10 May 2009
“We ask you Lord today, a day dedicated to the honour of mothers, that you would send your blessings upon all of the mothers of the world.” (Collect Prayer for Mother’s Day) In the name …
So last night we finish dinner, wash the dishes, then I sit down at the computer to write this morning’s sermon. When lo and behold, the heavens break open and the winds start to blow. Branches are coming down around the rectory, Sugarloaf Street is closed down because of fallen trees, neighbour’s patio furniture is bouncing across the lawn, and because I have the windows open papers are blowing all over the place in my office. I’m just glad it happened last night and not today because I love it when mothers have an absolutely beautiful day outside.
The nation has set aside the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, and the church participates in this celebration. Yesterday in Northampton one of the parishioners asked me before Mass if we were going to have special prayers for Mother’s Day. I told her that a priest forgets about Mother’s Day at his own peril. So we offer prayers at Mass today asking God to bless all mothers because their work is part of His work, their example reflects His nature, and their patience and persistence is not unlike that of the resurrected Saviour who today lets Peter reverse his three denials of Jesus with three statements of “Yes Lord you know that I love you.” Just like Jesus did with Peter, mothers don’t focus on what we have done wrong; they wait for, they expect, our improvement. They’re always willing to hope for the better. Often a mother’s example helps us to better appreciate the teaching that God is always willing to forgive and to embrace. This is why some of the mystical religious writers have often referred to God as both Father and Mother. Sometimes the softer qualities of God resonate better in our imaginations when the comparison is made to a mother’s example.
But sometimes that similarity backfires. Take the parable of the Prodigal Son for instance. I think most all of us are familiar with this story that Jesus once told. The boy leaves home, insults and disowns his family, squanders his money, and then in desperation returns home again hoping only to be treated like a servant. The father, instead, welcomes him back not as servant, but as son. This is a powerful testament to the loving and forgiving nature of God. In all honesty, however, who of us would have been surprised by this reaction if it was a mother in the story instead of a father? Jesus had to use the example of a father to get across the image of an exceptional love because if He had used the example of a mother it would have been seen by us as a natural reaction. Of course the boy’s mother would have gone out and welcomed him home, and God forbid if anyone ever decided to get in the way and try to stop her! This reaction says a lot about what we think of mothers, and it also speaks to why we today pause as a nation and as a church to say “thank you” to our mothers for all they have done, and to pray for them that they may continue to perform their works of constant love.
These motherly gifts are both obvious and subtle. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has written a book called Mothers and Others that was just published last month by Harvard University Press. She is primatologist, which is a fancy way of saying she studies primates, and primates are monkeys, apes and us. A constant question raised is why humans are so much more social than the other primates. Dr. Hrdy’s thesis is that we are social beings because of our collective experience of mothers and children. Babies are, in her words, “outrageously dependent,” and because of this even the most loving and protective of mothers is not averse to getting a little help now and then. Since it really may be true across the board that it takes a community to raise a child, this shared experience has allowed two things to happen. People care about children who are not their own, and also infants learn from their earliest years to trust other people. How many times I’ve seen, even in a church hall, a child being held by one person and then another and another. We trust each other with our children. This is a lot more exceptional than we often realize. Now obviously there are limitations to this trust, but the lesson is learned in just about all but the most dysfunctional of households that another person’s child is just as loved as our own.
According to Hrdy, this has helped us to be a social animal. We can empathize with each other, and this ability to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes may be the best hope we have as the human race that we don’t blow this whole world of ours up someday. I visit a woman with Communion each month and hanging on her kitchen wall is a gift from one of her daughters. The heart-shaped plaque reads: “Mother holds our hands a little while … our hearts forever.” Motherhood is not only about the young woman with the infant in her arms. What begins from childhood lasts a lifetime. Even if we don’t always realize it, a mother’s care and love remain with us. They help to form us and sustain us. Their love and care of us actually may be the source of our ability to love and care for others. Their individual example repeated millions of times over all around the world may be why there’s still hope for us yet, that just maybe we can learn to live with one another and respect each other. A mother holds our hands for a little while … our heart forever. This examples help to define us and to give us hope of what we can be.
May the mothers of our congregation, our families and our communities be blessed for all they have done and do for us. And may they be honoured today by what we do for them, and if they have passed on to their eternal reward may we keep them in our thoughts in a special way on this their special day. For these things we pray this Mother’s Day in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …