My Place in the Sun, May 10: Honoring Mothers

My place in the sunBishop Robert J. Cunningham

As soon as I turn my calendar to the month of May, I think of mothers. I think of May as Mary’s month, recalling May Altars decorated in her honor and May Crownings that acknowledged her as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

   My favorite Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Annunciation. In the encounter between the Angel Gabriel and Mary, we learn how important it is to listen to God’s word even when it surprises us, tests us, and calls us to the unexpected challenges of God’s will. Mary teaches us that God’s word is a treasure to cherish and ponder. Her “yes” to God’s word is a powerful example for all of us.

   Pope Francis, whose devotion to Mary is well known, has recently established a new feast for the Catholic Church devoted to Mary as the “Mother of the Church.” In 1964, at the close of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI formally declared Mary as the “Mother of the Church” and invited us to invoke her assistance under that title. Pope Francis wishes to promote this devotion in order “to encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety” (Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). The new feast of Mary as the “Mother of the Church” will be celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost.

   As Mary stood at the foot of the cross, Jesus spoke to her: “Woman, there is your son” (Jn 19:26). With these words, Mary was invited to expand the horizon of her faith and the understanding of her role. Her motherhood moved beyond her dying Son. Her spiritual maternity extends now to all of God’s children. She is truly our mother. With a mother’s solicitude, she watches over us. Through her intercession, we too can say our “yes” to God’s word, even when we do not understand all that the “yes” will require from us.

   May is also the month in which we honor our earthly mothers. Finally, we are beginning to experience signs of new life. Trees are budding, the geese are returning, the sun is warmer, the grass is green, and flowers are blooming. May is a beautiful month to celebrate the beauty of life and a fitting time to celebrate Mother’s Day.

   Mother’s Day invites us to focus on simple ideas and basic values: goodness, selflessness, godliness, and holiness. A mother holding her child is an arresting picture that reminds us that selfless living for others is possible.

    Allow me to use a quote from Joseph Cardinal Mindzenty, a great defender and protector of the Church in Hungary, which I have used in the past: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral — a dwelling place for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body…. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation… What on God’s good earth is more glorious than to be a mother?”

   Our mothers sheltered us in their wombs, gave birth to us, cared for us in infancy, guided us to adulthood, and continue to support us throughout our lifetime. For many of us, our mothers played a vital role in our faith development. They awakened us to the sense of God and guided our first steps in prayer. They helped to develop our moral conscience and formed us in a true awareness of human love, understood as a reflection of God’s love.

   During this Year of the Family, I have encouraged you to reflect on my pastoral letter “On the Role of the Family in the life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond.” What an important role a mother plays in nurturing and sustaining the faith of the family. Her example is crucial in the development of the “domestic church” — the church of the home. In the home, the human person “is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church” (The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond).

   The simplicity and beauty of motherhood is a treasure. May Mother’s Day be an occasion to express our gratitude to the mothers who brought us into this world, to our Blessed Mother, the “Mother of the Church,” and to the Church, the ever-faithful mother who brought us to life through the waters of baptism and continues to nourish and strengthen us through the sacraments.

   A happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all women who nurture life and faith.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.