Behold Your Mother

By Sister M. Emily Kenkel

Recently, I heard a story about a little fruit tree on our property in Puerto Rico. The sapling had taken root in a protected niche behind the house of our sisters, who had the joy of watching it grow year by year. It became a beautiful tree – wonderfully straight and with a picture-perfect crown, soon tall enough to peek above the buildings that had kept it hidden.

The summer that the now not-so-little tree produced its first fruits, a hurricane passed by close to the island – and when the storm had passed, the sisters found their beautiful tree lying flat on the ground, completely uprooted. What was interesting to behold was the fact that the roots of the tree were no bigger than a little ball of soil at the base of the trunk. The large, beautiful tree had never developed strong, deep roots because it had never been challenged to stand against wind and storms. It knew no trials, no struggles, and ultimately, no strength that comes from persevering in sacrifice.


During this time of Lent, we are preparing to commemorate the climax of the Church year, the celebration of the greatest sacrifice of love in salvation history: the passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As he walked his way to Calvary and was “lifted up from the earth” (John 12:32) on the cross, Mary remained faithfully at his side, offering the sacrifice of her own heart in perfect union with him. She stood under his cross. And from the cross, Jesus gave his beloved Mother to us: “Behold, your Mother” (John 19:27). The Blessed Mother became our spiritual mother, taking us into her maternal care and accepting with great love the task of walking with us on the way to heaven. She could give of herself in unconditional motherly love because the trials of life had made her heart wide and strong. How? What was her secret?


Here’s where the image of the little tree comes in. Her secret is the same secret that lies hidden from our eyes in the symbol of a tree: its roots. Father Kentenich liked to use the image of a tree to describe the essence of true womanhood. He called it the tree of womanly greatness – a greatness to which each of us is called by God, no matter what specific vocation we have in life. He compared the roots of the tree to childlikeness – a profound security in the love of God the Father that becomes ever deeper the more we learn to believe in his love, to trust in him, to depend on him, to surrender to him, and to seek to give him joy.

As our founder described, the deep roots of childlikeness enable us to form the strong trunk of selfless, motherly love. Only when we are secure as children of the Father can we mature and become capable of giving ourselves for others. At the same time, each trial, each struggle, and each sacrifice of self-giving love that is asked of us strengthens and deepens our childlikeness when we hold firm to the Father’s hand.

Finally, for Father Kentenich, the tree’s crown symbolizes an intuitive vision of the truth, a wisdom that only comes from nearness to God. When our heart is in order, we can see God’s will clearly without becoming confused by self-centered emotions, attitudes, and desires. In this way, a woman also becomes transparent – others can see God in and through her. She creates a little atmosphere of heaven around herself: an atmosphere of light, love, and truth.

All of this together makes up the beauty of our God-given womanly nature and the task God has given us for our world – to serve others, to uplift others, and to lead others to him. Whether we are called to the married life, the single life, or the consecrated life, each one of us is asked to unfold the beauty of womanhood in childlikeness, motherliness, and transparent purity.