May 14, 2013 by lucieromarin
At last Sunday’s Mass, a friend of mine experienced the following during the Prayers of the Faithful: “Let us pray for mothers…and grandmothers, and stepmothers, and single mothers, and foster mothers, and for all women who have ever nurtured another person.”
This set me to wondering again about the difficulty of trying praise one group of people while making sure that nobody else is hurt by that praise, and the attendant difficulty of accidentally undermining your original intention by it. (I can’t help thinking that women who have been through labour might feel that women who have ‘nurtured another person’ are getting praised too easily!). I figured this whole problem could be solved by returning Mothers’ Day to its original purpose – training children to say ‘thank you’ to their mothers for enduring thirty hours of hideous labour and all the sleepless nights that follow it – rather than using it as another opportunity to share a message about vocations or life issues. We didn’t start talking about spiritual mothers until we started talking about child-bearing as a saving-the-world activity.
It also occurred to me that the same parish did not, last Fathers’ Day, pray for grandfathers, stepfathers, foster fathers, and so on. Why not? We don’t talk about spiritual fatherhood as much as we talk about spiritual motherhood – why not? Try Google – most of the top hits for ‘spiritual fatherhood’ are Protestant, and the Catholic results are related to the priesthood. Most of the top hits for spiritual motherhood are Catholic – and, specifically, spiritual motherhood of priests.
I know this says something about us; I’m just not sure what it is. Maybe children are more important to our women than they are to our men, or maybe we just think that they’re more important, or maybe women just feel easier talking to priests about childlessness than men do, with the result that the pastoral need for a substitutionary or complementary – however you’d like to look at it – apostolate is percieved as more necessary for childless women than it is for men.
Whenever I hear about spiritual motherhood for priests, all I can think is – don’t men have to pray for them? Are men not called to be spiritual fathers as much as women are called to be spiritual mothers? Are men and women supposed to invest differently in their children’s vocations? And if not, why aren’t men publicly called to exercise spiritual fatherhood of priests by praying for them? Maybe it’s part of trying to make women feel important; maybe men don’t need it because they already feel that they are. Maybe it’s just that women are the fashionable thing to talk about.
It seems to me that if it is possible for all women to be spiritual mothers (whatever that really means) it must be possible for all men to be spiritual fathers. If we don’t believe that spiritual fatherhood is as necessary an apostolate as spiritual motherhood, we have to ask ourselves why we don’t believe it. If we do believe it, we have to ask ourselves why we hear so much less about it.
Of what would spiritual fatherhood consist? Well, the first duty of a husband and father is to make his family feel safe, so spiritual fatherhood would mean extending that security to as many people in one’s life as needed it. It would mean making sure not only that the home was safe, but that the workplace and parish were, too…and I don’t mean safe from heresy. I don’t mean that a spiritual father is one who goes round trying to identify and rebuke or expel those persons in his community of whom he disapproves. I mean that a spiritual father is one does his part to keep those around him safe from bullying, safe from humiliation, safe from fear.
Imagine how much roadkill they could save!
This fatherless Catholic thinks that’s a great idea.
Perhaps this emphasis of particular roles, ever being broadened, demonstrates that the overall duty of Christians to love their neighbours with fraternal charity isn’t preached or considered sufficiently. A lesson in justice and charity would cover much of this. Just a thought…