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As both a mother and an academic, the month of May bears a special significance to my vocation. It is, of course, the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day, but it is also a month devoted to Mary, the Mother of God. Mary was not only a good mother: she can also rightly be called the first contemplative, the first theologian, who upon hearing the revelation of Christ, “pondered all these things in her heart.”
Although there are significant challenges in engaging in contemplative work amidst the vita activa of domestic life — as Thomas Aquinas puts it, “the contemplative life . . . is most greatly impeded by marriage” — blending academia and motherhood has its consolations. I have found that the virtues cultivated by motherhood provide a corrective to the intellectual temptation to forget that one is an embodied soul, while time spent seeking wisdom, considering the nature of reality and how one ought to conduct oneself within it, reminds one of the eternal significance of domestic life.
The daily activities of a mother are particularly suited to cultivating the cardinal virtues, for they require bringing one’s (and one’s children’s) passions under the rule of reason. Managing disputes over toys brings to mind the principles of justice; portioning out cheerios, temperance; deciding whether we should go to the park, prudence; enduring sleepless nights, fortitude.
Through these daily tasks, I am reminded that, like my children, I am an embodied person. I see my children’s needs for nourishment, for play, for rest, for friendship, for parental love, for knowing reality, and I am reminded that I need each of these things too. I am reminded that I need to cultivate an ordered and temperate life. I am reminded to seek the measure of my actions as I set the measure for my household. Each little task of domestic life is a constant reminder that one’s time is not one’s own, that we are all called to “redeem the time” by keeping the true end in sight.
Likewise, academic pursuits may cultivate the intellectual virtues of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, which bring the rest of reality into focus. Understanding and knowledge allow one to grasp first principles, thereby forming a multiplicity of truths within a particular discipline into an orderly whole. Wisdom allows one to grasp the first principles of reality itself, by means of which everything we know about reality can be seen as a coherent unity. Those who possess wisdom possess the ability to see reality as it is seen by God.
Those who pursue wisdom seek to “touch, even remotely, the core of all things, the hidden, ultimate reason of the living universe, the divine foundation of all that is, the purest form of all archetypes… [to] behold the very essence of reality.” Although one may seek wisdom through many activities — leisure, art, religion, friendship, and festivity — I have found philosophical pursuits, those that are, quite literally, guided by a love of wisdom, to be particularly helpful in seeing the significance of daily domestic tasks. Guided by a deeper vision of reality, I see how each seemingly little, repetitive act of love creates a shelter in which souls can unfold.
 Luke 2:19
 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
 Eph. 5:16
 Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings, 23.
 Edith Stein, The Collected Works of Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta, 119.