A Church with a mother’s brain

30 May 2020

Maternity causes a neuronal explosion and equips the brain with new abilities. It seems that mother nature prepares mothers biologically to respond to emergencies and protect life. For example, a mouse that has given birth is more capable of confronting danger, managing stress and finding the exit from a maze than a virgin mouse. The interesting thing is that these traits also develop in females of other species which adopt cubs without having given birth to them. The activity of caring generates neurological changes. In our world, the fact that someone is born a woman does not mean being born a mother. One becomes a mother with a transformation of the female identity, which - writes Giulia Paola Di Nicola in Il linguaggio della madre [A Mother’s Language] (Città Nuova) - passes “from being for oneself to being for the other”. This decentralization is no longer an adaptation regulated by instinct, for it is a transformation which engages freedom, a real labor; yet it does not always occur. There are women with children who perhaps do not have a “maternal brain”, and women mothers who do not have biological children. The maternal brain is creative when it comes to finding ways to care for another, to multiply strengths, knowing how to risk and sacrifice the self, and reacts creatively to emergencies. In this issue of Women, Church, World we tell the stories of women with a mother’s intelligence. In this issue, we tell the stories of brave and resilient women who are capable of being on the front line in contexts of war, epidemic, hunger, poverty, and trafficking. These are women who are on every existential periphery, and who challenge preconceived patterns, giving life while giving their lives. These women embody the face of the Mother Church, who have been called to develop a “maternal brain”, to become a “mother with an open heart” (Evangelii gaudium 46), oriented towards the poor and marginalized (ibid., 48). A Mother Church is an “outgoing” Church which does not fall back on her own security and overcomes any temptation of self-defensive rigidity (ibid. 45); closing herself in a tangle of obsessions, procedures or structures (ibid. 49). A Mother Church is “decentralized”. It knows how to go out into the streets without looking at itself, without fear of being roughed up, hurt or dirty; and, it does not remain calm as long as it has only one child without a perspective of life. The women in this issue awaken the maternal brain of the Church and propose by their example and their words that everyone - men and women of all faiths and creeds - adopt it and make it their own. The emergency is a good opportunity to go beyond oneself and meet the other.

Marta Rodriguez