Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women, June 29, 1995
Pope Saint John Paul II popularized the expression “feminine genius” as a way to recognize the unique gifts and capabilities of women. I think of this expression often as I move through my days and encounter it in so many different ways. The notion of feminine genius captures the inherent grace and beauty of femininity while also recognizing its power and wisdom. I particularly love this concept in its beautiful counterbalance to the strengths, and weaknesses, of masculinity. The feminine genius is not more or less than its masculine counterpart but distinct and wonderful in its own ways.
Motherhood is one gloriously distinct way we encounter the feminine genius and today we celebrate our mothers. For most of us, our first experience of feminine genius came from the sacrificial love of our mother. Though it would take us years to recognize it, our mother’s selfless, nurturing love in our infancy formed the foundation for everything that followed. Moving toward our first memories, our mother’s presence is likely one of the first and, if we focus just a bit, we might be able to tune-in to the warm, safe sensation of her in those early days.
Watching the mothers in my life, I am struck by the patient, enduring devotion I see to the thousand mundane details of a normal day. Remembering my own life as a son, I recall moment after moment of my mom’s presence: in the home, at events, on-the-go, in the thick of it, in the good moments, and in the struggles. I knew nothing before my mom and her presence has been woven into the fabric of my existence. First as she guided my youth, then helped me through adolescence; loved me into adulthood; brought that love and presence to bear on my children and then again with my grandchildren. Patient. Enduring. Present. Gloriously beautiful.
In my own home, the feminine genius of motherhood reigned in the most important vocation of our family. Through the life of four children, the moments cannot be counted. From the sleepless nights of the babies, the faltering steps of toddlers, the transition to school and its myriad demands, the changing emotional demands of teenagers, then the trauma of separation and motherhood’s transition to something different as those children leave to make their own way in the world. Today, I watch as Sally blends the loving examples of our mothers into her own role of matriarch and see her feminine genius present for her family in her example and counsel to our girls and our boys, now building their own lives. The gifts I see are pure genius.
The active motherhood of growing children doesn’t last forever but the feminine genius of motherhood goes on as different needs arise and the hands-on role turns to supporting cast. The reality is that our kids will need us for as long as we can give and there is no love, no example, and no one else like our mom. Hers is a singular place in our life and irreplaceable.
Today is a day to celebrate the feminine genius of motherhood. We honor those powerfully beautiful, wise, and loving moms without whom we wouldn’t be who or where we are. Consider the roads you’ve shared together, the struggles you’ve faced together, the joys you’ve celebrated together, and the many moments when you didn’t deserve the love, forgiveness, or support she gave you. Then, celebrate her for the wonderful gift she is in your life.