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A Catholic spiritual companion for expectant mothers!

Your Labor of Love
by Agnes Penny

Chapter 13
You Are Not Alone

"That you become not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience shall inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12)

When you are feeling lonely, you may find consolation in becoming acquainted with some of the wives and mothers who belong to the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Reading their biographies, praying to them, imitating their virtues and asking them for their prayers may aid you in your spiritual life and console you in your hours of trouble.

You have many Saints from which to choose: St. Anne the mother of Our Lady and grandmother of Jesus, is the patron saint of housewives and of mothers in labor. St. Felicity, we are told, was mocked by the Roman prison guards for crying out in pain while she gave birth to her baby in a prison cell. (Isn't it consoling to think that even a holy martyr did not bear childbirth in silence? You can see there is no need to be overanxious about appearing stoic before your husband and your doctor when you remember this Saint.) St. Perpetua, her companion, nursed her baby boy in prison while awaiting her martyrdom. St. Frances of Rome is famous for not letting anything, even her prayers, cause her to neglect her domestic duties; we are told that one day she was interrupted at prayer fives times by household concerns, and each time she attended to the household problem without complaining, and then returned to her prayer. When she opened her prayerbook for the fifth time, the prayer she had been saying was written in gold. St. Dorothy of Montau lived a very difficult but heroic life with a wild, unloving husband (who eventually repented and converted) and with several sickly children. St. Bridget of Sweden brought up her eight children so piously that one of her daughters, St. Catherine of Sweden (also known as Karin of Sweden), was canonized as well. St. Elizabeth Seton was a wife, mother, convert and widow who educated her own children and others by founding a religious order. St. Margaret of Scotland helped her husband rule their country wisely and peacefully, so that she brought not only her immediate family closer to God, but her entire nation as well. Some women find Blessed Anna Maria Taigi particularly appealing because, unlike many other canonized wives, she did not enter a convent in later years, but spent her entire life ministering to her husband and seven children. And God has seen fit to keep the body of this humble housewife incorrupt.

Reading the life of Venerable Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, may also be especially helpful because she led a very holy and yet very ordinary life as a wife and mother. Women with medical complications might pray to Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer when expecting her fourth child and chose to die rather than abort her baby, who survived birth and is still alive today. Even more recently, Maria Corsini and her husband, Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi, were beatified for their great example of Christian marriage and parenthood (three of their four children gave their lives to God as priests or nuns) and for courageously sheltering refugees in Italy during World War II. And there are many more wives and mothers recognized by the Church for their holiness, such as St. Rita, St Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica, St. Sylvia, St Hedwig, St. Helen, St. Jeanne de Chantal, St. Matilda, St. Louise de Marillac, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. Margaret Clitherow, et cetera, for Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, understands our need for models of married life and motherhood to help us along the pathway of sanctity.

Pray to these Saints. Look for their biographies. We will try to discuss as many of them as we can in this short work, but additional information may be useful to you. Remember that these women went through the discomforts of pregnancy, sometimes with a cold husband or unsympathetic in-laws; they wept when they felt sick or scared or lonely, and ultimately they found strength in Christ. Weep with them, talk to them, especially if you have few or no friends who have embraced motherhood at the same time as you. Then be sure to make friends with these women who have endured what you are enduring and who have triumphed in Christ.

Chapter 14
Seeking Physical Comfort

"But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you." (1 Peter 5:10)

When a woman is feeling sick or suffering minor ailments of body or mind, it is all too common for her to seek consolation in pleasure, especially by eating too much junk food. An expectant mother faces even greater temptation to justify gluttony because friends tell her she is "eating for two." Furthermore, she may very well be experiencing unusually strong cravings, or if she is suffering from morning sickness, she must eat whatever food does not actually repel her. Of course, there is nothing wrong with satisfying a craving or enjoying good food, but an expectant mother is very vulnerable, and she must guard against seeking all her comfort in these fleeting pleasures and also be wary of developing habits that will be hard to break after the baby is born. The bottom line is this: if a woman's prayer life is strong, then her strength will come from God, and she will not feel the need to overindulge herself in physical comforts; if her prayer life is weak, then she will naturally turn to something - frequently, food - to fill the void within her.

