Saturday, 11 May 2013

M-Day Notes

Spiritual mothers are mothers, too.
Ooh la la. I was scrolling through the internet wondering what I was going to write about today, and my eye fell upon a "Great Gifts for Mother's Day" headline. We've already had Mother's Day in the UK, but I know what lies before my single-never-had-kids readers in Canada and the USA (and Australia and New Zealand, as I just found out) tomorrow, so obviously I must write on the great M Day.

One of the problems with priests playing around with the Mass as if it were their very own Sunday school art project is that sometimes they add stuff that is liturgically and pastorally divisive and dumb. Dividing the women-with-kids from the women-without-kids by getting the women-with-kids to stand up and be applauded surprises and hurts many women-without-kids like a slap in the face. I mean, really, the next time that happens, have a look around at the faces of the women who are still seated. I don't mean the teenage girls, clapping for their mom with either sincere or pasted on smiles. I mean the women who go to Mass alone or with another Single woman or who just suddenly sag against their husbands in their pews.

This is not to say that mothers do not deserve our respect and honour. They very usually do, particularly from their own children, and the children's fathers, and from such teachers and coaches who find their children a delight to work with. Just by being mothers, they have done something important for the community, and I have no problem with the commercial, public recognition of Mother's Day. Let the flower shops and the restaurants and the card shops and the media and the state go nuts. Mothers do so much for their families, let their families give something back, I say.

But I think separating women-with-children from women-without-children at Mass in that very public yet intimate way is a bit too much like separating the sheep from the goats. Despite modern liturgists' impassioned attempts to rob any worshipper from quiet time to pray privately in silence or with any other emotion but social cheer, many of the Single women present will have dared to pray, on Mother's Day, about their own hope for children, or despair that they might not have any. It's not so great, after wiping away tears of longing after communion, to suddenly have to paste on a smile and clap for the women God has blessed with kids.

On Mother's Day, the childless need special sensitivity. I go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, so the newfangled "Hey, let's clap for the MOMS" ritual never occurs on our British Mothering Sunday. That did not prevent me from being a bit crabby and melancholy on Mothering Sunday anyway, especially when we launched into a hymn about Mary, Our Mother at the end, to which I did not know the words. However, just as I was feeling super-crabby, another childless woman (a Single one)  got out of her pew and came to my pew to share her hymn sheet with me. That was a very kind and motherly thing to do, which brings me to my next point.

Blessed John Paul II, strongly influenced by the writings of Saint Edith Stein (aka Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), stated that all woman are called to be mothers. Some of us are called to be physical mothers, and others are called to be spiritual mothers. Some people read in this a married/religious dichotomy, but I think the truth is that all women are called to be motherly. Some of us are naturals at this, and some of us aren't, but we can learn.

And because all women are called to be mothers, Mother's Day should apply to all women. In fact, a super-lefty priest I once knew, whose theology was wonky but whose pastoral sensibilities were fantastic, used to call Mother's Day "Women's Day", and would direct the ushers to hand out flowers to every woman who walked into the church. Any American or Canadian priest who wants to do fun, creative, empowering, inclusive stuff at Mass tomorrow, take note.

It goes without saying that I think families should celebrate their mothers to the hilt on Mother's Day, either in the privacy of their own homes or in the limelight of a snazzy restaurant. Every childless Canadian or American woman whose mother is still alive and in the picture can alleviate feelings of exclusion by concentrating on her mother. If you love the woman and she's within a drive, go and see her. If you don't, or she isn't, send her flowers. What the hey. She gave birth to you, and last time I checked, the Fourth Commandment was still "Honour your father and your mother."

But you can do something else, too. You can honour the spiritual mothers in your life. You can send a present or former female mentor an email. You can do a little reading about your favourite female saints. You can pick a few flowers and make a special bouquet to place in front of your icon or statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can read Saint Edith Stein's Essays on Women. You can send faraway  nephews and nieces (if you have some) postcards, so that they (A) have the fun of getting something in the post and (B) remember your existence with fondness.

