The meaning of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

For the next few weeks, we find ourselves between two notable days in our national calendar: Mother's Day and Father's Day. How wonderful it is to set aside special time to honor our mothers and our fathers, something that the Lord praises (Ex 20:12) and the importance of which the Child Jesus understood (Lk 2:51). These special occasions offer us opportunities to understand better two realities: the unique role that mothers and fathers play in a child's formation and the nature of God's love.

In our nation's debate about the meaning of marriage, many question if two parents of the same-sex can provide what a child needs for his or her well-being and development, or if there something particularly important about the role of a mother and a father. We know by the very manner in which we come into existence, by the union of a mother and a father, that God has inscribed meaning into these two roles for family life.

We want to know from where and from whom we come. It is essential to our identity. Children who have lost a mother or father at a young age can testify to the loss of something particular that only their mother or father could have offered to them. To love and to rear a child is to be more than a "parent" in a generic sense; it is to "mother" or "father."

During this year's Wednesday General Audiences, the Holy Father has been describing the nature of the family and the various roles members play: mothers, fathers, grandparents and children. "Every family needs a father," Pope Francis said, "a father [who is] present in the family." A father's closeness offers support, protection, strength, and certainty to a child. Pope Francis remarked that a father balances firmness with gentleness as he passes along wisdom about life to his children (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, February 4, 2015).

When it comes to motherhood, the Holy Father insists, "A society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always, even in the worst moments, witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength" (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, January 7, 2015). One of the most unique and important aspects of the feminine genius is a woman's ability to tend to many people's various needs, both physical and emotional, at once. This teaches a child about the value of selflessness and the importance of attentiveness to those who are put in our care.

It is by witnessing their mothers and fathers as they relate to one another and relate to them that children learn how to interact with others who are both similar and different. They understand better their identity as male or female. From each parent they receive love, correction and protection in distinct but complementary ways. It is the differences between mothers and fathers that create unity and harmony in family life.

Of course, no one has perfect parents. To be human is to have a weakened nature and to fall short in relationships, some that are closest to the heart. But even in their imperfect humanity, our mothers and fathers give us a fuller picture of the way that God loves His children.

My parents were not perfect, of course, but in each of them I saw, as I grew older, a reflection of how God loves me. I realized that whatever I might do to displease my father, I could never undo his love for me. This reflected God's unconditional love. My mother was quiet by nature, but I knew that she unfailingly cared for me, was concerned for my welfare and would always be at my side with prayer and love. In this, I experienced God's tenderness and fidelity.

One of the most important aspects of the Lord Jesus' revelation is that God is Our Father. He teaches us to address the Lord this way in prayer, and He calls the Father, "Abba," or "Daddy" from the Cross. His parables reveal how God mercifully loves us, even when we turn away from Him. We hear that He is forgiving, generous and kind. He anticipates our needs and perfectly and sufficiently provides for them: "What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Lk 11:11)

Likewise, we know that God also shares with us a love like that of maternal tenderness. "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you (cf. Isaiah 49:15). Jesus Himself, as he was preparing for death, cried out, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Lk: 13:34)

In this season between Mother's Day and Father's Day, let us be particularly grateful for the unique gifts that we have been given by our mothers and fathers, and may we be more attentive to the perfect way in which God loves His children!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015