Dr. Gerry Turcotte

May 27, 2013

"She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue."

Proverbs 31.26

Another Mother's Day has come and gone, and it is with quiet marvel that I look back on the occasion. Certainly, like so much else in western culture – from Christmas to Easter to Valentine's Day – the event has been commercialized until you feel not another drop can be wrung out of it. Sales, gifts and wrapping paper.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was just another brilliant piece of corporate planning. Until you watch the face of a mother receiving a homemade card from her child. It is then that you see there is still relevance and magic in the day – and that the real subject of the celebration remains despite the glitter and hoopla.

Mothers matter.

I remember this fact every single day of my life. There is an old joke about the stages of motherhood in a child's life: at four years of age, mother can do anything; at 13, she's wrong about everything; at 16, she's a bit old-fashioned; at 35, you need her opinion; at 45, you wonder what she would have thought.

This is my life in a nutshell, idolizing, taking for granted and then losing her all too suddenly to cancer and spending the rest of my life missing her and wishing I could ask her advice. My mother was the only person who always took my side, even when she knew I was wrong.

"Mom," I once said, "I got in trouble at school today for something I didn't do." Outraged, my mother was halfway out of the door, ready to scold the school on my behalf, before she thought to ask: "What was it they said you didn't do?" "My homework," I admitted sheepishly.

On Sunday I was further struck by the power of mothers in our culture. May, of course, is the month devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I was surprised to read, however, that the dedication of May to the Mother of our Church only occurred late in the 18th century - surprising given that such devotional days began to be assigned as early as the 16th century.

Despite this delay, few would miss the influence of the Virgin Mary's blessings. Her story is central to the Bible and gorgeously enacted in the Magnificat: "From now on all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1.48).

Sunday's services offered a rich array of the many hymns that celebrate Marian devotion, but none are as powerful to me as Bach's Ave Maria.

In part, of course, its power comes from a lifetime of special events where this song was a featured moment of thanks and dedication. It was also, as it happens, my mother's favourite work.

And when my mother passed away, too young and too soon, it was the Ave Maria that was played at her funeral.

What is so powerful about the Bible is not just the sense of historic truth that it delivers into our lives, but also how it manifests a reality for our times. Clearly this is true about the grand narratives.

But the Bible also speaks its relevance through more intimate truths. The story of mothers, and the Holy Mother, helps us to understand the enormous blessing that God has bestowed through Mary. He then replicated the symbol of this infinite love through our own engagement with our own mothers.

I would like to think that the true meaning of Mother's Day is understood in that complex and profound connection. All the rest is just merchandizing.

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University in Calgary.)