Saturday, May 7, 2016

Honoring mothers

Over at a blog I'm not going to link to today, a blogger whose name I'd rather leave out of the discussion (but who is personally a mother) has decided to take aim at Mother's Day.

Specifically, she has decided that parish celebrations of Mother's Day pretty much need to go away. If priests want, they can sort of mumble a vague prayer for "all women regardless of their state in life" which she has written for the good Fathers to use.

The reason? Mother's Day is hurtful. Some women really want to be mothers but can't be, because they never married or are infertile. Some women have lost children. And some women have bad relationships with their own mothers, so all this over-the-top celebration (which usually involves a prayer out of the Book of Blessings and, perhaps, a carnation and prayer card for the moms present at Mass) is just excruciatingly painful for the women who didn't receive from God the blessing of motherhood.

Now, the reason I'm leaving the blogger's name and site out of this is that I'm not trying to hold one person up as a target. I respect that this is this person's sincere opinion.

But I also reserve the right to say that this is wrong.

Some priests choose not to acknowledge any non-religious holidays, events, or occasions before, during, or after Mass on Sundays, and this is their prerogative. They can skip mentioning Mother's Day even in a single line during this Sunday's homily; they can avoid letting the prayer intentions include even a whisper of the mention of mothers, and they can skip the blessing--and, if this is their invariable practice for Father's Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, World Marriage Day, Scout Sunday, Catholic Schools Week/Religious Teachers' or Catechists Sunday, and so on, then I have no problem with that. It is perfectly proper for priests to choose to exclude everything but the actual liturgical day, should they so choose.

However, if priests choose to acknowledge these sorts of occasions, then there has to be balance. Using the prayer from the Book of Blessings for mothers, which is here, seems to me to be just fine, and the prayer for fathers on Father's Day is appropriate too.

What is not appropriate is to decide that mothers, and mothers alone, can't be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated, praised or encouraged without inflicting such emotional damage and harm on women who are not mothers that it's better to scrap the whole thing--or, at least, to create a vague prayer honoring all women that doesn't ever mention the vocation of motherhood.

We don't treat fathers that way. We don't pretend that honoring fathers on Father's Day hurts men who can't or don't have children so deeply that it's better to create a prayer that honors all men, regardless of their state in life, and leaves it at that. We don't seem to think we have to apologize for honoring fathers and the gift and cross of fatherhood, do we?

So why do we have to apologize for honoring mothers? Why do we have to act as though women, and women alone, can't handle the idea that not all of us are given the same gifts and crosses? Why, when it comes right down to it, do we focus on how hurtful it is to women who aren't mothers to celebrate the ones who are, as if motherhood is only gift and never cross--when, like all vocations, it is always both?

When I've written about Mother's Day before on this blog there are invariably women who say that nobody celebrates them at all. Their husbands pull the old, "You're not my mother, and besides it's a greeting card holiday," in order to do nothing; their children are too young or too indifferent to recognize their mother's gifts and sacrifices; these women may celebrate other mothers, including their own, but are left alone themselves. If it wasn't for that little prayer card or blessing or carnation at Mass, they would get no recognition at all on Mother's Day, and it seems to me to be a form of churlishness to insist that in order not to hurt the unmarried or the infertile we should take even this much away from the forgotten mothers.

I think that we women are stronger and better than this. I think that we can agree that motherhood is, indeed, both a great blessing and, at times, especially in our age, a significant cross. I think we can pray at Mass for the mothers and grandmothers and godmothers, and give them tokens of our love and appreciation as a parish community, without having to become all stifled or apologetic about it.


Helene said...

I for one would happily opt out of going to Mass on Mother's Day if I could. I am 57 and I was never a mother (and am not married) though I always thought I would be. It's a great sadness for me. And even with three siblings, I am not even an aunt. I lost my wonderful mother in a horrific car crash 18 years ago. I really cringe inside when the priests asks all women to stand for the blessings because we might be a mother figure for somebody. I'm not a mother, period. Oh yeah, my godmother? She is a Catholic in name only. There is not a lot for me to celebrate and the day makes me very, very sad.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There was a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle who wrote that his own mother never allowed the family to celebrate Mother's Day. She called it "National Florists Day." There is a sardonic point to that. But in theory, any celebration of anything could be deemed "hurtful" to anyone who didn't achieve it... It is hurtful to me to celebrate the Super Bowl, because I could never become an NFL player even though Bart Starr was every boy's hero when I was in fifth grade. In a diverse society, we should be able to celebrate what some among us have done and done well, without feeling hurt and left out. Come to think of it, celebrating Mother's Day is hurtful to me because I love children but I can't carry one to term became men have no womb. Oh, wait, Monty Python already did a clip on that.

Anonymous said...

As a rule, I dislike the blessing being public because I'm a naturally introverted person and the blessing comes from the priest not the people as people cannot confer this blessing, so I would prefer a prayer from the people in the prayers of the faithful and if the priest wants to offer blessings privately, why couldn't that be a thing? Actually, a few years ago at a parish in our deanery, a priest offered the blessings privately for whomever showed up and it was a huge hit.

I also find applause at all during Mass extremely obnoxious and this past Sunday a visiting priest boisterously started applauding immediately at the end of the blessing and it was jarring for more than one mom present, like the older woman next to me who visibly shuddered it startled her so badly. And the congregation really caught onto his enthusiasm.

Finally, while men may not make a "thing" of it on the internet, I have met single men, post-abortive men, and birth fathers in particular who have quietly admitted that the holiday hurts and it can be difficult to be around fathers same as women around mothers on that day. My husband's mother certainly wants flowers and visits and all the bells and whistles from her sons but has never even wished my husband a happy father's day with the whole "you're not my father" bit and it's affected him profoundly. of course, the first Mother's Day after my daughter was born she wanted her three sons to leave their wives and children and take her out to a very expensive dinner she had her heart set on that day. When my brother-in-law decided to invite her down and take us all (and my parents) out to a lunch, she spent the whole meal sulking (my sister-in-law had just lost her mother a few months before and she didn't even express anything about how difficult it must be for her--my sil is also an only child) so, I guess that says something about why my husband makes a bigger deal than I feel is necessary.

scotch meg said...

I DO enjoy Mother's Day. I like to feel appreciated, because appreciation is pretty darn rare at other times. We don't make a big fuss, but it's the one day of the year when Food Logistics are not central to my day, and I don't have to answer the question "What's for dinner" at least once per male resident of my home (right now those residents are my dad, my husband, and my son). I like getting phone calls from my no-longer-at-home kids. I like calling my mom, who would love the "strike up the band" treatment, but thankfully we're on the other side of the continent. I like sending my sister an email. Right now, most of all, I like the card from my daughter which is decorated by my two granddaughters.

I like the way Mother's Day affirms that motherhood is a significant vocation. There are precious few reminders these days that motherhood is a valuable way to spend your time.

Jackie said...

I am a single woman with not children and due to an illness, I will probably never have children. Mothers Day makes me incredibly sad and I dread celebrating it, but I put on a happy face for my mom and my sister. I think Mothers should be honored during mass, however at my moms parish, the whole homily is about mothers. There needs to be a balance. A recognition of the great sacrifice of motherhood, but also not have the whole mass about it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being a rare voice of sanity.