By Deacon Keith Fournier
It is Mothers Day.
However, some special day to honor mothers and mothering is a part of every major tradition, culture and Nation. That is because we know instinctively the wonder, miracle and gift of mothers and mothering. They carry us in their wombs, the first home of the whole human race. They offer us to the family, and the whole world.
They gave us life and birthed us into the network of relationships which gives that life meaning, the family. They taught and nurtured us on the way, by offering wisdom, example and practical experience. They picked us up when we fell and unconditionally loved us back when we strayed.
There is no-one like a mother, no substitute for her place, no equal to her love and placement in our own formation. Mothering is an ongoing relationship of love and care.
That is why, the more ancient roots of the celebration called it mothering Sunday. In fact, in much of Europe, mothering Sunday is still celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. People not only honor their mothers but return to visit their mother Church that day. It is called mothering Sunday - indicating the truth that mothering is active and continuing.
In Ethiopia and some other Eastern oriental orthodox churches, the celebration of such a mother's day is tied to the celebration of St Mary's Birthday, which is kept on May 1, and honors the Mother of the Lord and all Mothers who participate in the mystery and beauty of mothering.
Throughout the Nation today, florists are on high alert. Sherries Berries and other talented Marketing mavens have the greatest day of their business year. Restaurants are booked, some years in advance. Our hearts and minds all turn to the woman who gave us life and showed us the beauty of steadfast love throughout our entire lives.
And, yes, tears of love and memory are shed, revealing the power of love to conquer death.
This is the second Mothers Day I have faced without a mother on earth. On Tuesday, March 4, 2013, my beloved mother Ellen died in her sleep. She had struggled for months as her aging body ran out of steam. She never fully recovered from the loss of the love of her life, her husband and my father, Duval who died in 2001. She died the day after his birthday.
I remember her last question to me the day before when we spoke over the phone, "Keith, when can I go home?" She barely had the strength to speak. Her body was unable to support her on legs which simply seemed unwilling to cooperate any longer. It was so hard to hear her ask me when she could go home.
I knew she meant that the little cinder block house where she and my dad lived. The home where they raised Derek, my youngest brother who was born the year I left home. I also knew that was not the home to which she would go to when Love finally called her.
On the day before she died I told her on the phone that Laurine - my wife whom she loved as her own daughter - and I would be coming to visit with her again on Easter weekend. She took comfort in the thought.
Sadly, I knew her short term memory was not working well. I hoped she would remember. I was able to pray with her over the phone. I will forever remember that precious experience. I looked forward to the opportunity to hug her again, kiss her, and pray with her in person as I had done at Christmas.
Over the Christmas before she died, knowing she was nearing that final chapter of life, my whole extended family drove, from all over the country, to be with Ma, or Nana as the children and grandchildren called her.
I did not know how physically depleted she had become in her last illness before that last visit. After all, she always had that reassuring and happy voice, accompanied by that wonderful breathy laugh, whenever we spoke on the phone.
When we commended her to the Lord and placed her next to my father in final repose, the grief I felt was only slightly relieved by the sure and certain faith I have in the triumph of Love and the final Resurrection.
Yet, when I received the first of several well intended E mails on the days after her death - from friends encouraging me that she was in the presence of the Lord - which I believe with my whole heart- I discovered that the emotions surrounding her loss were still just below the surface, only too eager to erupt again.
Grief and love are companions. I often tell others in my work as a Deacon of the Catholic Church, that the depth of the grief is a sign of the depth of the love; another face of love. Today, I am speaking those words to myself. However, they do not take away the pain.
They only help to soften the ground within which they must be planted in order to bear the fruit which all love bears. Jesus said it so simply, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. " (John 12:24) It will take much more time and care from the Lord to give this loss the growth. I am profoundly sad today and I know the sting of death.
A priest friend captured the mystery and beauty of motherhood so well for me in the days after Ma's death when he wrote "Dear Deacon, she will be remembered today and I will offer a Holy Mass for her soon. I know the sting; it is unique with mother, our life bearer."
