In a world in which most religions begin with God the Father or some sort of male image of the divine, and are founded by male figures such as Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, do we undervalue Motherhood or the role of women in faith?
I grew up in a Catholic family. Early on I was taught how to pray the rosary. I learned that the rosary revolves around central “mysteries” of the Christian faith. While I prayed the rosary I was to meditate on one of those mysteries as I recited in a certain order the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. By the time I was done praying the rosary, I would have said the Our Father six times, the Glory Be two times and the Hail Mary fifty three times.
Since my family regularly prayed the rosary with its fifty three Hail Marys, this prayer to Mary became engraved in my heart. As a child I saw Mary as Jesus’ Mom, and I certainly came to believe that Jesus’ Mom would have a special “pull” with God, just as my Mom had a special pull with my Dad.
I also attended a Catholic grade school. In our school we always had a “May Crowning.” The whole school would gather, songs about Mary would be sung, and flowers would be placed at the feet of a statue of Mary. The highlight of the ceremony was when a specially selected girl from one of the classes would place a crown on the statue to signify Mary as “Queen of Heaven.”
It was all pretty impressive, and despite having to wear uncomfortable dress clothes, I enjoyed honoring Mary. In my grade school mind she seemed worthy of being honored, after all, she had to put up with Jesus who was kind of a know-it-all kid and who got in trouble with the law.
In studying about Mary later in college (with Benedictine monks and nuns as teachers), I was drawn to her revolutionary prayer, The Magnificat, which celebrated God’s overturning of the powerful in the coming of Jesus.
Not only was Mary a strong presence in my faith life, so too were the Franciscan nuns who were my teachers in grade school and high school. In both of these Catholic schools I was taught by Franciscan sisters who created orderly classrooms where learning could take place along with some occasional fun.
The Franciscan sisters’ convent, known by everybody as “The Motherhouse,” was located on a hill that overlooked the home in which I grew up. I was an altar boy and often served Mass at “the Motherhouse.” In this way I got to know something of the lives of these Franciscan sisters. Their dedication to their faith, their commitment to teaching, and the simplicity of their lives were all quite evident and amazing to me.
I also very much remember my two grandmothers, two strong women of faith, one of whom raised seven children and one of whom raised sixteen children. I still have my maternal grandmother’s simple wooden cross and it is one of my most prized possessions.
My own mother remains a strong-willed (some might say stubborn) woman. She has, among other qualities, a faithful commitment to the well-being of her family, a good sense of humor, a passion for life, an intellectual curiosity, and steadfastness in faith.
With such a history, I find it hard to be a person who undervalues motherhood or the role of women in faith. Without the faith and strength of Mary, the Franciscan sisters, my grandmothers, and my own Mom, I would truly be a “motherless child” adrift in the world.
I feel quite blessed to be part of a religious tradition that in some ways has deeply valued women and even recognizes one woman as “the Mother of God.” At the same time I am very much aware of how that same tradition excludes women from the priesthood, and is currently seeking to exert a patriarchal control over the women’s religious orders in this country.
So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m going to pray some Hail Marys and a few Magnificats in thanksgiving to God for the strong women of faith I’ve known in my life. And I think I’ll pray a few more Hail Marys and Magnificats to ask God to listen to Mary to overturn the powerful, including male chauvinist pigs, whether inside the church or out.