This weekend, the United States and various other countries celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s a grand holiday of flowers, jewelry, dinners out, heart-warming cards, and other expressions of affection and gratitude.
The holiday was begun in the early twentieth century by an adult daughter who grieved over the loss of her mother and wanted to honor her and all mothers. The establishment of the official holiday took some time, but it is now a set and cherished celebration in American life and culture.
Honoring our mothers, both living and dead, both natural and spiritual, reminds us of life’s amazing inner focus on family. Weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties, funerals, and all types of parties and observances involve the women we call “mothers” and the men and women we call “relatives.” Life’s celebrations would be severely lacking without them.
Motherhood and, by extension, family life is central to our lives as human beings. As Pope Francis teaches us: “The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Whether we like them or not, whether we enjoy their company or not, we all know that there is something important about being together as a family. There is a higher purpose and reason that is deeper than our likes and dislikes, our preferences and peculiarities, that supports and guides family life. This reality calls us out of ourselves and our own self-enclosed world.
This truth can be seen even in the sorrow of some who do not have a family. Whether a source of joy or suffering, we all have a deep sense for family in our hearts and a desire to be with others who love us and who are loved by us.
Incidentally, something so fundamentally human could not be missing in the earthly life of Jesus Christ. This basic aspect of reality is plainly seen in his life and mission. Fully human, Jesus belonged to a family and a chosen people. His work as our redeemer is marked by this astute family sense and identity.
This seems peculiar to our contemporary, Western world. So many of us struggle to define ourselves in individualistic terms. We want to be independent, autonomous and left alone. In such an environment, the interior move towards family life and true relationship is repressed and oftentimes forgotten.
Again, Pope Francis calls us back to our deeper instincts: “The family born of marriage creates fruitful bonds, which reveal themselves to be the most effective antidote against the individualism that currently runs rampant.”
As seen in the biblical narrative and in Church tradition, the initiatives of Jesus have a strong emphasis on a covenant with a people. God wants a family and his summons is not just about the individual. The Lord’s call is about the person as a member of God’s greater family. And this family also has a mother, namely, Jesus’ own mother, Mary of Nazareth, who promotes and nurtures the universal family of God.
In his public ministry, Jesus sought to clearly manifest this invitation. Once, his mother and relatives came to see him. He was told, “Your mother and your kinsman are outside, asking for you.” He replied, “Here are my mother and my kinsman. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister, and mother.”
It’s important that we understand the text and context of this exchange. Rather than dismissing his own mother or natural family, Jesus is actually opening up his family to everyone who seeks to follow its way of love. He’s not removing himself from anyone but is rather expanding the family that already existed to now include anyone who sincerely seeks it.
It’s about our natural desire for the acceptance, understanding, and protection that is to accompany family life and God’s desire to give us the opportunity to fulfill it by a natural family and a large spiritual one.
In the mother of Jesus Christ, therefore, we can realize the family relationship that God wants to have with us. We see Mary of Nazareth as a consolation and a help to us. And as we see God’s family and our heavenly Mother, we are invited – this day and everyday – to remember and revere our families on earth and esteem our mothers or maternal figures in our lives on earth.