Imagine, if you will, a typical family home.  Outside, the night is dark and a wild storm is raging. The lightning is continually flashing, the thunder rolling and clapping, the wind is howling, lashing the rain in torrents.  Inside, down the hallway, little steps come running into the parental bedroom where the mother is already awake. “What is the matter darling?” she asks.  “I’m afraid”, comes the answer. “But you know you don’t have to be afraid”, replies her mother, “you know that God makes the rain, the wind, the thunder and the lightning, and that He loves you”.  “Yes, I know that”, says the little one as she climbs up into the bed and snuggles into her mother, “but right now I need love with skin on”!

This reflection is about ‘love with skin on’.
Such a scene is common enough within what the Second Vatican Council calls … the ‘Ecclesia domestica,’ the ‘domestic’ or ‘little’ Church, the family.    Tangible ‘Love with skin on,’ given to the world, was made possible by the trust in God’s providence and omnipotence, of a young Jewish girl of Nazareth, ‘and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  With the Annunciation, Mary’s fiat – “be it done to me according to thy word”, ‘woman and man, the ‘humanum’ in its entirety’ is given the first instance of “maternal love” from the Mother of God herself, and as a consequence, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Thus the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became a member of an earthly family.

To explore this topic, it is necessary to define the terms: ‘Guardians’ - those who ‘defend, protect and/or ‘keep; ‘Spousal’- relating to the state of matrimony; ‘Maternal’- relating to the state of motherhood, and ‘love’ – an intense feeling of deep affection.  

Pope John Paul 11 gave the latter a deeper dimension: “To love means to give and receive something which can neither be bought nor sold but only given freely and mutually”.    
“Spousal love’ is based on the tenet that ‘…man was also entrusted by the Creator to the woman – they were entrusted to each other as persons made in the image of God himself.  This entrusting is the test of love, spousal love.”
Popes and poets, playwrights and storytellers, artists and artisans, musicians and songsters have all enriched society throughout the ages with their various interpretations of “love.”  However, can one go any further than what St. John writes of Jesus?  Simply: “He Himself revealed to us that ‘God is love,’ and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world’s transformation.”   

Deep emotional love between a woman and a man, in the Christian context, leads to marriage, … “a sacred reality, a ‘sacrament’ or effective sign of God’s love and fidelity, which strengthens and divinizes it…  It is a path to holiness, to being saints…it is also the beginning of a family.”
When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility…. a ‘complex’ of interpersonal relationships is set up through which each new person is introduced into the ‘human’ family and into the family of God which is the Church.  

“Womanhood and manhood are complementary” and “it is only through the duality of the “masculine” and the “feminine” that the “human” finds full realisation.”  How often is this complementarity evident in the different, affectionate interactions between husband and wife, father and daughter and/or mother and son?  Spouses, in their own way, reinforce the importance of complementarity, the importance of fatherhood and of motherhood and, by example, show complementary commitment and behaviour.
Mulieris dignitatem shows how a woman in today’s society can be a guardian of spousal and maternal love; telling us that “in God’s eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root…the order of love “constitutes woman’s own vocation,” and “the moral and spiritual strength is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her… A woman is strong, because of the awareness of this entrusting,” and “that God entrusts the human being to her, always and in every way.”    

The first recipients of this entrustment are her spouse and her children, because “the wellbeing of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”  This is not confined to within the walls of her home, it refers not only…to the specific spousal relationship of marriage, it means something more universal,” it refers to “all the interpersonal relationships, which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons.” 
“Christian spouses are signs and means of God’s love in the world and “by their very lives they are called to bear witness to and proclaim the religious meaning of marriage, which modern society has ever greater difficulty recognising.” 

“Authentic conjugal love will be more highly prized, and wholesome public opinion created about it if Christian couples give outstanding witness to faithfulness and harmony in their love, and … also, if they do their part in bringing about the cultural, psychological and social renewal on behalf of marriage and the family.”

As defenders and protectors of marriage, spousal and maternal love, women have the responsibility to be educated and well informed in order to present the truth to others. To assist them in their mission, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace “COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH’, and the Pontifical Council for the Family “LEXICON Ambiguous and debatable terms regarding family life and ethical questions” are two invaluable references. LEXICON helps women to have heightened awareness of persons “changing the meaning of words in a deliberately perverted way.  Certain expressions exploit the uninformed people who use them and, since they are deceived by their ambiguity, they are not aware of their deception.”  We have heard about ‘gender,’ but there are many others.
Wives and mothers can defend marriage stating simply, gently and consistently that it can occur only between a man and a woman, and is open to procreation of children.  Other unions between same-sex or trans-sex couples are in truth, just unions, they are not marriages. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”  Nothing can be naturally formed in a womb from such a union.
In the ‘domestic’ or ‘little Church’ a mother lovingly accepts and protects the souls entrusted to her by the Creator, becoming ‘God’s own smile on the new-born child.”  By precept and example, assisted by her spouse, she guides and nurtures each child’s unique spiritual, affective, cognitive, psychological, social and cultural development throughout the changing situations that come with each stage of her family’s life cycle.  She educates the new generations of parents, clearly understanding the paradox that the more she gives love away, the more her store of it increases.  
Wives and mothers have been entrusted with the responsibility to proclaim the “sanctity of human life’ from conception until natural death, by counteracting the increasing acceptance that the developing embryo/foetus can be experimented with or destroyed with impunity. One Australian prelate recently stated: “the littlest people, unborn humans, can be used as ‘genetical quarries’ and killed to make big people better,” while another has observed “that the most dangerous place for a person to be at this present time is in the womb.”

