary to watch over the garden of our hearts carefully and to cultivate the good seed of virtue, letting it multiply on the prepared soil.

It is also a matter of wonder that the soil is enriched by adding into it decayed matter, like rotten leaves, discarded cut­ tings, manure. All things dead and rejec­ ted transform into nourishment for the soil. May we find the wisdom and know­ ledge to transform all of our rejected, failed plans and endeavours into a matter which will enrich the soil of our hearts. This reminds me of the first lesson in Physics and its heading: Matter does not appear nor disappear, it only transforms –as Christians we are called to transform by the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:3; “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

 

The wonder of the seed

 

Germination is without a doubt the most wondrous stage (and my favourite) in gardening. It is similar to the birth of a child. From an infinitesimal seed, life bursts forth. The miracle of Creation is encompassed in the Parable of the mus­tard seed “which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs” (Matthew 13:31­32). We can only marvel at the fact that every tree was once a tiny seed, which you can hold between two fingers. Every germination is a small miracle because life itself is encased in a tiny, inconspicuous looking ball or speck, in this sense the Lord has made us par­takers and co­-creators of Creation.

If we look at our own lives, we can sometimes pinpoint the moment of germination. The seed of faith was planted in us at different times and in ways spe­cific to each of us: by a friend, a parent, a book or an experience. But often, it lies dormant in the soil of our being, until all elements are right for germination: tem­perature, light, humidity. And then, sud­denly, the tree of faith bursts forth out of the tiny seed. It is sadly too true that some seeds never germinate, but there is always hope. Take the case of the Mathu­ selah palm tree. During an archaeological excavation of a fortress in Masada, some seeds were found. After spending some years in a researcher’s drawer, one of the 2000-year-old seeds of a palm tree was germinated in 2005. This species of palm tree had been extinct in the area for hun­ dreds of years. Life had slept inside the tiny seed for 2000 years! The tree is now over 3 metres tall and produces dates.

Like all new life, germination holds the promise of beauty and perfection. Every time a new plant emerges from the soil, you can picture in your mind’s eye the beauty of its maturity.

 

The battle for growth

 

The stage of growth or the journey from newborn to maturity is the hardest part of gardening. It requires immense energy of the gardener to combat all threats to the plant (pests, disease,  competition  from weeds), to water, feed and protect

It is a matter of relentless watchful­ ness. It demands patience (in short sup­ ply in our garden) to watch the plant grow and also wisdom and faith in equal measure. The wisdom to accept the loss of plants to disease and pests, but the faith to carry on tending to the few little plants left. We see thus that gardening is a spiritual school. How many seeds of the Spirit have germinated in our souls only to die, prey to our bad habits, laziness or forgetfulness? Accepting the loss, rather than mourning over it, going to confes­sion and starting germination afresh in faith is an essential lesson for spiritual growth.

Some gardening techniques, which strengthen the plants and give them a better chance to survive are startlingly useful in our spiritual life. It all starts with grading, which involves discarding the seedlings which appear weak or dis­ eased and only leaving the strong,  healthy ones. We sometimes need to choose the best seedlings in our lives, and when they are old enough, we sometimes need to pinch the ends out. This pain in­ inflicted on young plants makes them grow stronger, with healthier roots, so that when the time comes to bring them out­ side into the cold and the wind, they can survive and reach maturity.

 

Bearing fruit

 

Finally, most people’s favourite part is when the crop is ready – the fruit of God’s labour through us. We can feast on the fruit of love and patience, gift it to others and give thanks to the Lord for the completion of our endeavours.

 

By Mary and Martha of gardening