Long before there was Mother’s Day, there were mothers, every day of the year, year in and year out.
Every now and again, newspapers feature a photo of four generations of women. The handing over of life one to another in love.
The now deceased Fr. Emmett Halloran’s mother died birthing him. Eventually, Emmett’s dad gave him a new mother when he married a second time. I wonder, though, if the memory of his mother dying in birthing him was a seed of Emmett’s priestly vocation – a different way of handing over life one to another.
Our society talks about birth mothers, natural mothers, foster and stepmothers, single mothers, the women and men who have never given birth but who nurture individual life and groups of people. Jean Vanier died earlier this month. He is the founder of the L’Arche community movement, where ordinary people live with the disabled in community. The motherhood of Jean Vanier and his life-sustaining network. .
What we celebrate today is the motherhood of all nurturers: the motherhood of many, including the motherhood of Mary and the motherhood of God. There hasn’t been a time in Christian history that people have not been stirred to honor Mary, Theotokos, as she is called in Greek, the Mother of God. And when, on the cross, Jesus gave Mary to John, Jesus gave Mary to all of us as mother.
Some groups in Christian history have made her equal to God, but she is not. Mary is, however, the first disciple of Jesus, our friend, companion and the model of how to say yes to God and be faithful to that yes.
And then there is the motherhood of God. The medieval theologians St. Anselm and St. Hildegard of Bingen, and the too-short-lived Pope John Paul I wrote and spoke of Jesus our Mother and God our Mother.
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Himself as a mother hen, gathering her brood (Mt. 23.37, Lk. 13.34). And in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21.4) God is a comforting Mother, wiping away the tears from every eye, as we recall our own mothers doing.
The mothering qualities we treasure – steadfast love, generosity, openheartedness – are first of all found in God.
So on this Mother’s Day, when we think of Christ’s message of abundant love, as we speak the names of all the mothers we have known, let’s commit ourselves to that same kind of love – love that is active, strong, inclusive and unending.
To borrow from Pope Francis, “A world without mothers would be inhuman, because mothers always know how to give witness, even in the worst of times to tenderness, dedication and moral strength.”
~Sister Joan Sobala