Friday, May 12, 2017

The Meaning of Motherhood

Dear Friends,

Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture: those who, in unity with the Holy Spirit, nudge, inspire, heal, encourage and return our cherished ones to God. Mothers and others who nurture are worthy of being celebrated for all they are, do and represent. We are forever connected with our mothers, though our relationships with them are psychologically complex and spiritually challenging. Some have pushed us hard or perhaps left us to fend for ourselves. But the connection remains. Not all mothers are perfect, though some are nearly so. One child, when asked what would make her mother perfect, replied “I would like her to get rid of those invisible eyes at the back of her head.”

In many ways, Mother’s Day stops at being a sentimental day of giving flowers, cards and gifts. Then it is Monday, and all is back to normal. But anyone who says negative things about Mother’s Day, itself, risks the annoyance of people for whom this day is an important gesture of reverence for the one who bore them. Writers about Mother’s Day walk a fine line between praise of the day and the women, and saying hard things about the need to reclaim and indeed, find new depths in the ongoing meaning of mothers in our fast-paced “I’ll think about that later” world.

Motherhood, in one form or another, is in the news more often than we realize. A week ago, Pope Francis gave a talk to Italian high school students who study in a school dedicated to peace. In his talk, Pope Francis decried the misuse of the term “mother.” “I am ashamed by the name of a bomb – the mother of all bombs. Look, a mother gives life, but this brings death! And this is what we casually call this bomb?  What on earth is happening here?” The word “mother” is not always used in respectful terms.

Another news item last week was the story of more of the Nigerian Chibok girls released from captivity by the Boko Haram. As the camera panned over the girls, the reporter noted that many mothers were crying for joy because their daughters were returned. But not all mothers wept with joy because their daughters were still among the missing. Mothers move between heartache and joy in their lives.

Today’s mothers of infants through teens juggle work and home. Changing cultural values make it important, indeed necessary for women to rethink, reinterpret, articulate and reclaim the meaning of motherhood. Women who have strong roots in their religious traditions are called to understand, uphold and live by the richness of their faith, as they live public/civic and domestic lives.

Catholic Christians have long had a devotion to Mary, the God-Bearer and our Mother. My friend’s Italian grandmother prayed to Mary as an “earth mother” who knew birth, human work, human delight and death. Mary is mother, sister, icon, friend to all who welcome her strong but gentle presence.

And then there is Jesus, described by St. Anselm in the late 11thcentury, “And you, Jesus, are you not also a mother? Are you not the mother who, like a hen, gathers her chicks under her wings? Truly Lord, You are our mother…”                                    

Thank God we are never done with mothers.

~ Sister Joan Sobala