Dear Fellow Parishioners,
Mother’s Day is one of the very few, if only, observances celebrated throughout the world. It is truly transcultural. The vast majority of these celebrations take place either on the second Sunday in May, or on another day in Spring, the season of new life. (Consistent with this logic, Argentina celebrates Mother’s Day on the third Sunday of October.)
Contrary to common belief, it was not the invention of greeting card companies, but arose in many countries first as a religious observance. In the US, its deepest roots go back to women’s peace movements in the wake of the Civil War. The original purpose was to gather groups of women whose sons had fought on opposite sides of that terrible war.
In 1868, Ann Jarvis organized a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.” Jarvis, who had previously organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak, wanted to expand these into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the annual celebration was established. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, would continue her mother’s efforts.
In its present form, Mother’s Day was established by Anna Jarvis on May 9, 1905 and was notably celebrated two years later in St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where her mother taught Sunday School. The rapid spread of Mother’s Day can be credited to the fact that it responded to a widely felt need to honor mothers, and to Wanamaker’s Department Store, then a huge east coast retailer, which promoted it. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, which President Wilson signed the following day.
The spelling of Mother’s Day – as a singular possessive – is deliberate, as the day is intended not to honor motherhood in general, but to honor each of our particular mothers. We can certainly expand that concept to include grandmothers, and those who have been like mothers to us. Whatever else we may say about motherhood, one thing is for sure: it is not a peer relationship. Our mothers have a far greater formative power in our lives than we will ever have in theirs.
Of course, the model of motherhood par excellence is Mary, our Blessed Mother. Her symbolic power extends far beyond confessional Catholicism, because psychologically healthy persons of all faiths, or no particular faith, respond at least to her profound humanity. The Gospels testify not only to her deep faith, but to the complexity of her relationship with her son who, after all, ran away from home and eventually broke his mother’s heart. Though she has countless titles and numerous feast days, she stands for a most modern reality: the complete unmanageability of life by purely human means.
We take this day to remember, honor and love those who have given us life.
Fr. Bill Donahue