Mothers Day is a special day on the American calendar, joining Thanksgiving Day and Christmas and maybe the 4th of July as similarly important days. Not far behind is Fathers Day, the birth of one’s first child, the marriage anniversary, and then other special days, cherished by us for their significance to us.
Mothers Day: might we regard it as a holy day? Like a holy day of obligation, on the Catholic calendar? Well, maybe yes, or possibly so. It’s a holy day because it concerns one of the truly sacred things near and dear to our hearts: our own life, and that special person who, in conjunction with God Himself, has brought us into life, and nurtured us to the point where we can provide for ourselves.
There may have been a time when we took life for granted, primarily because we had not reached the point where we could step back from life and look at it from some distance away. In our early years we were engulfed and swallowed up in our life, with no way of disengaging our self from our dependence on our family. It was like being on a ship on the high seas, living our entire existence on that vessel, unable to distance ourselves from that ship so as to think of our life apart from it. Of course, it was a pleasant and comfortable life, from the early phase within our mother’s womb to the later frightening experience of stepping out of our front door and walking through the entrance to kindergarten. Till then our family, and especially our mother, was like a ship on the high seas of life where we found security, care and comfort, day in and out. Those on shore could observe us at a distance, sailing by, with our mother at the helm.
An even more graphic example of this sense of being enveloped by our mother has been the development of space exploration and the manufacture of space craft to traverse outer space, from where we can look back safely at earth and see for the first time what the world out there looks like, from our vantage point within the space capsule. Though we would soon join our earth home, for the present we can watch the world go by, having all we need for a comfortable life.
These examples are how it is with our mother. Early on we were so embedded within the folds of our mother, first, within the womb, then outside of it, that we had no sense of living our own distinct life. She was our ship on the seas of life, and our space capsule, within which all our needs were handled.
But once the first sensation arrived of having a life distinct from hers, I became able to focus on this person who was a mother to me, and develop a sense, as I grew in age, that I was my own person, so much so that I forgot the early sensation of being one with her. Life then entered a new stage where very personal adventures occurred for me as I began to live a life separately from hers, but never to the point where I dismissed her from my self-awareness completely. That early bonding between us never disappeared, forming a linkage unlike any other in our experience, regardless of the geographical distance I put between her and myself.
This is what we celebrate on Mothers Day—an experience of life in which she was intimately involved, so that I can look back on it, as if from outer space, and marvel at the wonder of what I now see, which I could not see earlier on. It is a profound feeling that borders on our sense of the sacred. And as sacred, it is holy, and for this reason is aptly regarded as a holy day. Corresponding to Mothers Day is my birthday when for the first time I can reach land and look back at the ship on which I have spent my life, to this point. Or similarly, my birthday lays out the possibility of appreciating Mothers Day like the opportunity provided the first astronauts of looking out the porthole of their space craft, back at the earth from which they just separated themselves, and for the first time fully observe it teeming with the white cloud cover, the blue seas, the dark-hued earth, and can fully appreciate it as mother earth, where life unfolded and blossomed.
This is why we should regard Mothers Day as a holy day on our Catholic calendar. We can look at it as a day of appreciating my dependency on the nurturing elements of life I earlier relied on, and can begin to feed myself, as with the eucharist. It’s a day when the factors comprising our traditional holy days, such as the sense of awe before the mystery of the sacred, converge into sentiments of reverence and respect before a sense of something religious. For life is sacred and to be revered as Godlike. Life is how Jesus identified God in His dealings with the Sadducees: “He is not God of the dead but of the living”. (Mk 12.27)