Beauty and Motherhood

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.” ~William Morris, The Well At The World’s End: Volume I

My mother has been ill this winter. Yes, she is advanced in age, but her current sickness has shaken the family for, up until this point, this little Marian has been out and about, doing all that she has always done; albeit a little slower, but with her usual style and ladylike self-possession. I stumbled upon the William Morris quote (above) several days ago, and thought of her; a quick jaunt around my parents’ home and you will find that Morris’s sentiments regarding beauty are similar to hers: there are pictures of flowers everywhere, the colors of the textiles in her home are bright and pretty, everything is in order, and there is an air of happiness about the place.

As I grow older, I appreciate more and more the life my mother has lived: the life of a Catholic wife and mother of eight children; the life of a mother who is, and has always been, dedicated to the spiritual and temporal well being of her family. My mother has lived the life of a woman who cared about her home, made it beautiful (she has the sensus decorus); and tried to make her often wild crew (hail Catholic family life!) a bit more tamed and presentable.

In 1942, Pope Pius XII spoke to Catholic newlyweds about the ideal mother. His sentiments would be mocked in today’s world; however, we Catholics do not live in today’s world: we live in the world of Jesus Christ which is timeless. The sentiments of God are timeless, as are those given to us by His vicar on earth; so let’s take a look at such sentiments as they regard motherhood. Pope Pius XII said:

The mother is the sun of the family. She is its sun by her spirit of generosity and sacrifice, by her constant readiness, vigilance, delicacy and tact in all that touches the happiness of her husband and her children; she radiates light and warmth. …

The wife is the sun of the family by the light of her smile and the warmth of her word: a smile and words that inspire, mold and soften the soul, raise it above the tumult of passion, and bring to the husband the enjoyment of good and of family life at the end of a long day of continual and perhaps difficult work in his profession, either in the fields or in the taxing affairs of commerce and industry. One glance from her eyes throws a light with manifold reflections; one sound from her lips contains a thousand words of affection. Such light and sound spring from a mother’s heart, create and enliven the paradise of childhood, radiate goodness and gentleness everywhere even when they upbraid and reprove, so that young souls which feel more deeply, may understand more thoroughly and profoundly the laws of love.

The wife is the sun of the family by her natural frankness, by her straightforward dignity, by her irreproachable Christian behavior. She is its sun in the recollection and rectitude of spirit, in the subtle harmony of her bearing and dress, in her elegance and in her deportment – at once both reserved and affectionate. Delicacy of sentiment, charm of countenance, ingenuous silences and smiles, a compliant nod … all give to her the grace of an exquisite, unspoiled flower, which opens its petals to receive and reflect the colors of the sun. If you only knew with what profound sentiments of love and appreciation such a picture of wife and mother fills and impresses the heart of husband and children! …

What happens when the family is deprived of that sun? When the wife continuously – even in the most intimate circumstances – does not hesitate to make known what great sacrifices she makes for married life? What happens to her lovable sweetness when because of an excessively severe upbringing, unbridled irritability, and an angry coldness of countenance and speech suffocate in the children the hope of finding happiness and joyful solace in their mother? What happens when she sadly does nought else but disturb and embitter the loyal unity of the family circle with sharp tones, complaints and reprovals?

What happens to the generous tact and tender love when instead of forming with natural and exquisite simplicity an atmosphere of pleasant peace in the home, she takes the attitude of a dissatisfied, nervous and demanding lady, according to the fashion? Is this to diffuse the warmth and life of the sun? Is it not rather to freeze with the chill wind of eventide the garden which is the family?

Can anyone wonder that in such circumstances, the husband does not find at the fireside anything to attract, hold and comfort him? That the husband will escape from it as much as he can, thus provoking a similar desertion on the part of the wife – if indeed it is not her absence which provokes his? Both thus go to seek elsewhere – with grave danger to their souls and to the great harm of the family unity – the peace, rest, and pleasure denied them in their own home. In this state of affairs, the unfortunates who suffer most are undoubtedly the children.

You see, o wifes, to what an extent you are responsible for the harmony and happiness of the home. Just as it is the duty of your husband to work to provide the necessities for the home, it is your duty by your wisdom to ensure its proper well-being and to procure the undisturbed serenity of your common life. This is not only an office given you by nature, but a duty of Christian virtue, by the acts and merits of which you grow in the love and grace of God.

~ Pope Pius XII, from his Allocution to Newlyweds, March 11, 1942

Motherhood is “not only an office given you by nature, but a duty of Christian virtue, by the acts and merits of which you grow in the love and grace of God.”

Motherhood is an office, and with an office, there are duties (paraphrase, Canon J. O’Connor, homily on Mother’s Day, circa 2019).

And, so today, I say a thank you to that fair Marian who resides in the East; a little lady who has changed the world by her beauty, by her love of Beauty, and by the faithful performance of her Christian duties to her family; for by such actions, she has, as Morris suggests, transformed the world; and for this, we count ourselves blessed, very blessed.

Thankfully, her work goes on. 

Hail Catholic Motherhood!