There is an old saying that goes, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Mothers are at the heart of every important human institution. They are an indispensable part of our families. Our views on the value of motherhood determines affects every relationship that we form in life. In ways obvious and not so obvious, motherhood’s fate is the fate of priestly and religious vocations. Let’s explore this idea further.
Although Priesthood in the Catholic Church has been instituted only for males, there would be no males without mothers! If Priestly leadership in the Church must have a male character, it must first have a female origin, that of the mother. When women do not bear children, there are no sons to be priests. This has become especially critical in our culture, which practices contraception. Economic pressures and a shifting morality are limiting births. This in turn limits the numbers of Baptisms and Ordinations. If we want more priests, we need more mothers.
Another fairly obvious reason why motherhood’s decline leads to a decline in vocations is pressure to carry on the family line. Many families are only having 1-2 kids, and of course, not all the kids are males. Sons are often expected to carry on the family name. Sometimes the family business is at stake. Grandchildren are coveted, and celibates don’t have grandkids! Women are also discouraged from going to religious life for many of the same reasons. If more kids were being born in more families, this would be a moot point.
One “not so obvious” reason why a decline in motherhood leads to a decline in vocations is the disappearing of the maternal witness in our culture. Our attitudes towards tenderness and generosity tend to come from our mothers. When the culture respects these aspects of authentic maternity, healthy traits develop in young boys. Observing the feminine in their mothers, boys learn how to respect women and how to love others. As motherhood declines, so does this vital witness to the next generation. One does not need to be an actual mother to show these virtues. Our women religious and dedicated single lay women are fine examples of the authentically feminine. The rejection of maternal traits for the pursuit of gender sameness, work, or material excess, is what is at issue. Tenderness and generosity are much needed traits for a young man to respond to a vocation, and to persevere in it. The decline in the maternal witness in our culture may lead to less men willing to make life-long commitments, whether they be to marriage or ordained ministry.
That is why it is so important that, on this Mothers Day Weekend 2014, that we all re-affirm the importance of the vocation to motherhood. It is the vocation on which all others hinge. It is under assult. It is viewed as almost an add on to an otherwise self-satisfied existence. If you doubt this point, talk to any of your friends with a large family. Ask them if they feel accepted as a normal part of their community. Their answer may surprise you! Motherhood is not looked on as an essential part of our culture, and we do little to celebrate it. What a shame this is! If we want priests in our parishes, we need to celebrate our mothers and fathers, and support them when they make the decision to have more kids. That is a blessing for us all. While some families cannot have many children, those that can really should! Their generosity would bless us all immensely, and lead to an upswing in all vocations!