Catholicism Culture Homemaking Liturgical Living Motherhood Vocation Women

Christ the Pelican

Photo by Max Lafontaine from Pexels

At our parish, we have a beautiful carving of a pelican feeding her own blood to her starving children etched into the altar before Mary that flanks the sanctuary.

I remember the first time I noticed it— unsure though I was of what it represented, I felt drawn to the image.

I’ve since learned that this imagery is a reference to a legend that actually predates Christianity, but was adopted by Christians as an allegory to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross– His total gift of self for the nourishment of God’s children. In this ancient legend, during a time of famine, a mother pelican rips open her breast with her beak to to feed her young with the blood that pours out to nourish her starving children.

It’s beautifully Eucharistic in its imagery as well.

As mothers, we can identify with the legend of the pelican. It’s in our nature to give until it hurts for the sake of our children. Blood. Sweat. Tears…. many many tears sometimes.

For most of my life, the sufferings of motherhood have never seemed to me to be as heroic as the kinds of sufferings that so many of the Saints I’ve read about experienced.

I have had so many times in my life where I would pray to the Lord saying, “I want to sacrifice heroically for you! How can I suffer more for you?” and one day I realized, I wasn’t suffering well at all with the daily and usually menial sufferings that naturally come with raising children. It was almost as if I was asking, “Lord, I want to suffer for you– just not *that* suffering. I don’t want to do *that*… anything but THAT!” because in my mind, *that* (insert here whatever comes with being a mother ha!) wasn’t enough.

For most of my life, the sufferings of motherhood never seemed to me to be as heroic as the kinds of sufferings that so many of the Saints I’ve read about experienced.

Ultimately I realized, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I was being proud. Wishing to flagellate myself for… for what? Was it for myself so I could say or think that I was doing such a great job of growing in holiness? Or was it really for God?

It’s laughable to say to the Lord, “I know what type of suffering I should endure for your sake better than you. Give me something different.”

The legend of the pelican is a reminder to me of how I, as a mother, am called to be like Christ. I have so much work to do– even as I write this, my two year old is vying for my attention, and I am so attached to what I am doing that I’m resisting her. Admittedly, I find it difficult to strike the balance between getting things done around the house and meeting my children’s emotional needs without stunting their ability to learn how to problem solve and cope with situations and emotions on their own.

As we rapidly approach the end of Lent– a season of penance and denial, and a season in which I usually utterly fail in my sacrifices– I’m hoping to end strongly using the legend of the pelican as my inspiration and guide.

Prayer to Jesus Crucified

Lord Jesus Christ, I thank You, who laid down your life for me so meekly.
You bore the nails so patiently,
You were raised upon the cross so mercilessly,
You hung there so painfully,
You wept so bitterly,
You cried aloud piercingly,
You shed your blood plentifully, and for me, a sinner, You suffered death unquestionably.

Now, Lord Jesus Christ, I commend myself to your love,
to the power of your passion, to the depths of your endless mercy.

Jesus Christ, in your immeasurable pity,
keep alive within me the memory of your bitter death, of your holy wounds,
so that in sickness and in health, I may remember you mercy.

Gentle Jesus, defend me from all danger,
and keep me so that I may stand before You in joy.
Defend my soul, Lord Jesus Christ,
which You have bought with your precious blood.


*I found this beautiful prayer here.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *