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M-Day Notes

Saturday, May 11, 2013
Spiritual mothers are mothers, too.
Ooh la la. I was scrolling through the internet wondering what I was going to write about today, and my eye fell upon a "Great Gifts for Mother's Day" headline. We've already had Mother's Day in the UK, but I know what lies before my single-never-had-kids readers in Canada and the USA (and Australia and New Zealand, as I just found out) tomorrow, so obviously I must write on the great M Day.

One of the problems with priests playing around with the Mass as if it were their very own Sunday school art project is that sometimes they add stuff that is liturgically and pastorally divisive and dumb. Dividing the women-with-kids from the women-without-kids by getting the women-with-kids to stand up and be applauded surprises and hurts many women-without-kids like a slap in the face. I mean, really, the next time that happens, have a look around at the faces of the women who are still seated. I don't mean the teenage girls, clapping for their mom with either sincere or pasted on smiles. I mean the women who go to Mass alone or with another Single woman or who just suddenly sag against their husbands in their pews.

This is not to say that mothers do not deserve our respect and honour. They very usually do, particularly from their own children, and the children's fathers, and from such teachers and coaches who find their children a delight to work with. Just by being mothers, they have done something important for the community, and I have no problem with the commercial, public recognition of Mother's Day. Let the flower shops and the restaurants and the card shops and the media and the state go nuts. Mothers do so much for their families, let their families give something back, I say.

But I think separating women-with-children from women-without-children at Mass in that very public yet intimate way is a bit too much like separating the sheep from the goats. Despite modern liturgists' impassioned attempts to rob any worshipper from quiet time to pray privately in silence or with any other emotion but social cheer, many of the Single women present will have dared to pray, on Mother's Day, about their own hope for children, or despair that they might not have any. It's not so great, after wiping away tears of longing after communion, to suddenly have to paste on a smile and clap for the women God has blessed with kids.

On Mother's Day, the childless need special sensitivity. I go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, so the newfangled "Hey, let's clap for the MOMS" ritual never occurs on our British Mothering Sunday. That did not prevent me from being a bit crabby and melancholy on Mothering Sunday anyway, especially when we launched into a hymn about Mary, Our Mother at the end, to which I did not know the words. However, just as I was feeling super-crabby, another childless woman (a Single one)  got out of her pew and came to my pew to share her hymn sheet with me. That was a very kind and motherly thing to do, which brings me to my next point.

Blessed John Paul II, strongly influenced by the writings of Saint Edith Stein (aka Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), stated that all woman are called to be mothers. Some of us are called to be physical mothers, and others are called to be spiritual mothers. Some people read in this a married/religious dichotomy, but I think the truth is that all women are called to be motherly. Some of us are naturals at this, and some of us aren't, but we can learn.

And because all women are called to be mothers, Mother's Day should apply to all women. In fact, a super-lefty priest I once knew, whose theology was wonky but whose pastoral sensibilities were fantastic, used to call Mother's Day "Women's Day", and would direct the ushers to hand out flowers to every woman who walked into the church. Any American or Canadian priest who wants to do fun, creative, empowering, inclusive stuff at Mass tomorrow, take note.

It goes without saying that I think families should celebrate their mothers to the hilt on Mother's Day, either in the privacy of their own homes or in the limelight of a snazzy restaurant. Every childless Canadian or American woman whose mother is still alive and in the picture can alleviate feelings of exclusion by concentrating on her mother. If you love the woman and she's within a drive, go and see her. If you don't, or she isn't, send her flowers. What the hey. She gave birth to you, and last time I checked, the Fourth Commandment was still "Honour your father and your mother."

But you can do something else, too. You can honour the spiritual mothers in your life. You can send a present or former female mentor an email. You can do a little reading about your favourite female saints. You can pick a few flowers and make a special bouquet to place in front of your icon or statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can read Saint Edith Stein's Essays on Women. You can send faraway  nephews and nieces (if you have some) postcards, so that they (A) have the fun of getting something in the post and (B) remember your existence with fondness.

I have a fantasy that one day all women will stand when Father Creative-and-Inclusive asks the mothers to stand. All across the USA and Canada, from the Arctic Circle to Tijuana, from Newfoundland to Hawaii, every Catholic woman of child-bearing age, teenagers, Singles, wives, widows, nuns, virgins, ex-virgins, consecrated virgins, standing together in solidarity as mothers, physical and/or spiritual.

On the other hand, I can't stand it when people hijack the liturgy to make points. Better to write the priest a little note afterwards, saying that he made you cry (if he did) and to ask that next year he honour the gifts of the spiritual mothers, too (if he didn't this year). That'll larn 'im.  

My prayer for Mother's Day is that all the priests who decide to talk about mothers, talk about spiritual motherhood, too. Oh, and maybe to acknowledge the hurt of those terribly hurt by their own mothers, or by their own children. Honestly, a little bit of reference to the dark side of life won't shock anybody. There's a crucifix on the front wall.

Update: Thanks to B.S. for the Mother's Day present/donation. Much appreciated!