A strong prayer life is indispensable to your spirituality and growth in holiness. Morning prayers, first of all, turn your attention to God from the very start of the day; a Morning Offering is especially beneficial, for in it, you offer all the work, sufferings and joys of the day to God, so that all that you think, say or do all day long becomes a prayer. For your night prayers, kneel down (if you can!) and go over your day from God's perspective; thank Him for any blessings you have received or goals you have accomplished; beg His forgiveness for any sins or imperfections you see in yourself; ask His help in all that is troubling you; and call down His grace upon your loved ones. Beginning and ending your day with God is crucial if you want to have any kind of relationship with Him at all.

However, this is not enough. If you want to grow closer to Christ, all the Saints agree you must spend at lesat fifteen minutes a day with Him, aside from morning and night prayers. Thsi will fill the void in your soul. If you are not used to doing this, now is the perfect opportunity; pregnancy is a time of preparation, of spiritual renewal, as well as of great personal need. Try it. It is easy. The method most highly recommendedis to find a good spiritual book - the Gospels, above all others - and read one section or chapter slowly and prayerfully. Any time you feel an inspiration to pray, stop reading and converse with Him who is always listening. When you have no more to say, continue reading in a like manner. If you feel no inclination to stop and pray, read the chapter again, even more slowly. God will see your effort and perseverance and will be more pleased with your continued attempts than He would be with the most eloquent prayers. If, over several days, you still feel unmoved, perhaps you could try another book. Not all spiritual writers appeal to everyone, and even different books within the Bible itself may move you in varying degrees at different points of your life.

This, my Friend, is the only antidote to the void in your heart; you can turn to food as so many others have done, but food alone will not satisfy you. You can turn to your husband, and he may help you, but even he cannot give what he does not have. He cannot take the place of the Infinite God in your life; only prayer, conversation with God, will truly lead you closer and closer to a more intimate, more deeply satisfying relationship with Christ than you ahve ever known.

Chapter 21
Accepting Your Vocation

"But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." (Luke 11:28)

Christ's reply to the woman in the crowd who blessed His mother can be a little disturbing. (See above.) At first it sounds as though He may be disparaging motherhood, or expressing ingratitude toward His own mother. (According to Scripture scholars, the word translated as "rather" in this passage means something like "indeed also," instead of expressing opposition or contrast. -Publisher, 2003.) But neither of these attitudes would be consistent with the rest of His teaching. Therefore, whawt does He mean by His words?

Perhaps He is telling us whawt aspect about His mother, and about all mothers, is most precious in His sight. It was Mary's fiat - "Be it done unto me according to thy word" - that is most precious in His sight. It was Mary's fiat that proved her worthy. Int is our obedience that makes us worthy. Mary's salvation came to her through being God's Mother, just as our salvation comes to us through our vocation as mothers. But what is it about motherhood that brings salvation? It is our acceptance of motherhood, with all its discomforts and sacrifices, that makes our souls beautiful to God. Christ was obedient unto death - reversing Adam's Original Sin of direct disobedience to God. Our Lady co-operated in His plan of salvation, uttering her fiat, her statement of absolute obedience to the Divine Will, thus reversing Eve's Original Sin. We must follow her lead, making our fiat to God, accepting our new vocation and all that comes with it.

During pregnancy, concentrate on uniting your will more than ever to the Divine Will. Accept with joy the trials that God sends y ou. Try not to rebel against Him when you feel tired or sick or lonely, but ask Him for the strength to be among theose blessed who "hear the word of God and keep it." For those who were not desiring to conceive, and thus found out about their motherhood with more dismay than delight, remember that it is never too late to accept, and even embrace, your motherhood. You have a greater challenge, but also a greater opportunity to grow in holy resignation, to acquire a spirit of obedience, and to learn hwo to trust in God. Meditate often on the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, who brings good out of evil and rewards those who have confidence in Him. Do not be weighed down by worry or feelings of guilt, but allow yourself to be joyful and excited about the precious innocent life growing within you. Our Lord does not want us to be down-hearted or guilt-ridden; He wants us to confess our sins and then to start anew, which means accepting our situation and using it to grow in love and trust in Him.

But how can we accept sufferings with joy? By bearing in mind always that we are suffering for love - most obviously, for love of our baby: this new, innocent little person ensconced so securely in our womb. But we are also suffering for Jesus, our crucified Saviour. What can we give Him for all that He has done for us? Do not our cheerful offerings please Him and console His Heart, so saddened by the sins of the world?

Taken from Your Labor of Love by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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