I have to think about Mother's Day twice a year because British Mothering Sunday is on the fourth Sunday of Lent and North American Mother's Day is the second Sunday in May. Mothering Sunday seems more low-key than North American Mother's Day, and in fact its historical roots do not wind around mothers but the practice of visiting one's "mother church" or Cathedral that day. Visiting ol' Mum and bringing her a nice treat (like a simnel cake) sprang up around that, and was revived in the 1920s.
I do not know if parish priests in the UK ever pull the "All mothers stand and be applauded" nonsense because I am always at the FSSP Mass on Laetare Sunday, and homey don't play that. I hope ordinary parish priests don't either. But if they do, I hope one day all British Catholic women over 25 get so sick of it that they ALL stand. John Paul II wrote that all women are called to be mothers, physical or spiritual, and so, really, clerics should not be making such a obvious distinction between biological mothers and all other women. Incidentally, I wonder how the bereaved mothers feel when the priest cheerfully "invites" them to stand. Or mothers with children in JAIL. Or mothers whose children have been taken from them by the courts or runaway husbands. Or women who have had miscarriages. Or women who are grieving ab*rti*ns. Mother's Day must be hard enough for them without tacked on cheer and clap-clap-clap.
Have I mentioned how much I hate it when pastorallytone-deaf silly people add all this made-up stuff to the liturgy? I have?!?!
I wouldn't mind a prayer for mothers at the end of Laetare Sunday Mass, if said over the entire kneeling congregation, especially if it mentioned all the horrors that attend maternity--the physical pains, the emotional pains, the social difficulties, the dread of what the world might do to their darlings, the anger at what the world has already done to their darlings, etc. No, what I principally object to is the mothers being invited to stand while the childless sit dumbly and are forced to applaud with everyone else their fecund (or richer, adoptive) sisters' gift of children. I do not at all blame these mothers. I blame the priests.
Poor old priests. I probably tell this story every year, but back in Toronto around 1997 or so, a priest gave a Mother's Day homily on the wonder of MOTHER. Ah, our Mothers, our sainted Mothers, ah to be sure, too-rah-loo-rah-loo-rah. After Mass, as he was talking to a male classmate of mine, a furious woman stormed up with tears in her eyes and told him that he didn't know anything about mothers and his homily was insultingly sentimental nonsense. On she raged, and the priest and my pal were petrified before her inexplicable female anger and I HOPE, although I don't know, that the priest said, "I am so sorry you are upset. Please come and talk to me in my office."
"My goodness," said my friend, who thought I would join him in marveling over this "crazy" woman, "if you can't preach a sermon on mothers, what CAN you preach about?"
Listen, chaps. Not only are women sensitive about whether or not we are mothers, we are also sensitive about our experience in being mothered. And an overfed priest rabbiting on about how proud his mother was the day he got ordained is not going to go down well with the generations of women who grew up playing second-fiddle to their brothers, or who found themselves horribly thrust in the position of rival for their father's/stepfather's attention. There are even mothers who will sacrifice their children--who will turn a blind eye to their daughters'/granddaughters' sexual abuse--for their own sex lives. Homilies on that would be great. Heavens! And wouldn't I love to hear an [X]-Canadian priest demand of [X]-Canadian women (for example) if they work their daughters too hard and pamper their sons too much. (Fill in the [X] however you like.)
Anyway. Mothering Sunday. When I don't think about it in detail, I feel more tranquil now about being childless that I have been since I married. The answer to "But does the pain of being childless ever go away?" is YES--at least in my case. Since the bitter heartbreak of the Insensitive Doctor's Phone Call, I have been feeling a lot better. The worst--and that was the worst--is over, and I can get on with my life. I am answering the question, "What would you do if you were reasonably sure you could never have children?" by praying, "God, You know I want children. Send me whichever children You think I should mother."
And lo! In the post yesterday, Mothering Sunday greetings from Seminarian Pretend Son to his "Canadian Pretend Mother"! Yay! My first authentic Pretend Mother's Day card! Such a good boy. He's in the seminary, you know.
So that is my advice to women, single or married, who terribly want children, but don't have them. Pray hard, not for children, but for whichever children God wants you to have. These could be natural children of the body, or they could be children of the spirit. They could be foster children, or they could be foreign students. They could be your own elementary school pupils. They could be, if you become a nun, your novices. (And what a shame so many orders have dropped the title of "Mother" from older nuns!) When it comes to motherhood, we need to think outside the box. If all women are called to be mothers, then motherhood is not just a biological reality, and motherhood is something more than giving birth. It is a many-splendoured gift from God to us all.