Today’s Gospel recounts the familiar story of Jesus’s temptations in the desert. Chief among the temptations is the devil’s appeal to give him power over the kingdoms of the world – that he may find glory, honor, and power in this world alone. It is a great temptation. Jesus rejects Satan’s offer, and instead accepts what otherwise seems to be an absurd choice: to follow a road that leads to a cross. Jesus accepts the Father’s mission for him, even when he knows it will lead to great suffering. The secret to his acceptance is his trust in the Father’s plan – that the cross is not an end in itself; it leads to new life, the true glory of Easter.
A woman is often faced with a similar temptation – to think that her greatest worth is found in being recognized out there “in the world” by the standards that the world regards as successful. Like Jesus, a wife and mother of a family has also accepted what to many others seems to be an absurd choice: to follow a road hidden away in the sanctuary of the home, where there will be plenty of frustrating moments and little recognition or glory. How many times have others seen me and my kids at the grocery store and sighed, “You’ve got your hands full. Are you done having kids?” I think to myself, I don’t even need a religious habit to stand out. I’ve got the way of motherhood!
Yet Jesus himself looked with great favor upon a mother’s sacrifice, since he explicitly tied the meaning of his own cross to the great dignity of being a mother. On the eve of his passion he said to his disciples: “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (Jn 16:21-22). He compares his own “hour” to her “hour” of childbirth. In the crucifixion, Jesus is pierced with a lance, and blood and water flow from his side. This sign reveals that, in what seems like a moment of defeat, he is actually truly glorious, for he is the true temple of God, and his sacrifice of love brings unimaginable life.
So, too, for a mother. There is no natural sign in creation other than childbirth where blood and water are shed for new life. St. Pope John Paul II has thus affirmed that “there is a certain link between the woman’s motherhood and the paschal mystery.” God fashioned the body of a woman so that her motherhood would always contain a trace of his Son’s supreme act of love. She is the only temple in creation, since God “overshadows” her womb to bring forth life. Her womb becomes a holy of holies where God’s creative presence resides, hidden from earthly eyes.
If the way of motherhood at times resembles the cross, if a mother feels the sting of her “absurd” choice to abandon the ways of the world to be united with Jesus, it is because he means to bring about an entirely new kind of glory through her hidden love – the glory of bringing souls to the Father.