|Bloomington Inclusive Catholic Community|
Today we are observing the secular holiday known as Mothers’ Day. What’s this day all about?
Most of us love Mothers’ Day either because we are a mom or we have—or had—a mom that we love or loved. Obviously, for those who didn’t grow up with a mom, or didn’t have a mom they loved or a mom that loved them, this can be a very difficult day to endure.
As followers of Jesus, this day is not so much difficult to endure as it is uncomfortable because Jesus was not exactly a “family man.” He may have developed a good relationship with his mother by the end of his life, but early on in his ministry he may have been in conflict with his mother and his siblings.
Mark’s Gospel suggests that his mother and siblings doubted his sanity, so he verbally replaces his biological family with his family of faith. For that reason alone, Mothers’ Day should make us feel a little uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, other than the fact that the flower companies and card companies are making a lot of money today, this is a day that has become very important for many people.
It is so much a part of our social fabric that we would do well to just “go with the flow” and keep celebrating it, although the Mothers’ Day of today looks very different from the original intent of Mothers’ Day.
Originally, it was not a sentimental day of taking mom out for dinner and calling her to say how much you love her. Originally, it was socially important.
It all started in the 1850s, when a West Virginia women’s organizer named Ann Reeves Jarvis, held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions. Their intent was to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination. Later, during the Civil War, these Mothers’ Day work clubs also tended to wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict.
In the postwar years, Jarvis and other women organized Mothers’ Friendship Day picnics and other events as a way to unite former Civil War foes. One of these women, Julia Ward Howe, best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued a widely read “Mothers’ Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting a lasting peace.
Around the same time, Ann Jarvis initiated a Mothers’ Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state.
But it was her daughter, Anna, who was most responsible for what we call Mothers’ Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting the sentimentalism of what Mothers’ Day has become.
Well, that was a losing battle! There is no way to avoid sentimentalism where motherhood is concerned. There is no way to detach ourselves from the emotions that are part of the institution of motherhood.
Even the fact that some people hate their mothers suggests that there is an emotional tie between mothers and their children, which lasts from the womb to the tomb. You can only hate what you can also love.
I am a mom. I have three children and three step-children. I have two granddaughters and three step-granddaughters. I love the emotional connection I have with all of them, even when it feels more like a “love-hate” relationship.
Whether my relationships with my children are good or strained, I know that I always have something I can pull out of my back pocket. And I’m not talking about my cell phone. I’m talking about a card—actually two cards.
Like most moms I enjoy getting Mothers’ Day cards from my children—when they remember to send them. And yet there are two cards that I carry in my back pocket at all times and do not have to rely on anyone remembering to send them to me.
I’m talking about the proverbial Love Card and Guidance Card. Mothers (and fathers) are born with these cards in their back pockets. They are always there when needed.
Of course, it might seem to my children like I play the Guidance Card more than the Love Card. That’s probably because, on balance, they often need more guidance than love. By the way, guidance often looks like “discipline.” Some might even use the word “punishment,” although that word makes me cringe.
I am convinced, however, that most parents play the Guidance Card with the Love Card. Together. At the same time. A good parent never tells her children what to do—she never commands them—without also assuring them that she loves them.
This reminds me of the “Love Commandment” that we find in John’s Gospel. Jesus commands his “children” to love one another. This was his version of a Love Card, and if he had had proverbial pockets in his robes and tunics, he would have pulled out the Love Card from his back pocket on many occasions.
Of course, Jesus must have had two pockets in his garb because he was never short on offering guidance either. If I read him correctly, Jesus played two cards in his ministry: A Love Card and a Guidance Card, and he always played them at the same time.
Therefore, I believe what Jesus and other biblical writers are telling us is that everything we do must be accompanied by love. Even our efforts at guidance (which often looks like discipline), must be accompanied by love.
If we attempt to guide, discipline, or even (God forbid) punish without love, then, as the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1, we just sound like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Guidance without love is harsh, and it is unlikely that a child, or anyone else, will respond very well if all they get from their parents or role models is “do this” and “don’t do that.”
On the other hand, expressions of love without some guidance are not beneficial for one’s offspring either. Showing love, but never offering guidance, advice, direction, or even discipline is not really very loving. Expressing love without ever informing a child what they should or should not do is, best case scenario, “spoiling,” and worst case scenario, negligence.
Like an American Express Card, we should never leave home without a Love Card and a Guidance Card. To paraphrase another famous commercial, “What’s in your back pocket?”
Whether you are a mom or not, you have been dealt two cards—a Love Card and a Guidance Card. Use both of them, and use both of them together. That’s what Mothers’ Day is all about.