Thomas Aquinas holds that we owe our parents a debt of quasi-infinite gratitude.
As I’ve watched my friends become mothers, I’ve come to a whole new appreciation for my own mother’s great sacrifices. Just the other day my starving friend slowly ate her brunch one-handed so that she could gently rock her baby back to sleep. Mothers are full of such sacrifices.
Slowly eating brunch one-handed was small. In fact, I doubt many mothers would even think much of it, it seems to be so connatural to them. But interrupted sleep, re-prioritizing finances, welcoming an unexpected, unplanned child … these are very great, very admirable labors of love. Seeing my friends so lovingly put the needs of their children ahead of their own brings to light in a new way what my own mother did for me.
It is a perfect icon of the Gospel. At the Last Supper, with his closest friends, Jesus teaches, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The call to imitation of Jesus’ great new commandment of love is the heart of every Christian vocation, and yet, how clearly we see this love in the life of mothers!
The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, shines forth both as having known deeply the joys of life with Christ and as sharing his sufferings. The Virgin Mary accepted God’s plan to become a mother, saying to the Lord, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Preserved from fear and hesitation, she lovingly embraced God’s plan, making clear the way for every Christian mother to follow thereafter. So great was her love, that Jesus, in his final moments, presented his own mother to his disciple to cherish and honor (John 19:27).
Another Christian mother, St. Monica (the mother of St. Augustine), famously prayed constantly for her son’s conversion. Concerned for her son’s faith she approached a bishop of the Church, who told her, “It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost.” It was her tears shed, her long hours of prayer, which no doubt contributed to her son’s conversion. On her deathbed, Monica and Augustine shared an extraordinary experience of prayer. Augustine describes this moment, saying, “We proceeded step by step through all bodily things up to that heaven whence shine the sun and the moon and the stars down upon the earth. We ascended higher yet by means of inward thought and discourse and admiration of [God’s] works, and we came up to our own minds.” This radical union of mother and son allowed them to speak of God, to rejoice in his works, and to love each other deeply.
In our own day, Gianna Molla was a pediatrician, who quite literally laid down her life for her child. Opting to forgo a potentially life-saving hysterectomy, St. Gianna chose instead to carry her baby to term, giving birth to her daughter, who still lives today. St. Gianna’s choice of conscience, selfless and heroic love, teaches the world of the depth and richness of a mother’s love.
The sacrifices of Christian mothers, made day in and day out, so often go untold. The world may never know of our mothers. The Church may never sing their praises, as we piously remember St. Gianna, St. Monica, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. And this is why Mother’s Day is so important. Far from being a celebration to give offense, today is a day of heartfelt thanksgiving. It is a day of rejoicing and gratitude. Mother’s day is a day of recognition and love.
The core of morality, the Ten Commandments, teach us to honor our mothers and fathers. God wills that, following our love for him, we show reverence to those who have given us life and taught us about God. For his part, Thomas Aquinas holds that we owe our parents a debt of quasi-infinite gratitude. We will never be able to repay what they have done for us.
We thank God this day for the great gift of our mothers. God has given them to us, willing from before all time that they should be witnesses to us of his love. Their example of great personal sacrifice reveals to us a hint of the mystery of God’s love. Through them we can see more clearly the abundance of God’s own love for his people. With hearts of gratitude then, we rejoice today, begging to see with greater clarity the richness of God’s love in our lives.