During the month of May, we thank God for our mothers and all we have received from them. It’s also good to remember the other women who have played an important role in our lives, from grandmothers and aunts to teachers, coaches and mentors of all kinds. But it’s also wonderful to rejoice that as women, we all have a life-long vocation to motherhood, whether physical or spiritual. In his “Letter to Women,” St. John Paul II praised women in their multiple roles: “Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail … Thank you, women who are wives! … Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.” John Paul II’s words inspired many women and encouraged greater awareness of their feminine genius. I’d like to encourage women of all ages — but especially those of us who are not so young anymore — to embrace the mission of being spiritual mothers to the younger generations. Evoking the image of a tree that lacks deep roots and falls in a storm, Pope Francis recently wrote that “it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and keep us firmly grounded.” We achieve groundedness, the pope said, by remaining close to our elders and discovering the living richness of the past, by treasuring its memory and making use of it for our choices and opportunities. Helping young people to do this, the pope said, “is a genuine act of love.” He calls on elders to draw close to the young and journey with them, for the elders have much to teach them. The pope’s recent post-synodal exhortation, “Christus Vivit,” to young people, should inspire those of us who are not so young to be more aware of all that we have to share: “Realize that there is beauty in the laborer who returns home grimy and unkempt, but with the joy of having earned food for his family. There is extraordinary beauty in the fellowship of a family at table, generously sharing what food it has. There is beauty in the wife, slightly disheveled and no longer young, who continues to care for her sick husband despite her own failing health.
Long after the springtime of their courtship has passed, there is beauty in the fidelity of those couples who still love one another in the autumn of life, those elderly people who still hold hands as they walk. There is also a beauty, unrelated to appearances or fashionable dress, in all those men and women who pursue their personal vocation with love, in selfless service of community or nation, in the hard work of building a happy family, in the selfless and demanding effort to advance social harmony. To find, to disclose and to highlight this beauty, which is like that of Christ on the cross, is to lay the foundations of genuine social solidarity and the culture of encounter.” Fostering relationships — this culture of encounter, as Pope Francis calls it — is an integral part of the feminine genius. Perhaps your children are grown and you feel that you have completed the job of mothering. Or perhaps, like me, your personal vocation did not include physical motherhood. By virtue of being women, we are called to nurture others, and this vocation of spiritual maternity never ends. So, this Mother’s Day, look around and find the young people you encounter who are in special need of a mentor, an adopted grandmother or a wise friend. Reach out and share life’s journey with them, for together we can learn from one another, warm hearts, and inspire minds with the light of the Gospel. Sister Constance Veit is the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.