Page 5, 15th March 1996

15th March 1996
Page 5
Page 5, 15th March 1996 — MELANIE MCDONAGH

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Locations: Norwich


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Mothers matter,matter, despite tacky lies and sentiment

MOTHER'S DAY HAS A particular charm as a festival which has more or less survived its appropriation by commercial interests.

While there is a certain irony in Christmas being celebrated by an unChristian nation, there is still an appropriateness to the idea of a celebration of motherhood. We all have or had mothers and, allowing for bad luck in individual cases, it makes sense to applaud the self-sacrifice and unremitting love which characterises them.

It is a pity that such a tribute has to take the form of revolting sentimentalism and downright untruths.

I yield to no one in my affection for my own mother, but I really do baulk at the succession of cards for the occasion which lard the recipient with virtues which no human being should feel obliged to live up to. There is one verse in particular, which I have seen replicated since my childhood, which starts out: To One Who Bears the Sweetest Name and Adds a Lustre to the Same, which I could not actually send with a straight face. Mothers are deserving of fulsome gratitude, but there are ways and ways of expressing it.

The one caveat about the whole thing is that the cult of motherhood should not diminish fathers. My own father adored me and personally, I have little patience with the convention that the functions of nurture and protection are peculiar to women.

Having said which, the graceful tributes to mothers which Mother's Day bring should come particularly easily to Catholics.

Our obsession with Our Lady as Mother of God has, of course been remarked on by Protestants as verging on idolatry. And while intellectually we are very far from making a deity of the Virgin, I have to say that I can see their point.

Traditional Catholic devotion races through the Lord's Prayer before getting down to the real business in hand: litanies of and appeals for the intercession of Our Lady.

Frankly, the proportions in the Rosary say everything: one prayer to God the Father, one to the Trinity and ten to the Blessed Virgin. There is„ of course, no harm in this, but it says a lot about our collective psyche. Perhaps it is because we have taken seriously the idea of the Virgin as Mother that we do it: we might feel a little shy about badgering the Father, Son and Spirit with our requests, but we have no compunction at all about badgering a mother.

And, of course, the ubiquity of the Virgin in Catholic devotional art a characteristic which is shared by the Orthodox does provide a welcome counterbalance to the maleness of our religious imagery. I make no claim for originality in suggesting that this redeems Catholicism from the misogyny which has been attributed to it, but it is probably true.

But there is another tradition in Catholicism about motherhood: that of Christ as Mother. I do realise that mentioning the subject is generally seen as evidence of raving feminism but it is a perfectly respectable if delicately nuanced image which reappears in unexpected places prior to the Reformation.

Julian of Norwich, the celebrated Englishwoman mystic, made a bold claim in her fourteenth vision for the image of Christ as mother in humankind's recreation, for Christ gives birth to the renewed soul.

She relates his motherhood to the problem of why God allows sin: there is an analogy, she suggests, with the mother who allows a child to be injured in order to learn a lesson for its own good: "we need to fall for if we did not fall we should not know how feeble we are in ourselves, nor too, should we know so completely the wonderful love of our Creator." Just a thought for Mother's Day.

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