Mothers’ day is not a holiday in the Church Year. It has no readings assigned to it, and it doesn’t cause a change in the colors of the paraments. As an American, second-Sunday-in-May observance, Mother’s Day first came about in the 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe as an attempt for mothers (particularly those of soldiers) to unite on a day to oppose war. The first observance of Mother’s Day was organized by Anna Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. By 1914, the observance had spread across the country so popularly that President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a national holiday on which to fly the flag to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. Just nine years later, Mother’s Day would be so commercialized that Jarvis would protest that it had left it’s intended purpose.
But the American Mother’s Day does have its roots in an ecclesiastical tradition. The fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare, was known as Mothering Sunday. On that day, young people returned to their home congregation and so were reunited with their mothers for the day. On this day, Christians were also reminded of their Holy Mother, the Church.
Even though Mother’s Day is particularly overshadowed on the church’s calendar this year by Pentecost (one of the highest feast days in the year), it is still good for Christians to remember their mothers and to give thanks to God for them.
For all of our faux-egalitarianism in America, we still have two separate holidays: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It is proper that we have two days instead of one combined “Parents’ Day” because mothers and fathers are distinctly different. Neither is more important than the other, but they do play different roles in raising a child.
Particularly in teaching the faith to the next generation, mothers play an invaluable role. But this is not always an easy task. In fact, for any mother who has watched with heartbreak as her child has departed from the faith in which he was raised, this can be the most difficult job in the world.
Monica was such a mother. She raised her son in the Christian faith, but he soon departed from it. Her son, well-educated and a successful scholar, was drawn to a life of hedonism, indulging in pagan intellectualism, living with his mistress, and joining a false religion. Monica pleaded with her son to repent and return to the Church. With many tears and ceaseless prayers, she interceded for her son. One priest told Monica, “Surely the son of these tears cannot perish.” And he did not.
Monica’s son Augustine repented, was catechized, and baptized into the Christian Church at the Easter Vigil in 387, A.D. Shortly thereafter, he was made a bishop of the church in Hippo in North Africa. Today. St. Augustine is regarded by scholars as the preeminent Church Father in the Western church.
Mothers, yours is a holy work: teaching the faith to your children. In fact, there is no more holy work in the world that a person may aspire to do. If you have wayward children, take heart. Learn from St. Monica not to give up praying for them or calling them back to the faith. Happy Mother’s Day.