Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
By decree of President Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day has been observed in the United States on the second Sunday of May every year since 1915. Contrary to a well-known urban legend, this beloved holiday was not the creation of Hallmark cards!
This day honoring mothers and motherhood gained traction and took root largely due to the efforts of one tireless woman, Anna Jarvis. Anna wished to honor her own mother, Ann Reaves Jarvis, who in addition to bringing Anna into the world, spent her time caring for other mothers’ sons by tending wounded soldiers on both sides of the battlefield during the Civil War. Anna Jarvis reminds us that our mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Perhaps the simple truth of her observation is what has made this Sunday in May such a popular holiday. It is a day to express our love and appreciation for our own dear mothers, and also to honor the beautiful vocation of motherhood shared by so many.
But, there is more.
“May is Mary’s month, and I muse at that and wonder why.” So begins Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “The May Magnificat.” It is good for us to wonder too. May crownings, Mother’s Day, the Feast of the Visitation and the abundance of springtime growth all remind us of Mary’s special association with this beautiful time of year.
During the month of May, all creation is bursting with beauty and new life. Perhaps here is the reason that Mary is so easily associated with this season of abundance. The month of May offers a visible reflection of the continuing spiritual fruitfulness of Mary’s virginal womb.
Since the 2nd century, Mary has been called the New Eve, a name that means “mother of the living.” Mary is truly more worthy of this name than the first Eve, since in giving birth to Jesus Mary gave birth to life itself.
We have received a share in this new life through Mary and through the Church of which she is the image and model. Prompted by the stirring of grace within us, we turn to Mary with the spontaneity of children who turn to their mother for nurture, for comfort, for help. For us, who are her children, she is indeed, as the centuries-old Marian hymn says, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”
Mary’s deepest maternal concern is to assist the Holy Spirit in bringing her children to their full maturity in Christ. Gently, yet without fail, Mary leads us to Jesus. As she instructed the wine steward at Cana, so she directs us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).
From beginning to end, the sinless Virgin Mary remained totally receptive and sensitive to the working of God’s grace in her life. Her listening heart was ready always to respond with the obedience of faith. She was poised to do God’s will. It was never about her. “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name” (Lk.1:49).
May is a time of extraordinary abundance. Abundance flows in God’s path. Mary teaches us that in order to be filled with God’s abundant life, we have to first empty ourselves of all that is not of God. Mary is not only the mother of God, but also the first disciple of the child she conceived in her virginal womb: “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:38).
As we honor our mothers this Mother’s Day, we also honor Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother who in giving birth to Jesus our Savior, has given birth to the life we share in Christ.