On Spiritual Motherhood and Fatherhood

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Guest post by Supertradmum

Several saints, these two most known to the public, Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church, write about the Motherhood of God. God the Creator created women in His Own Image and Likeness as well as men, and the feminine must be part of the God-head. God the Father, the Creator, is the great Revelation given to us. He is not a Mother, as the Mother receives life from the Father in order to become a Mother, but God the Father has characteristics of motherhood. All good men have some feminine characteristics, such as gentleness, compassion, and we see this is good pastors, who are kind, listening, open to their parishioners. We call them Father, but we feel their maternal concern as well. All spiritual women have some characteristics of the masculine, such as courage, endurance, clarity of reason.

However, in our genders we are called to be mothers and fathers to those who come to us seeking such a relationship. Caring for others is part of our call as Christians.

We may call this role “spiritual fatherhood” or “spiritual motherhood.” All those who are mature Catholics and who have a spiritual director, the laity as men and women in the world, have the capacity of being spiritual mothers and fathers to those around them.

I myself have three spiritual “sons,” not physical sons, nor are these relationships formal spiritual direction. Sometimes one helps others simply by sharing one’s own spiritual life, or experiences of life in general. Spiritual people among the laity, (and I am not a lay person having made private vows, and, therefore, have become a “religious”), have the duty to mother or father others in the Spirit.

In older days, there was much less spiritual confusion. People’s lives were simpler and less stressful. The place in society of men and women was clearer, and in many cultures, “set.” This allowed for a certain type of peace. There was less mental illness than that now brought about in our time by the great sins of the past two centuries—disassociation syndrome coming from abusive homes, or narcissism coming from dysfunctional relationships in the home.

A man could be a spiritual director of his wife in the past, if he took seriously his role as head of the family and spiritual head of his wife and children. Women were given spiritual authority over their children through the man, raising the little ones in virtue and truth. Every Catholic mom should be a spiritual mother, just as every Catholic dad should be a spiritual father.

This is not the same as spiritual direction, but a relationship in Christ of guidance or a listening ear, especially in times of trouble. To be a good father is first of all to sacrifice and pray for others. To be a good mother is to sacrifice and pray for others. The spiritual mother and the spiritual father take on the responsibility of helping those who come to them in real spiritual need.

We have in our Church a horrible lack of priests who are trained in spiritual direction. Many do not want to be spiritual directors. This is a great loss to the Church.

Some of the laity do not realise that they need spiritual directors. To put it simply, anyone who takes or is given spiritual authority over another person must have a spiritual director.

But, what happens when one cannot find a spiritual director? This is a common problem in the Catholic world today.

I suggest spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers, Sometimes friends mother and father each other in the Holy Spirit. Men who belong to Christian men’s groups, such at the Fathers of St. Joseph group, father each other, as well as their families.

But, you ask, how do you recognise a spiritual father or a spiritual mother?

I suggest these characteristics.

First, the person must be an orthodox, practicing Catholic, not given to false seers or heresies. Orthodoxy means that the person is completely obedient to Holy Mother Church. And, they must know Church Credal doctrine.

Second, the person should be under a spiritual director himself or herself. No one should be giving advice without being in submission to someone else, as there is a great danger of self-deceit otherwise.

Third, the person should be wise, or developing wisdom, showing the fruits of experience and prayer.

Fourth, the person should be much older than the one seeking a spiritual mother or spiritual father. Sometimes this happen naturally, as in extended families, where people go to Auntie Jemma for advice, knowing she lives close to God. Perhaps Uncle Jack, that humble man who says the daily rosary and rarely talks, but has a deep prayer life and also a sense of humour, a man who is humble and wise, is a potential spiritual father.

This type of relationship is like a family relationship and not like a formal spiritual direction relationship. Spiritual mothers and fathers may be found in the oddest places. One person I know found his spiritual mother among his older friends. Another found one at the Latin Mass. The relationship is one of adult child to a parent. This can happen, and does, most spontaneously.

Fourth, there must be respect and freedom in the relationship and not an unhealthy dependence.

Fifth, there must be an objectivity present in the spiritual mom or spiritual dad, which transcends the relationship.

Those of us who have tried to be good moms and dads know that this objectivity is necessary in our families. We can never be so subjective in our relationships with our children that we are afraid to speak the Truth.

Sixth, there must be no compulsion or manipulation or unhealthy dependencies of co-dependencies in the mother-father type of spiritual relationship.

You might stand back and say, but aren’t brothers and sisters in Christ called to guide and help each other? Yes, and no. Brothers and sisters are equal, both under a mother and a father. There is no hierarchy among spiritual siblings, or physical siblings. Yet, a much older sister or brother may become one’s spiritual mother or spiritual father.

As we lose more and more opportunities to have a formal spiritual director, please consider and pray for a spiritual mother or spiritual father. I know one young woman who is struggling with demonic influences in her life, who speaks frequently with her spiritual father, who is a much older brother in Christ, who has given her much support and guidance in her struggles. He also gives her practical advice on how to get help to deal with the causes of this oppression. He has connections and gives her that advice for professional care, such as a minor exorcism.

Which leads to the last characteristic, seventh, is that the spiritual mother or father has the ability to refer their spiritual son or daughter to authorities. Having to tell your spiritual son or daughter to go to Confession or to find a formal director must be part of the relationship. Mothers and fathers know if their sons or daughters need help beyond what they can give. Such humility is a necessary attribute of the spiritual mother and spiritual father.

I pray that all those who want a spiritual director can find one. But, if not, let me quote the Scriptures.

Sirach 6:36 Douay-Rheims

36 And if thou see a man of understanding, go to him early in the morning, and let thy foot wear the steps of his doors.

Which I have seen paraphrased, “if you meet a wise man, make a path to his door.”

Many thanks to H.M, who calls me his spiritual mother and explained why he calls me this. I share some of his ideas in this post.

JMJ, pray for us!

God is good,