Pope Francis Reflects on a Mother’s Demanding Role
“A life without challenges doesn’t exist,” and that is one reason a child needs a mother, Pope Francis suggested in a speech this month.
Mothers fulfill a vital role by helping children “look realistically at life’s problems,” without getting “lost in them,” the pope said. A mother helps her children “to tackle” problems courageously and to become strong enough to overcome the problems they inevitably confront.
Of course, in this role a mother walks a fine line, seeking a “healthy balance” for a child, Pope Francis said. That means a mother “does not always take the child along the safe road, because in that way the child cannot develop, but neither does she leave the child only on the risky path, because that is dangerous.”
A mother, said the pope, “knows how to balance things.”
Pope Francis talked about mothers’ roles during a May 4 visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the oldest church in the West dedicated to Jesus’ mother. May is observed in the church as a month of Mary.
During his visit Pope Francis accented Mary’s motherhood. In her own life, Mary “saw many difficult moments,” he noted. And “like a good mother she is close to us, so that we may never lose courage before the adversities of life” and “might feel her support in facing and overcoming the difficulties of our human and Christian journey.”
But while Mary’s motherhood was central in the talk Pope Francis gave, it seemed clear his observations were directed to all mothers. I found his comments relevant for fathers too.
Speaking as a father, I thought the pope viewed parental roles in noble terms. To be sure, he envisioned these roles in demanding terms.
Helping a Child Grow
Commitment, imagination, love, hard work and continued awareness of what actually in going on in a child’s life: I am sure that all this and more will be needed to achieve the parental goals outline by the new pope in his speech on mothers.
A mother is concerned “above all about the health of her children,” Pope Francis said. Thus, she cares for them “with great and tender love.”
As a mother, Mary “guards our health,” he commented. Asking what this means, the pope turned attention to “three things.” Mary, he said:
— Helps us “grow.”
— Helps us learn “to be free.”
— Helps us “to confront life” and the “obstacles” it presents.
Expanding on the first point, Pope Francis said that “a mother helps her children grow up and wants them to grow strong.” She does not want children to pursue a frivolous life or to become lazy, sinking “into a comfortable lifestyle” in which they content themselves “with possessions.”
A mother thus takes care that her children grow “capable of accepting responsibilities, of engaging in life, of striving for great ideals,” Pope Francis said.
Mary provides the same kind of care for us that she provided for Jesus in Nazareth, the pope continued. That means “she helps us to grow as human beings and in the faith, to be strong and never to fall into the temptation of being human beings and Christians in a superficial way, but to live responsibly, to strive ever higher.”
Helping children discover the meaning of freedom entails helping them discover the value of commitments, according to Pope Francis. Thus, a mother in our times not only must help children understand what freedom is, but must help them see why it makes sense to choose to make definitive commitments in life.
Yet, Pope Francis stressed, people find it very difficult in these times to make “definitive decisions!” Why? Because “temporary things seduce us. We are victims of a trend that pushes us to the provisional.”
Commitments “that take up and concern our entire life” should not be feared, however. For commitments lead to a fruitful life, the pope insisted. Freedom means having “the courage to make” decisions linked to commitments “with generosity.”
A good mother, Pope Francis said, helps children “to make important decisions with freedom.” Though this “is not easy,” he said that “a mother knows how to do it.”
Pope Francis asked not only what freedom means, but what it does not mean. He said freedom does not mean “doing whatever you want, allowing yourself to be dominated by the passions, to pass from one experience to another without discernment, to follow the fashions of the day; freedom does not mean, so to speak, throwing everything that you don’t like out the window.”
Instead, he said, “freedom is given to us so that we know how to make good decisions in life!”
As a mother, Mary “teaches us to be, like her, capable of making definitive decisions; definitive choices,” Pope Francis said.