It has been said that Mother’s Day was invented just to sell greeting cards. Maybe that’s true, but there’s a reason it caught on: It is fitting and appropriate that every May we set aside a day to honor mothers. We should probably do it every month.
Or maybe not—because we know that Mother’s Day may mean a well-intended breakfast of burnt toast and overcooked eggs, accompanied by the hopeful eyes of earnest children. It is one time that the saying “It’s the thought that counts” is really true!
But as we celebrate the love and nurturing we received growing up, there is another mother we should think about—our Mother Church. As the Bride of Christ, the Church really is the mother to us all; indeed, to all of God’s family that is humanity. The Church mothers us, loves us, nurtures us.
And in doing that, she fosters the work we do at Catholic Relief Services. This maternal status provides CRS with an ideal we strive for.
You understand the word “paternalistic.” It’s a negative term that connotes treating someone in a demeaning way: from a position of implied superiority, without respect, and with limits on their freedom and autonomy. “It’s for their own good,” is the paternalist excuse.
There is no counterpart for mothers. “Maternalistic” isn’t even a word.
To treat someone as a mother would is to provide the qualities we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Just look at the synonyms the dictionary lists for “maternal”: protective, caring, loving, devoted, affectionate, fond, warm, tender, gentle, kind, comforting.
To act like a mother is never to seek admiration or generate dependence, but to help one along the way to a flourishing independence. Like a mother bird, who sacrifices to ensure that her eggs hatch safely—and then sees that her chicks are fed—all with the goal of watching the birds leave the nest and fly on their own.
As Pope Francis said last year, “The Church is our mother and welcomes all of us as a mother: Mary our Mother, our Mother Church, and this motherhood are expressed through an attitude of welcome, understanding, goodness, forgiveness and tenderness.
“And where there is motherhood and life, there’s joy, there’s peace, and we grow in peace. When this motherhood is lacking, all that remains is rigidity, discipline, and people do not know how to smile. One of the most beautiful and human things is to smile at a child and make him or her smile.”
In this story from Vietnam you can read about a CRS-supported program for children who are challenged physically. Look at the pictures and you can see such smiles.
These children have mothers who love them, but they face severe restrictions in a society that is not prepared to meet their needs. CRS provides education and training so that children who might otherwise have been tossed aside can instead lead the lives of fulfillment and dignity that God intends for them. This is what a mother would do. This is what the Mother Church does for the least of us.
We also provide support for children when mothers are absent—in responding, for example, to the pandemic of HIV and AIDS that has robbed so many children of their parents. We’re there to ensure that these orphans and vulnerable children, as they are called, do not lose their lives to this deadly virus, and have the support to grow and thrive.
We also work with women at each stage of motherhood, ensuring appropriate prenatal care, safe medical facilities, and help with delivery, and proper nutrition for their children in the crucial first years of life. We know that mothers are the backbone of a successful society, and that supporting them will help the greatest number of people.
As I’ve said, mothers give us our ideal. We pray that our work is always maternal, and never paternalistic. And we do this knowing we are part of the Mother Church that gives us our mission and our inspiration.
Happy Mother’s Day to every mother—and to our Church.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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