Mothers are life-bearers. I gave my dear wife of 38 years, Laurine, a mother's day card this morning. It was hard to even find the time to get one at the store! In the pace of watching our grandson this weekend - and then cleaning out the bedroom closet so our youngest son can return home after having suffered what he thinks is a setback on the road of life - I say thinks because age has taught me that such "setbacks" are usually corrections on the map of mercy - we had a very, very busy weekend.
She is such a good mother and grandmother. As we grow old together, that face of love becomes all the more wondrous to me. I love to watch her smile when she embraces our five grown children and six grandchildren. She gives expression to that love which Mother's alone can bring to each of us. It is irreplaceable.
Motherhood is a unique gift from the Lord. Jesus had a mother. Jesus HAS a mother. It is our mother who gave us life. He was born of a woman by Divine design. He called her Mother and entrusted her to us.
The Mother of the Lord continues to give us the gift of the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is her Son and Savior and she offers Him to us as the greatest gift of a mothers love. Jesus entrusted His Mother to us as one of His last gifts of love- before He embraced the world in His loving embrace from the tree on Calvary and began the new creation, His new family.
Mothering is a mystery which is caught up in the great mystery of God's loving plan for the whole world.
Each year on Mother's Day, as we express the gratitude we feel for our earthly mother, I am increasingly drawn to reflect on that last gift the Lord gave to us before his total gift of Himself on the Cross, the gift of His mother to be our own. May is the month dedicated to Mary, the Mother of the Lord. This is no coincidence.
Jesus called her Mother. As one of his last and greatest gifts to his beloved disciple and to the entire Church, he entrusted her with these tender words recorded in the Gospel of John: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son. Then he said to the disciple, Behold, your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26, 27)
Mary was there at the Incarnation, Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of God Incarnate. She was there throughout the often called hidden years in Nazareth. In the life of the Redeemer, every word and every act was redemptive, revealing the very life of God, the mystery of heaven touching earth, and the deeper purpose of our own lives. She was there in those moments whose impact is timeless. They are still as filled with the invitation of grace today as they were when they first occurred. She was - she is - Mother.
She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, which we will soon celebrate. She was there as the first evangelizer and disciple, as she gave the first Christian testimony to her cousin, Elizabeth, and won the first convert in utero in the person of John the Baptist. This event, traditionally called The Visitation, is recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke l: 39-45). We meditate upon it in the prayer called the Rosary.
That encounter immediately followed the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:6-38) and is one of the fruits of her humble obedient response. That response was not a onetime reaction. It was the fruit of a life of surrendered love and stretched forward to characterize her whole life on this earth and her participation in the eternal communion of Saints.
Her Fiat (Latin, let it be done), given in response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel, provides a way to live for each one of us. Mary said Yes to the invitation to love and she humbled herself. She confronted her own fears and she entered into a way of living. All of this in continued response to an original invitation of love, a gift, initiated by a loving God.
Through this response, she assumed a lifestyle of receiving and giving, she became a fruitful woman, a God-bearer or Mother of God (which in Greek is Theo-tokos). She brought forth the Incarnate Word of God! Her Yes, her humble surrender, reflected a trajectory of love. It is a prototype, a model, for the vocation of every Christian to bear the fruit of surrendered love in their lives as well.
There is a way of life and love that all men and women are invited into - not just once, but daily. It is the path to authentic peace and the portal to the very mystery of life itself. It is what Christian Scripture calls the more excellent way, the way of love. Mary understood and walked this way with extraordinary humility. (1 Cor. 12:31)
Mary, the mother of the Lord shows us all the pattern of human love surrendered to God's Love and finding its fulfillment. She also shows us the love of a mother made perfect, the biblical word means complete, in Jesus Christ.
Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this woman of great faith. In her yes they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own yes, their own fiat to hers.
