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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Mother Love & the Ten Commandments of a Christian Education

Updated: Apr 14

"What on God's good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother?" - Cardinal Mindzenty

In the last year or so I stumbled across a lovely little prayer manual entitled Mother Love, originally published in 1888. Among the various prayers and devotions, all tailored to the needs of motherhood, it includes a list entitled: "The Ten Commandments of a Christian Education."

The list might be more appropriately entitled, "The Ten Commandments of Motherhood," for upon reading the list, I found myself wishing I had spent time in prayer and reflection on these points long before becoming a mother, as the list extends so far beyond what we in modern times, with our segmented, box-like thinking, might consider to be "education." I believe I would have saved myself (and my children, by extension) much confusion, especially in the early years had I been more properly prepared. By reflecting on them now in this series, however, I hope to pass along their wisdom to you and to better prepare myself for those years of motherhood to come.

1st Commandment: "Thou shalt, when about to become a mother, restrain thy passions, and keep thyself in thought and affections closely united with God. Far be it from thee to nourish the being thou are soon to bring forth with the poisonous milk of unhallowed desires!"

Every year it seems science is finding more and more long term connections between the emotional, physical, and mental health of the mother while pregnant and her child. It's now commonly accepted that a mother's nutrition, stress levels, toxic exposures -- not to mention her genes -- all have a direct, measurable, and lifelong impact on the baby. We spend countless hours preparing our bodies for pregnancy with proper diet, exercise, and prenatal vitamins, and we are careful to avoid things as varied as deli meats, soft cheeses, and trampolines while pregnant out of a desire for the health of our children. But how many of us can say we have given the same thought to our spiritual lives before and during pregnancy?

For a Church that teaches so strongly on the doctrine of Original Sin, it is curious that we spend so little time on this point. We accept unquestioningly the teaching that all of humanity inherits the stain of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve - we believe it so strongly, in fact, that we baptize our infants to assure their salvation, though they have no personal sin of their own! We even recognize the deleterious effect that Original Sin has on our souls even after our baptisms, because though the "slate" is wiped clean, we are forever left with the inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence.

Yet when it comes to talk of things like "generational sin," sin that might be inherited from an ascendant relative other than Adam and Eve, many in the Church seem squeamish, for reasons I cannot quite fathom. We are quick enough to recognize the genetic and environmental components involved in sins like alcoholism, addiction, suicide, divorce, philandering, and sodomy, yet reticent to consider there may very well be a heritable spiritual component, as well, similar to Original Sin. We see how these sins and others seem to "run in families," yet we are slow to cut to the root cause: the generational sin that festers beneath the surface, affecting members of the family with its own special viral strain of concupiscence.

As one who has seen up-close-and-personal the effects that my personal sin have on my children, I have no trouble in ceding this point. What person hasn't seen the far-encompassing consequences of their own or another family member's sin and how that sin impacts generations to come? How many families have been irrevocably changed for all future generations due to sins like murder, divorce, contraception, and abortion? How many families have seen these same tragedies repeated over and over, generation after generation?

While we cannot change the past and have no control over others or their response to these tragedies, we can, we must, as mothers, do everything that is in our power to protect the innocence of our children from them. Though we (and our children) bear no personal guilt for the sins of others, like with Original Sin and the concupiscence that remains, we owe it to ourselves and our families to deeply examine our consciences and to renounce, ideally with the help of a spiritual director and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, all personal sin and to pray for healing of our own wounds and those in our family trees.

Note, however, that the 1st Commandment of Mother Love goes well beyond admonishing the mother-to-be against actual sin that could harm her unborn child, but warns her to keep even her thoughts and affections united closely to God. We confess in the Confiteor at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass "that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." We firmly resolve in our Act of Contrition after every sacramental confession to "sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin."

If we truly wish to by holy, Christian mothers and to raise holy, Christian children, then rooting out actual sin is the bare minimum. We must instead pray to the Holy Spirit for purity of heart, that all our thoughts and affections be rightly ordered, and we must trust that to the extent we align even these with His Divine Will, they, too, will be passed along to our children. Like Original Sin and generational sin, holiness and virtue can also be “passed down,” and what a powerful opportunity for the mother-to-be to turn what would have been generational sin into generational virtue!

While I believe, as Mother Love states, the ideal is to root out all sin and inclination to sin as best as you can before pregnancy, those of us, like myself, who fail to discover the wisdom of Mother Love before having children need not despair. The Lord will restore the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25-26), and while sin corrupts, holiness heals. We see this over and over again in the New Testament: when Jesus touches the leper, it is the leper who becomes clean, rather than Jesus becoming unclean. When the hemorrhagic woman touches the tassel of Jesus' cloak, He does not become defiled, and she, instead, is instantly healed. The bonds of motherhood transcend the temporal, and while we may no longer nourish our children in our wombs, we continue to nourish them in our hearts and prayers. May it be so with each of us and in our own families.

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