By Father George Rutler
Our nation’s Mother’s Day was the worthy idea of a lady, Anna Jarvis, in West Virginia, but it took the promotion of Philadelphia’s department-store king, John Wanamaker, to persuade Woodrow Wilson to give it official cachet in 1914. Miss Jarvis died in 1948, regretting that her original intention of honoring motherhood had been commercialized beyond recognition.
It is ironic that many people who think that Catholics pay too much honor to the Mother of God have set aside a day for their own mothers. If people are deprived of truth and the rituals that honor that truth, they will invent substitutes. Various cults and fraternal societies offer ceremonies that are absent in lackluster religious sects. The fact is, Catholics have three mothers: our biological mothers; the mother Christ gave us as He was dying on the Cross; and the Church.
The Church was shown to the world when our Lord’s heart was pierced and there flowed from it the water of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. Just as the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” the Blessed Virgin so that she might conceive her own Saviour, so the same Holy Spirit filled the Church at Pentecost, bringing her to birth and empowering the apostles to preach boldly. We can no more have Christ without the “institutional Church” than we can have ourselves without our bodies. The Church is an institution, but one instituted by Christ. And the Church is our Mother, nurturing us in the Faith; thus, she is more our “Alma Mater” than any school. We do not call our own mother “it,” so we should not call the Church only “it.” She is our Holy Mother Church.
Christ came to us with a human body that took physical shape in the womb of a mother, and this He did out of mercy, or “loving-kindness” as St. Athanasius wrote, so that we as humans might recognize the divinity that had always filled His creation invisibly.
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were born seventy-seven years apart, but each said virtually the same thing about his source. Washington said: “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” Lincoln said: “All I am or can be I owe to my angel Mother.” My own mother would have marked her ninetieth birthday this week, and I can say the same, as all of us should. The best mothers teach us about our other mothers: the Blessed One who makes her Son our brother, and the Mystical One, into which we were baptized. St. Cyprian said: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” God wants every day to be Mother’s Day.