Last Friday, I had the joy and privilege of celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for the Friends of the Sisters of Life.

As their website (www.sisters­oflife.org) tells us, the Sisters of Life are both a contemplative and an active religious community of women founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John O'Connor, archbishop of New York, for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life.

Like all religious communities, the sisters take the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are also consecrated under a special, fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of all human life.

To be among these women, who themselves have powerful and moving stories to tell from their own life journeys, is to experience firsthand the "joy of the Gospel" of which Pope Francis often speaks. Most of them have sacrificed the gift of natural motherhood in order to enable and care for those who, without their nurture, might not have otherwise accepted that gift themselves.

They have chosen to be the spiritual mothers that others might never have had, without whom many would never be welcomed into the world.

Our culture today loudly encourages women -- indeed, proclaims it a right -- to forsake motherhood for other pursuits, even if that means ending the lives of their unborn children. Then it cruelly abandons women to face alone whatever the consequences of their "choice" might be.

In reality, it is hardly a free choice and, therefore, not a human one. All too few resources are devoted to supporting women in vulnerable socioeconomic circumstances or unstable relationships who do not want to deprive themselves or their children of life and the gift of motherhood.

The Sisters of Life -- and, no doubt, others often unknown who emulate their love and sacrifice -- offer sustenance, safe space and friendship to women who might otherwise have chosen to stop the lives of their unborn children. Their experience reveals time and again how few women would ever make the choice to kill if they knew such love and support were present and could be relied on.

This weekend, we celebrate Mother's Day. It is a time to show our love and respect for those women in our lives who may not only have given us the gift of earthly existence, but also nurturing and "soul care," with great patience and self-sacrifice.

Mothers and stepmothers, friends and religious, godparents and grandparents -- how many grandmothers today should we celebrate for sharing the gift of their motherhood not only once, but into other generations! -- have reached deeply into their hearts and souls to find their true identity as women, bearers and nurturers of the Gospel of life!

Often, the daily, gratuitous acts of a mother's love have been taken for granted. Many tears are shed after a mother or grandmother has died. Their progeny may gather from afar at a funeral rite, hoping all too late to find, in long eulogies, expressions of overdue gratitude seldom spoken or heard in life.

May this be a day -- while there is still time -- not only for cards, flowers and dinner checks, but also to share the intimate embrace of thanksgiving, heart to heart and face to face.

As we gather for our Sunday Eucharist, we also remember "those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith:" our mothers for whom and perhaps even to whom we may pray.

Most of all, we pray in thanksgiving to our Blessed Mother Mary, thanking God and her each day for her profound gift of motherhood, through which the world received its Savior. In honoring the gift of Mary's motherhood, we praise the Lord of all creation, who chose to redeem us through the will of a woman who said "yes" to life itself.

May Mary's holy motherhood inspire us all to honor, treasure and protect the gift of motherhood in its many beautiful expressions.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)