May 9, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Mirror, mirror on the wall, am I my mother after all?

Cynthia DewesWhere would we be without mothers, I ask you?

Of course, we have to have a mother, but the way some Mommie Dearest stories picture mothers, we might wish that we didn’t need them.

Even if moms aren’t that evil, they may just be cool or inattentive or too self-centered to care enough about their kids.

We hear about domineering, controlling mothers like FDR’s mother, Sarah Roosevelt. She adored her only darling boy, but made his wife, Eleanor’s, life hell. She picked out their furnishings and wallpaper, not to mention their house, interfered with the discipline of her grandchildren, and lived close by in more ways than one.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the kind of moms who live their lives as they wish with family as an afterthought.

Personally, I’m sick of reading memoirs by the children of such people, describing the many times they moved to fulfill a parent’s dream, the food they scrounged for themselves and the makeshift shelter, or lack of it, that made up everyday living.

Revelations about bad mothers is kind of a modern phenomenon, I think. In past times, motherhood was sacred enough to produce universal praise.

Of course, it was also sacred enough to make such a thing as abortion unthinkable. Perhaps the modern badmouthing of moms is a corollary to the unimportance of human life in our culture. You think?

As I said in the first column I wrote in this newspaper, sentimental motherhood never appealed to me. So there must be a more honest description of that condition than either Mommie Dearest or sickly sweet Mother McCree. In fact, having had a mom and been a mom, I know there is.

More often than now in the Church, we used to hear about taking the Virgin Mary as a model for motherhood, and I still think that is a great idea because, first and always, Mary was about love.

She loved God enough to take on a scary assignment that mystified and terrified her, namely to be the mother of God. There were no precedents for that. It involved alienating her husband-to-be, embarrassment and possible punishment by her society, fears of inadequacy for such a task, and on and on. But she accepted and put herself in God’s hands.

Mary was patient. When Jesus remained behind in the temple and they thought he was lost, she didn’t panic. They just looked until they found him and then, instead of yelling or threatening punishment as we might do, she merely asked him why he stayed. She treated him with loving respect even though he was a child.

Mary was kind and generous, teaching these qualities to her child through example. Even when Jesus was an adult, she gently urged him to provide more wine at the Cana wedding feast to save the newlyweds embarrassment. It may not have been his time yet, but she prevailed as mothers do when their children recognize love in their mother’s requests.

Mary accepted what life brought with continuing faith in God’s Providence. She followed her son through his public ministry, probably marveling at his miraculous healings, his charisma, his insights into the will of God. And, when he died a horrible death apparently in disgrace, she stood nearby in loving support.

Mary was not selfish and she wasn’t a wimp. Rather, she was a mother we would all hope to be like.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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