I have a fantasy that one day all women will stand when Father Creative-and-Inclusive asks the mothers to stand. All across the USA and Canada, from the Arctic Circle to Tijuana, from Newfoundland to Hawaii, every Catholic woman of child-bearing age, teenagers, Singles, wives, widows, nuns, virgins, ex-virgins, consecrated virgins, standing together in solidarity as mothers, physical and/or spiritual.

On the other hand, I can't stand it when people hijack the liturgy to make points. Better to write the priest a little note afterwards, saying that he made you cry (if he did) and to ask that next year he honour the gifts of the spiritual mothers, too (if he didn't this year). That'll larn 'im.  

My prayer for Mother's Day is that all the priests who decide to talk about mothers, talk about spiritual motherhood, too. Oh, and maybe to acknowledge the hurt of those terribly hurt by their own mothers, or by their own children. Honestly, a little bit of reference to the dark side of life won't shock anybody. There's a crucifix on the front wall.

Update: Thanks to B.S. for the Mother's Day present/donation. Much appreciated!


Bee said...

Thank you, Auntie. I had read of your thoughts on Mom's Sundays before, and this year find myself emotionally locked in arms with you (which is why I nearly jumped through the roof at the first part of this article:

With my own mom far away, I am blessed to have two lovely friends in different decades of life to be spiritual mothering, though they are having difficulty finding marriage or having children. One is single, and I look to her for how to act with dignity and patience. Another had her hopes for a child cruelly dashed earlier this year, but she models service to other mothers through her charity work. And I am blessed to have you and your counsel

So for this Mother's Day, I am saying Rosaries for them and for you; laying spiritual bouquets at our Blessed Mother's feet in honor of my spiritual mothers. Thank you.

Seraphic said...

Oh,dear. It seems that the priest didn't bother to explain what he was doing. That's a pity: he could have talked about spiritual motherhood.

Incidentally, there does seem to be an awful lot of bossing people around in the N.O., by the priest or whatever random layperson at the microphone. Please introduce yourself to your neighbours. Please stand. Please sit. Please open your hymn book to page 400. In the E.F. the only command is to pray, e.g. "Orate, Fratres."

Seraphic said...

Thank you for praying for me! That's very kind of you. As always, I pray for my readers at the Elevation of the Chalice on Sundays.

Magdalena said...

Fortunately, I live in a country where reinterpretations of the liturgy are quite common, but we are reserved people, so nobody applauds during Mass as yet (only in the end, for the music). But last year in summer, when everybody else went on holiday and I was working hard on my phd thesis, the priests constantly talked about how they wished everyone a good time of vacation and recreation and so on in their homilies. I only thought "those who you are talking about are not even here to hear you, and we who have too much work to go on holiday would probably need some extra consolation". Ah well. They really meant well.

Thank you for reminding me of mother’s day, which is also celebrated in various central European countries tomorrow. I hope I will remember calling my mother!

And thank you for your work as a spiritual mother to many people! God bless you and your work.

Carol Z said...

As a single, never married woman this post resonated with me. You express the issues so well. Thanks!

Jackie said...

Hi Seraphic,

Thanks for your post today. I have such a hard time on Mothers Day since losing my mom when I was a teenager.

I had a falling out with a nun who was like a spiritual mother to me and I think I am going to email her today. (She knows I set up a cello scholarship in her name, so she probably figures we'll patch things up somewhere in there.)

I am also glad you are speaking up for the rest of us. I loved the writing about your fantasy that we would ALL receive recognition for the mothering we do, all women.

Thanks again and much peace--

Sheila said...

I am happy to report that our parish did not have any clap-for-the-mothers business. The priest wished us all a happy Mother's Day on the way out, and the rest of the talk about the Ascension.

I just don't like it when our attention is called to human beings at Mass. That's not what I go there for. I go for God. The other 23 hours of the day are for spending on people.

Ever think of starting an "operation Spiritual Mother" campaign? I did my own bit of that today, writing to the spiritual mothers in my own life.

