Have you been watching television during the last few weeks? I was taken aback by some of the advertisements for Mother’s Day. Many of them take the line of giving good things to mother. Chocolate, fine coffee, good wine, even personalised marshmallows – so many delights from which our Lenten discipline should deflect our attention. We all fall from the high ground of Lenten abstinence, don’t we, when it comes to treating our mothers well? Temptation to give that delicious, and special chocolate, or to indulge in that meal with her at the restaurant.
The ads come on and we are coddled into that very comfortable way of sharing our affection through the giving of extravagant gifts. There are lots of ways we buy into the way we can spoil our mothers – or sometimes our selves – just like the ads tell us we should.
However, even all that overindulgence is not really why I was so shocked at the images assaulting me from the television screen. The ad that really struck horror in me was an ad for one of the soaps. The characters were all standing around a table, mother with a carving knife about to serve up the dinner, everyone else looking toward the camera. Their aspects were at first benign, as actors stare at the lens, but as the seconds ticked away, their visages changed subtly – more hard, more ruthless. They became sinister, almost evil, with a change of lighting and subtle modification of expression. I haven’t seen it lately, so they must have withdrawn the ad, and no wonder. The characters all looked just what Mothering Sunday had nothing to do with. The image of this family gathered together transforms itself in the course of this ad, from one where there is something benign to one where there is a harsh tone and the family looks at odds with one another. This is the sort of thing we expect nowadays of families on television, a family where there is no fellow feeling, where brother is at odds with brother, where sister argues with sister, where husbands and wives no longer love each other, and where parents have lost any interest in the fruit of their love, their children – I say that it is no wonder that our children are hard-hearted and without compassion. We reap the whirlwind we have sown in the imagination, pursuing what passes for “entertainment” in these dark times.
So much for my dismay at my experience of watching television and remembering the rather dissolute images for mother’s day.
How can I reconcile the images of the everyday, those pictures which assault me from television, with the picture of family in the bible? How can we come to terms with the value of the person which the Church universal reckons with the image of Mothering Sunday?
The image of the alma mater – from Latin, meaning “nurturing mother.” – is what the Church has presented for centuries. More recently, this image of the nurturing mother has become our physical mums. But the Church has presented herself as the Bride of Christ, the great mother of the faithful for centuries before this transformation. The nurturing mother takes its significance from the great mother goddess of the ancients, even modern psychologists have investigated the meaning of this nurturing mother in the inner lives of all.
We all have had dreams of the welcoming arms of our mothers, haven’t we? Even those whose mothers were not as loving as they might have been, dream of that loving embrace which comforts and cares for the lost child. We all find solace in the care of hands holding us, even if it is only in the imagination of a vivid dream. We find relief in those arms round us in our darkest moments – like the soldiers lying on the battlefield calling for their mothers. The consolation of philosophy is nothing when compared with the care of a mother’s embrace.
The alma mater, this great mother goddess of our imagination, is for the faithful the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, embodied here in this building today. The local church has become an instance of the essential reality of the heavenly Church. At least, that is how we faithful few conceive of the Church on Mothering Sunday.
How can we spread this message of comfort and consolation throughout the world starting today? How do we combat the image of the evil mother which abounds in the world? For the most part, mother in the secular world is benign – someone for whom a marshmallow with a pretty picture painted on it will suffice to assuage a guilty conscience. But there are evil women in the world, just as the television portrays them – how do we transform them? How are the less than benign to be changed into a nurturing parent? How do we recover the alma mater for our own selves?
I am convinced that images play a very important role in our public and private lives. My Mothering Sunday has been predicated on my own mother, just as yours has been. But what is the symbolic content of the alma mater of our very private and personal pictures of “mothering”? That is what we need to capture in our prayers, our contemplation and our reflection on this Mothering Sunday. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”
Mothering is not just what the woman does for her children. For the mother to be active, there must be a child. This is what Jesus knew as he looked down from the cross at his mother and the beloved disciple. Mary had to accept the other man as her child, just as the disciple had to accept Mary as his own mother. Mothering was their active relationship. This is what the Church must learn as well, for the Church has to become that active mother for all within her precincts, saints and sinners which we all are.
Mothering never abandons, there is constant consolation, whether the succour given for a bruised knee or the gathering comfort for the dying. The Church must act on this as the universal mother, as the pinnacle of all mothering. Like Mary, the bearer of God, the Church must gather all souls into herself to await that final day, the rapture of the apocalypse. Mothering is inclusiveness in the extreme. What a celebration we share today as the Church. I only hope individual churches will embody that love of the alma mater, the nurturing mother Church of all time.