There was some quiet chuckling in the monastery at some alleged remarks of Pope Francis which you can read here: http://bit.ly/14bxA73. The chances are that the pope has been quoted slightly out of context or mistranslated (some things sound fine in Italian but are rather limp in English) or otherwise ill-served by his reporters, but the contrast he apparently drew, between spiritual mothers and old maids, was always going to ignite a few fires. In the U.S.A. they seem to have gone down as well as the proverbial lead balloon — except among laity who have ‘issues’ with American sisters.
I have met a few nuns and sisters for whom the concept of spiritual motherhood is valuable and helpful; I have never yet met any who desired to be a spiritual old maid; most simply don’t think of themselves in those terms at all (and, though I’ll disappoint some readers by saying it, very few of my acquaintance have ever taken the Bride of Christ image to themselves, seeing it more accurately as a reflection of our theological understanding of the Church as a whole). We are just nuns or just sisters, responding to a call from God as best we can. Where that call takes us, what it demands of us, is part of the journey of faith and obedience each of us must make.
Such simplicity of understanding may seem wanting, but I think it is actually very important. Religious life for women is often circumscribed by rules and regulations which can get in the way of taking to heart the enormity of what is asked of us: a life TOTALLY centred on Christ. The vows we make, the renunciations we undertake, have only one end in view, to deepen our relationship with Christ, a relationship at once deeply personal yet at the same time always ecclesial.
On this feast of the Holy Abbots of Cluny, it is good to remember that the life of each us should glorify God; and it can only do that insofar as we take on the shape and form of our vocation, whatever it may be. Spiritual mothers v. old maids? I don’t think so. Forgive my chuckles, Pope Francis, but I think it might be more fruitful to think in terms of child of God v. child of the devil.