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Leader: The uncertain arms of Mother Church

“If there was a day for everything you have given to me as a mother, it would be Mother’s Day every day. Thanks for always helping me to remember what is important in life . . . and today it is you!”

THERE are the jokey Mother’s Day cards, of course — “Mom, you should have been an air-traffic controller, I was grounded so often”, that sort of thing. But the vast majority of the printed messages that are at present in the post range from the impossibly sentimental to the unbelievably cloying. When called upon to articulate their overwhelming debt to their mothers, sons and daughters alike seem unable to escape the flowery language of the greetings-card versifiers. If anything, the problem gets worse as children grow into adults and become aware of the inadequacy of any utterance. For how is it possible to acknowledge the sacrifices that motherhood inevitably de­mands, from the pains of labour and childbirth, to the financial privations, to the emotional wrenching felt by someone who watches a child’s journey through adolescence into adulthood?

Naturally enough, though, sentimentality passes muster. Mothers who have spent a lifetime interpreting their children’s ill-formed and fleeting expressions of thanks are adept at grasping the true feelings behind the verses. The love of a parent is not the sort that requires periodic thanks, however healing these can be. For there are few parents who, with the minimum of self-examination, cannot produce a list of the blunders they have made in the upbringing of their children. As they note the gaps in their children’s education, and the fears and prejudices passed on unwittingly; or when they recall the occasions when they have responded with anger or indifference to their child’s request for support, noticing it too late, it is not surprising that the gushing Mother’s Day messages can be embarrassing. They are not so much inadequate as undeserved.

The argument that Mothering Sunday is really about the Church does not contrast with these reflections but comple­ments them. The image of Mother Church counters some of the institutionalism that constantly attaches itself, bringing with it bureaucracy and rules. The comforting love of a mother, all-forgiving, ever-welcoming, can be found here. But because the Church is human as well as divine, here, too, there can be blunders. As the posies are distributed on Sunday, it would be good to call to mind those who are absent, estranged by some past hurt or misunderstanding. All parents need their children’s forgiveness, and so does the Church.

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