On my way to board a plane in Milwaukee’s airport, I recently noticed a “Lactation Station.” Although this enclosed “container” had a happy face painted on the outside, it seemed a most uninviting place to nurse a baby.
I was reminded that when Pope Francis baptized 33 infants in the Sistine Chapel last January, he departed from his homily to speak directly to the mothers of crying babies: “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them; don't worry.” He asked them to remember poor mothers around the world who can’t give food to their children.
In a later homily, given on the feast of Sts. Titus and Timothy, he reflected on how mothers and grandmothers nurtured the faith in these saints. Today, women remain the primary nurturers of faith in us all. Why women? As did Sts. Francis and Clare, Pope Francis acknowledged the extraordinary role of Mary, an ordinary woman who said yes to an angel, gave birth to Jesus, and nurtured this infant at her breast in the lowliest of places where farm animals feed—in a manger.
I recalled the unease some people experience when viewing a 14th century fresco in Greccio of Mary nursing baby Jesus. It is one of the earliest depictions of God’s humanity, an infant dependent on his mother’s milk. Anatomically incorrect, the breast is located on the side of Mary’s neck, allowing her to remain fully dressed. Looking at the “Lactation Station” in Milwaukee’s airport, I wondered how far we have progressed in the 21st century.
Are we not all called to be “mothers” in passing on the faith? Indeed, we are called to nurture faith in each other, especially the poor, not in uninviting “containers,” but openly and without shame.
Sister Joanna is a contributor to St. Anthony Messenger.