There are some days as a mom I wonder if it's possible to be a saint. How can I maintain a prayer life when I am exhausted from constantly changing diapers, wiping permanent marker off the walls or cleaning up split milk? How can I give my full attention to Sunday Mass when I am chasing after my toddler in the pews or trying to keep my daughter from licking the person sitting next to us? Thankfully, I discovered a rich history of mother saints whose ordinary duties were the very reason for their extraordinary lives. This past Mother's Day I reflected on five badass holy women who not only survived motherhood but changed the world.
One of my personal favorite mommy saints is St. Gianna Molla (so much so that we named our oldest daughter after her.) As a loving wife, working mother, and professional career women, this lady represents all walks of life a mother can take. For me, going back to work after the birth of our first child was extremely difficult and emotional. I would often cry during my breaks in the bathroom just to relieve some of the emotion I was experiencing. I would pray to St. Gianna to intercede for me and to help me make this sacrifice for my family. St. Gianna is best known for her sacrificial choice that would end her life. During her fourth pregnancy she had developed a tumor in her uterus that could affect both her life and the life of her baby. She had the option to remove both the tumor and her uterus ultimately terminating the pregnancy or to remove only the tumor and risk complications at birth. She chose to protect her child, but seven days after her daughter’s birth, she died of an infection caused from the C-section. This moment alone did not merit her the title of sainthood. Throughout her life she led a pious and joyful lifestyle in the midst of health complications. Her marriage to Pietro has set a beautiful example for my husband and myself. During our first year of marriage we read their love letters to one another and realized that it was their love for God that flamed their love for each other. Their purpose in life was truly to bring each other and their children to heaven.
All mothers (well at least I do) worry about their children and hope they will live moral lives and stay out of trouble. I mean I feel embarrassed when my three-old misbehaves in the pew at Sunday Mass. One mother whose child misbehaved for much of her life was St. Monica of Hippo. Her son’s sinful actions broke her heart continuously but after many years of leading a scandalous life he converted and is now known as one of the Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. After his baptism, St. Monica said, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” Shortly after, she died in peace and complete happiness. Her perseverance is such an inspiration for me to pray for my children especially in an era where social media, relativism, and pressure to succeed constantly pull them further away from their faith. She illustrated that the most important duty of every mother is to pray for their children.
Although she is not yet declared a saint, I literally cry every time I think of this holy woman. I have tried to read her biography twice now but I cannot get through a chapter without a handful of Kleenexes. Perhaps it is because she lived in my era and experienced the same world I live in. She had a Facebook page, she probably had a smart phone and like any young woman in this day and age she had boy troubles. What makes her life so incredible is the joy she witnessed in spite of the intense sorrow she encountered. Shortly after her marriage to her husband Enrico, they discovered they were pregnant, however their little girl had extreme deformities and she only lived for 30 minutes after her birth. Their second pregnancy had similar challenges and their little boy only lived long enough to be baptized before he too died. When they discovered they were blessed with a third, and this time healthy pregnancy, they also found a tumor on Chiara’s tongue which later spread to her neck and eyes. She refused any treatment that would harm her unborn child but this led to her illness becoming terminal. At the young age of 28 she joined her daughter and son on June 13, 2012. Motherhood is hard as it is but what this beautiful woman experienced in her short life is overwhelming and yet she choose to take those sorrowful moments as opportunities to celebrate joy.
I was very blessed to visit the tomb of this holy mystic mother, Blessed Conchita of Mexico. At a young age she would pray, “Lord, I feel so incapable of loving you; therefore, I want to marry. Give me many children so that they love you more than I can.” Her marriage was blessed with nine children! After 16 years of marriage her husband passed away leaving her to raise their children alone. This did not deter her from leading a very holy and sacrificial life. She was known to be very social but what was not known was with every outing or dance she attended, beneath her silk dress she wore a belt of haircloth. As though her life was not busy enough she opened five religious communities, attended to the poor and strived for perfection as a mother. She received many visions from our Lord whose mission for her was to be a spiritual mother for His priests. During my visit to her tomb I saw the need for spiritual mothers for priests to sustain them in their ministry. They carry much of our spiritual burdens and yet they have few praying for them. It was Conchita's earthly motherhood that led her to begin the movement of spiritual motherhood for priests.
To be honest I didn’t know much about St. Zelie except she was the mother of St. Therese the Little Flower. But only after reading very little about this woman I found her to be quite relatable. Zelie experienced the everyday challenges any mother deals with on a daily basis. As mothers we all try to make our lives look perfect. (Don’t lie we all do it.) St. Zelie’s life proved that we can still be a saint even when our houses are not clean, our children are throwing tantrums, (yep St. Therese was a typical 3-year-old trouble maker), or when we struggle just to get our children dressed every day. She had prayers go unanswered and days where she felt like she failed at being a good mother. What made her ordinary life so extraordinary was that she took those stressful and sometimes overwhelming moments of motherhood and made them a prayer. I look forward to reading more about this spunky yet holy woman.
Yes, many of our duties are mundane and ordinary but with great love they have the potential to change the world. Our children do not deter us from becoming saints, in fact they are the ones who will probably get us to heaven quicker than we know it. So on those days when motherhood seems to be too overwhelming or completely heartbreaking, how great is it that we have mothers in heaven cheering us on.