Justin Martyr and other early Christian apologists found in her obedient yes to the angel, the undoing of the no - I will not serve - which had been given by the first woman Eve. They gave Mary such titles as The Second Eve, the mother of a new creation. In her womb she carried the One whom Scripture calls the New Adam.
He was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who would find a new birth through His Life, Death and Resurrection. In Him we are all made capable of giving our Yes to God. Through Grace we find the fullness of freedom that brings.
On this Mother's Day I will mourn the loss of my earthly mother Ellen and draw strength and hope in reflecting on Mary, the Mother of the Lord, my heavenly mother. I believe that the motherly love which my mother revealed so beautifully to me has now found its fulfillment. I know she is in the communion of love with the Mother of Jesus. I know she still prays for me.
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I will visit her mortal resting place in Mary, Queen of Heaven Mausoleum. But most importantly, I came here to this Holy Mass, to be in the company of others who seek to live their lives in love in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world. Here, where from the Holy Word proclaimed and the Holy Eucharist received, we can receive the grace, the Divine Life, we need to live our lives to the full.
That is because the Church is a mother as well. The fact that we call her "Holy Mother Church" is no accident. It reveals a beautiful mystery of the faith. The expression "Mother Church" is more than sentiment - and much more than piety, it is reality.
The Church is the bearer of life. She is mother and teacher. We are born again though the Waters of the Baptismal font, which the early Christians called a second womb. From the moment we enter those waters, we die with Christ and are raised to New Life in Him. We are baptized into Christ - and now live in Him, with one another, for the sake of the world.
Our Gospel today (John 10) presents us with Jesus, trying to bring across to his disciples the deeper meaning of the Christian life and His Role as the promised Good Shepherd.
The Jewish people longed for the coming of the Good Shepherd. In fact, the promise of the Lord had been given through Ezekiel that He would send them a good shepherd. You can read that promise in the 34th chapter of that Book in the Old Testament which bears his name.
However, his disciples did not get what he was saying the first time around. So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
Jesus Christ is the gate, the door into this new family called the Church. The language we use to describe the Church is of such great importance. We need to plant it in our hearts and live it in our daily lives. The Church is not, in the first instance, institutional or organizational - though she certainly is both. Rather the Church is relational.
One of the ways we understand the Role of the Church is as our Mother.
From our first centuries, Christians have referred to the Church as "Holy Mother Church" for good reason. One of so many of the writings of the early Fathers expressing this insight is from the Third Century Bishop of Carthage named Cyprian. This oft quoted line from his "On the Unity of the Church" is worthy of reflection today:
"He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ... nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church."
We recently celebrated the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II. Both men had a special understanding of the mystery revealed in the gift of the Church. I will end with the beginning of the encyclical letter of Saint John XXIII, entitled Mother and Teacher:
Mother and Teacher of all nations-such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation. She is "the pillar and ground of the truth." (i Tim. 3:15)
To her was entrusted by her holy Founder the twofold task of giving life to her children and of teaching them and guiding them-both as individuals and as nations-with maternal care. Great is their dignity, a dignity which she has always guarded most zealously and held in the highest esteem.
Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven. It lays claim to the whole man, body and soul, intellect and will, inducing him to raise his mind above the changing conditions of this earthly existence and reach upwards for the eternal life of heaven, where one day he will find his unfailing happiness and peace.
Happy Mother's Day - Happy Mother-ing day. Mothering is active and ongoing.
For those whose mothers and grandmothers are still alive - cherish them today. Hug and kiss them. Honor them. Thank them. For those whose mothers have gone home to the Lord, remember them.
For all who bear the name Christian, the name of our eternal family, let us also honor the Mother of the Lord today. Her maternal care for Jesus still embraces all those who are joined to Him, as members of His Body, by that great new birth of Baptism.
Finally, let us ask the Lord to open our eyes, and our hearts, to come to more fully understand the great mystery and gift of the Church as our Mother. Let us live our lives as Christians, by living in the heart of Mother Church, for the sake of the world into which we are sent to bear the Good News.