as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children,
so you watch over your Church.
Bless our mother.
Let the example of her faith and love shine forth.
Grant that we, her family,
may honor her always
with a spirit of profound respect.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
Sometimes, honoring the mothers in our lives is too easy. When I was growing up, my mom was always there. I’d hand her a card, give her a hug, and that was that. Honored.
But now I think of the poignant Old Testament lines, the words that the newly widowed Ruth spoke to her mother-in-law, Naomi: “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). There is a deep sense of longing, of commitment. There is the prediction of a demanding journey ahead. But there is a contentment, too, a consolation in knowing that the love proclaimed is a love worth struggling for. There is “a spirit of profound respect,” to use the phrase in this month’s “Prayer for Mothers.”
What really strikes me about the words of Ruth is that they emphasize the intentional choice to honor a maternal figure. In fact, we shouldn’t forget that in so doing, she’s leaving behind her own family, her own mother. There’s sacrifice, determination. It’s not always easy.
Nor is it easy for us. Perhaps the memory of our mother breaks our heart. She’s passed away, or the relationship is strained. Perhaps the title of mother is one that is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, sought after, or brings with it nothing but doubt or pain. Perhaps we didn’t know our mother, but we honor just the same another woman who stepped up and into her role.
“Who is my mother?” Jesus asks. “Anyone who does the will of God,” he answers (see Matt 12:48-49). The lifegiving, generative power of motherhood comes to us in many forms. When we pray in thanksgiving for the “life and nourishment” that motherhood provides, we often can’t predict what that might mean, what fruits might blossom.
Did Ruth know that honoring Naomi would ultimately give her a place in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5)? That honoring her mother-in-law would lead to a young virgin saying yes to becoming the mother of Jesus? Certainly not.
Nor do we know what comes from those acts of love and commitment we show to our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, stepmothers, and maternal figures. Let us endeavor, then, during this month to love these women in gratitude and trust, knowing that the Holy Spirit is working through them.