Jessica said...

Lovely post. You've inspired me to write a thank-you e-mail to a female mentor of mine today, but now I have a question. She's a professor and a "seraphic single" who has talked with us about the challenges/struggles of living as a single woman in her 40s (50s?), but has never talked about being childless. (she's a mentor for a faith group of grad students I'm in, so the single thing came up because we were talking about it...none of the other students have children so that topic doesn't naturally come up.) Do I mention mother's day in my e-mail, or do I say its an end-of-the-year appreciate note?

Lena said...

I will blog about this topic later. This year I kind of spaced out and tuned out when the moms had to stand for blessing and applause.


Cathy said...

Thank you Seraphic for this intelligent post. At my parish they have stopped asking the mothers to stand to be applauded while the rest of us stay seated. However, this year at Mother's Day they included a new blessing specifically for women who are currently pregnant. It's called the Rite of Blessing for the Unborn Child. I understand it's intended to help send a pro-life message- a message which I'm all in favor of. However, in my unrealistic wishings, it would be nice if they'd have some sort of blessing for singles who can't find a spouse and married couples who aren't able to have children- I know a variety of good Catholics who fall into one of those 2 categories.

I have not posted often, but I really do enjoy your blog. Thank you again!

Miss Doyle said...

I actually mentioned the lack of 'spiritual motherhood' in our priests' homily to him last year - jokingly he asked if I'd like to write his homily for him this year - not jokingly I replied - 'of course'!.
Didn't happen, so this year one of the assistant priests asked all the mothers to stand and all the others to sit while he gave them a special blessing.
Awesome for them, but seriously, a blessing for all women would have gone down a treat.
Another talk is in order methinks.

The Crescat said...

I especially like the comment that Anita, who blogs at V is For Victory, left on my facebook page...

"How about this for Mother's Day: preach a fire-and-brimstone sermon about the Fourth Commandment. Do something about the epidemic of children -- especially male children -- who treat their mothers like crap."

Seraphic said...

Oh gosh. Even more stuff tacked onto Mass. Why?! Why?!

Do you not find it amazing that Catholics, including mothers and pregnant mothers, thrived spiritually for around 1,930 years without the extra blessings tacked on to mark a secular American holiday invented in the early 20th century?

It is cool how Mothering Sunday (an ancient Church custom) about organically turned into a sort of mother's day, but this taking on of stuff drives me crazy. Even worse, it starts interfering in completely unnecessary ways with people's faith and worship. YARG!

Seraphic said...

Okay, I had a look and the "Rite of Blessing for the Unborn Child" is a bona fide approved new rite. So I have to backtrack my outrage a bit. Still, there is nothing to prevent the priest from offering it freely to pregnant women AFTER Mass.

Why everything has to be stuffed into Mass is a mystery to me. Look at the Anglicans with their Morning Prayer and their Evensong. If Anglicans could be relied upon to show up two or three days a Sunday, surely, priests can trust those actually interested to hang around after Mass to get the "Blessing of Mothers" and the "Blessing of the Unborn Child" while the rest of us pray or hotfoot it out to brunch.

Seraphic said...

Two or three TIMES (Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, Evensong) a Sunday, that is.

Seraphic said...

Jessica, as for whether or not to mention that it is Mother's Day, that depends on the relationship between you and your mentor. If you're really close, I don't see a problem with you saying that as it's Mother's Day, you'd like to honour her as a spiritual mother to you. But if it's a more formal relationship, you may want to think twice about mentioning the M-word, and just say you appreciate her.

urszula said...

I was a bit apprehensive at Mass yesterday, but the priest at the church I went to did a wonderful homily tying in motherhood into the Ascension (essentially, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare our home for us, while mothers prepare our spiritual and earthly home). What made it particularly wonderful was that he mentioned biological mothers, spiritual mothers, and 'community mothers' (he mentioned especially in the Middle East these are women, often elderly, who provide safe and open homes to kids from the neighborhood).