The beauty of motherhood

"Madonna with the Child" in Chiesa di San Giuseppe by Enrico Reffo, 1909. Photo: sedmak/iStock

My mother had a love for things that were simply beautiful. Our family home had touches of Japanese artwork, and the backyard was laid out more like an Asian garden than a typical New England landscape. Reflecting back, I think my mom had a deep spiritual sense of things that were lovely, and somehow she knew this to be “of God.”

She was a beautiful woman and always dressed to the nines, often in clothing she had fashioned herself. And yet I cannot imagine she did this out of any vain desire to call attention to herself. It had to be because she wished to spread beauty abroad, not keep it inside her home or garden. 

Beauty, like love, is not to be hoarded; it is to be shared with others. God knows, this world, which can sometimes be so full of ugliness, is in such need of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Bishop Reed with his mother. Photo courtesy of Bishop Reed

My mother certainly shared beauty with me, both through her constant example and in one very special, material way. When I was ordained a priest, she made the vestments for my first Mass. Subsequently, she did a number of my priest friends a similar kindness.

Whether or not they have any talent for art, gardening, or tailoring, mothers are naturally the most preeminent guardians of beauty in this broken world. After all, they are the ones who are called to cooperate with our Creator in the coming into being and nurturing of the most beautiful of God’s creation — the human person — who is made in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27). 

Mothers are the ones who have perhaps the best ability to see the inherent beauty in their children and, by extension, all children. The old joke that someone has “a face only a mother can love” has a basis in truth.

Though I’m obviously speaking from the perspective of someone from the northern hemisphere, it’s no wonder that we celebrate Mother’s Day in this month of May, when the harshness of winter is safely behind us and we can enjoy beautiful weather and fragrant blossoms. 

No wonder, too, that this whole month is dedicated to the most beautiful of mothers: Mary. She courageously said “yes” to the will of God and cooperated with the Almighty in the incarnation and nurturing of Beauty himself, paving the way for the triumph over the ugliness of sin and death. While dying on the cross, he left her to us, to be our mother. And he left us the Church, which is both mater et magistra — “mother and teacher” —  who nurtures us toward eternal life.

I hope and often pray that my mother, who had such a love of physical, earthly beauty, now has the vision of the primal beauty that is the God she loved and sought so deeply in living her Catholic faith.

And I wish all mothers — whether biological, adoptive, or spiritual — a most blessed Mother’s Day and month of May, the month of our Blessed Mother. May she intercede for all of you. 

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