Motherhood is God's Special Gift
H.H. Pope John Paul II
March 6, 1996
is a gift of God. "I have gotten a man with the help of the
Lord!" (Gn 4: 1), Eve exclaims after giving birth to Cain,
her first-born son. With these words, the Book of Genesis
presents the first motherhood in human history as a grace
and joy that spring from the Creator's goodness.
2. The birth
of Isaac is similarly described, at the origin of the chosen
Abraham, who has been deprived of children and is now
advanced in years, descendants as numerous as the stars of
heaven (cf Gn 15:5). The promise is welcomed by the
patriarch with the faith that reveals God's plan to this
man: "He believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as
righteousness" (Gn 15: 6).
was confirmed in the words spoken by the Lord on the
occasion of the covenant he made with Abraham: "Behold, my
covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a
multitude of nations" (Gn 17:4).
and mysterious events emphasize how Sarah's motherhood was
primarily the fruit of the mercy of God, who gives life
beyond all human expectation: "I will bless her, and
moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and
she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall
come from her" (Gn 17:15-16).
presented as a decisive gift of the Lord. The patriarch and
his wife will be given a new name to indicate the unexpected
and marvellous transformation that God is to work in their
gladdens with the gift of motherhood
3. The visit
of the three mysterious persons, whom the Fathers of the
Church interpreted as a prefiguration of the Trinity,
announced the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham more
explictly: "The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre,
as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He
lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood
in front of him" (Gn 18:1-2). Abraham objected: "Shall a
child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall
Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" (Gn 17:17;
cf. 18:11-13). The divine guest replies: "Is anything too
hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to
you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son"
(Gn 18:14; cf. Lk 1:37).
stresses the effect of the divine visit, which makes
fruitful a conjugal union that had been barren until then.
Believing in the promise, Abraham becomes a father against
all hope, and "father in the faith" because from his faith
"descends" that of the chosen people.
4. The Bible
relates other stories of women released from sterility and
gladdened by the Lord with the gift of motherhood. These are
often situations of anguish, which God's intervention
transforms into experiences of joy by receiving the
heartfelt prayers of those who are humanly without hope.
"When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children", for
example, "she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob,
'Give me children, or I shall die!'. Jacob's anger was
kindled against Rachel, and he said, 'Am I in the place of
God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?'" (Gn
biblical text immediately adds: "Then God remembered Rachel,
and God hearkened to her and opened her womb. She conceived
and bore a son" (Gn 30:22-23). This son, Joseph, would play
a very important role for Israel at the time of the
migration to Egypt.
In this as in
other narratives, the Bible intends to highlight the
marvellous nature of God's intervention in these specific
cases by stressing the initial condition of the woman's
sterility; however, at the same time, it allows us to grasp
the gratuitousness inherent in all motherhood.
5. We find a
similar process in the account of the birth of Samson. The
wife of Manoah, who had never been able to conceive a child,
hears the Lord's announcement from the angel: "Behold, you
are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and
bear a son" (Jgs 13:3). The conception, unexpected and
miraculous, announces the great things that the Lord will do
In the case
of Hannah, Samson's mother, the special role of prayer is
underlined. Hannah suffers the humiliation of being barren
but she is full of great trust in God, to whom she turns
insistently, that he may help her to overcome this trial.
One day, at the temple, she makes a vow: "Oh Lord of hosts,
if you will indeed look on the affliction of your
maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your
maidservant, but will give to your maidservant a son, then I
will give him to the Lord all the days of his life" (1 Sm 1:
was answered: "The Lord remembered her" and "Hannah
conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel" (1
Sm 1:19-20). Keeping her promise, Hannah offered her son to
the Lord: "For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted
me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent
him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the
Lord" ((1 Sm. 1:27-28). Given by God to Hannah and then
given by Hannah to God, the little Samuel becomes a living
bond of communion between Hannah and God.
birth is thus an experience of joy and an occasion for
thanksgiving. The First Book of Samuel contains a hymn known
as Hannah's Magnificat, which seems to
anticipate Mary's: "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength
is exalted in the Lord" (I Sm 2: 1).
The grace of
motherhood that God granted to Hannah because of her
ceaseless prayers filled her with a new generosity. Samuel's
consecration is the grateful response of a mother who,
recognizing in her child the fruit of God's mercy, returns
his gift, entrusting the child she had so longed for to the
intervenes in important moments
6. In the
accounts of miraculous motherhood which we have recalled, it
is easy to discover the important place the Bible assigns to
mothers in the mission of their sons. In Samuel's case,
Hannah has a determining role in deciding to give him to the
Lord. An equally decisive role is played by another mother,
Rebecca, who procures the inheritance for Jacob (Gn 27).
That maternal intervention, described by the Bible, can be
interpreted as the sign of being chosen as an instrument in
God's sovereign plan. It is he who chooses the youngest son,
Jacob, to receive the paternal blessing and inheritance, and
therefore as the shepherd and leader of his people.... It is
he who by a free and wise decision, determines and governs
each one's destiny (Wis 10:10-12).
message regarding motherhood reveals important and ever
timely aspects: indeed, it sheds light on the dimension of
gratuitousness, which is especially apparent in the case of
barren women, God's particular covenant with woman and the
special bond between the destiny of the mother and that of
At the same
time, the intervention of God, who, at important moments in
the history of his people, causes certain barren women to
conceive, prepares for belief in the intervention of God
who, in the fullness of time, will make a Virgin fruitful
for the Incarnation of his Son.
Weekly Edition in English
13 March 1996
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