So, wives and mothers can engage in advocacy for the lives of the unborn, encourage the use of natural family planning, and spiritually and materially assist the vulnerable.  They can affirm the single mother struggling to raise her children alone, work to alleviate poverty, be involved in pregnancy support services designed to uphold the dignity of pregnant women and the ‘culture of life,’ and with compassion assist those women, who sometimes years later, suffer from Post Abortion Syndrome.  In their grief and regret, women victims of abortion, can be led to experience God’s infinite mercy and find peace, grace and healing.

Wives and mothers can support causes like MaterCare International which brings hope to mothers living with obstetric fistula, and sub-standard pre-natal and birthing care; support those who care for orphans, alleviate HIV/AIDS suffering, and work against all forms of ‘human trafficking’ and sexual exploitation.  With such actions, women can undertake the ‘hard work’ for Christ, which Saint Paul speaks of:   “… this hard work indicates the various fields of the Church’s apostolic service…”

Wives and mothers can persist in their efforts to influence the media to be ‘family friendly,’ and lawmakers at all levels to frame legislation that results in “the good of the whole human family.”  “Christians must be aware of their own vocation within the political community.    They have the opportunity to join associations that further their mission and in alliances, work cooperatively with like-minded organisations, particularly those that have representation at regional, state, national and/or international locations and agencies such as United Nations and Continental bodies.
Wives and mothers are responsible for making the love of Christ take flesh in their lives, in the lives of others, and to recognise Him in the love of those they meet.   Here is just one instance of it:

In my small country town live a young married couple, Teresa and Mark.  Some years ago, Teresa’s sister delivered Thomas Walter at full term. He had been diagnosed with anencephaly at 18 weeks of gestation and lived for 17½ hours after birth. Four years later Teresa and Mark’s son Benedict diagnosed with this same condition, lived for just under 24 hours, and 3 years after Benedict, their daughter Charlotte had the same diagnosis.  Charlotte lived with her family for 5 days, and was given back to God on the 26th June, the same date as her brother, Benedict, 3 years earlier.
Teresa has written her story: “Why carry a dying child?  A mother’s perspective.”
Here are some excerpts: “Some people think we carried Benedict and Charlotte to term because we don’t agree with abortion, because we are Catholic, or perhaps because our nephew was carried to term after a fatal diagnosis.  While these factors probably all played a part in our immediate refusal to ‘terminate’, this is not what it is all about!  It’s about love!  It’s about my baby!  It’s not about some tragic, fatal medical condition – it’s about my child.

The value of Thomas Walter, Benedict and Charlotte cannot be measured by the length of their lives; we don’t apply this yardstick to adults so why should we apply it to babies?
A baby is not a possession, an accessory to acquire.  A baby is a gift, a new entity, a precious, individual soul loved by God.  We are created for a purpose – there is a reason for our being here even if that reason is unclear to us most of the time, we are constantly affecting other people….  Who knows what purpose can be fulfilled in nine months and one day?  I don’t know, but God does.

I do know that Benedict left a lasting impression on our family – he made us slow down, savour life and treasure our other children even more.  He made us realise that we cannot control or predict what will happen in the future – he made us rely on God.  And how often are we given the opportunity to really give another person true unconditional love,… that  expects no return?… 

Someone asked us after Benedict died, “Was it worth it?”  For the chance to hold him and see him and love him before letting him go?  For the chance for our children to see that we would never stop loving them regardless of their imperfections?  For the chance to give him everything we could?  Oh yes!

Love your children and remember that they each have their own unique mission.  Children are always and only a blessing from God – even if they don’t stay very long.”   

Wives and mothers, - ‘love with skin on’- regardless of the colour of that skin, be it gleaming jet, lily white, or any of the hues in between, whether it be young and smooth, freckled, gnarled, old and wrinkled, all have been given the privilege of ‘entrustment’ and the ensuing tasks of guardianship.

May wives and mothers, like Mary the Mother of Love, “treasure all these things,”  “ponder them” in their hearts, and with the help of her intercession, be true ‘guardians’ of spousal and maternal love, and give it away.


Brenda Finlayson

Rome February 8, 2008

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Brenda Finlayson
Vice-President General