Mother’s Day and Jesus’s Mother, Mary
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, an important cultural observance though not a religious one. Mother’s Day began in the 19th century as part of the women’s movement that included Temperance and Women’s Suffrage. The original idea behind was that if the mothers of the world could come together in common cause, war as they knew it then would cease.
Those hopes proved unfounded, and the day found a new focus: the celebration of motherhood itself. For us Christians, of course, the major image we have of motherhood is Jesus’s mother, Mary.
It’s important to remember that Mary was both Jesus’s mother and his faithful follower. She was present both at the Bethlehem stable and the Calvary cross. She saw the one she bore in all aspects of his life: precious child, precocious boy, adult teacher and healer, prophet of love and justice, dying crucified Savior.
The English essayist Francis Bacon once said, “The joys of parents are secret; and so are their griefs and fears.” Anyone who has ever read John Irving’s novel, The World According to Garp, remembers the vivid scenes in which the hero chases speeding cars through his neighborhood because of his protective anxiety about children at play. The great joy of parenthood is the way it bestows on you the gift of someone whom you may unreservedly love. The fear of it is that once you love this new person, you are also vulnerable and exposed in ways you hadn’t been before. There is no greater joy than being a parent. There is nothing scarier, either.
“The joys of parents are secret; and so are their griefs and fears.” Tradition tells us that Mary and Joseph were exemplary parents. They nurtured and preserved Jesus from danger. They allowed him to grow into the loving, generous, prophetic adult he became. Real parenting--be it by mothers or fathers--consists in the balanced artistry of nurture and independence. Only as children are loved and supported and embraced do they become secure enough to adventure out into adult freedom. Only as children are pushed out do they become independent enough authentically to love their parents, and the world, in return. The job of the parent is to put herself or himself out of business. The job of the parent is to prepare the child, and oneself, for a new kind of relationship. It’s a great joy, and also a great grief.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this year, let us use it as a day on which to honor all those nurturers—our mothers, of course, but also our fathers, siblings, friends, and mentors—who have helped us become the people we are. Parenting is a mixture of joy and grief. Mary has gone there before us. Our parents have too. May we have grace to love those in our charge in ways that will both nurture and challenge them.