Parochial Vicar, St. Martha, Murrieta
I was standing in a ruined Egyptian temple, in the far south of Egypt, beyond Karnak and not far from Aswan. In the ruins of the temple, there was a wall painting, which had survived thousands of years. The image above the altar was of the mother goddess Isis, enthroned on a chair, with her divine holy son Horus on her lap. Before the mother and child, the pharaoh knelt, offering gifts to them in worship. Our Muslim tour guide grinned at us.
“Does this look familiar to any of you?” he asked us. I was with a bunch of English tourists, and much as I love the British, they are a very secular lot these days. No one had a clue.
“It looks like a Christmas card” I replied. “Mary and Jesus seated on a throne, while the wise men, kings from the east bring gifts.” He nodded with great glee as if he had exposed some deep mystery to us all. And then he pointed to the wall to the left of the old painting. There, cut into the older temple, was a niche with a little cross above it. “And that” I said, “Is a credence. It’s the place where Mass vessels are put before the priest puts them on an altar. This pagan shrine was used as a church.” The early Christians were quick to use older cults as an evangelistic took to draw peopleto their new faith. From paganism to Christianity, it’s an old story, which I shall say more on in a moment.
Welcome, this week, gentle readers to one of the oldest holy days in the entire world of religion, the cult of Mother’s Day, which we Americans will celebrate next Sunday. Mother Day, in its various forms runs very deep in the human consciousness and goes back to the very earliest times when primitive men and women painted pregnant animals on the walls of their face in ice age France, down to the veneration of Isis in Egypt, Marduk and his mother in Mesopotamia, Rhea, Gaia, and Cybelle in the Greek world. The Romans honored Juno, the goddess of marriage and motherhood, gave her a month sacred for weddings, and June brides honor her without knowing it down to the present day. Pagan Romans prayed for fertility for their women on Matronalia. Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary replaced many of these with the spread of Christianity. To this very day, the English “Mother’s Day” is “Mothering Sunday” the Sunday following March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, nine months exactly before Christmas Day.
Across the world many religions and cultures have days which give honor to mothers. In Nigeria and Ireland it is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, in Hungary, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal it is the first Sunday in May, in Libya, Oman, Syria and the Sudan it is March 21, the Vernal Equinox. in Argentina it is the third Sunday in October, in Russia it is the Last Sunday in November and in Panama it is December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In the United States, Mother’s Day was the creation of a woman named Anna Marie Jarvis, who was born in 1864 in West Virginia, and whose beloved mother died in 1905. Anna turned her grief for her mother into a personal project and lobbied for a creation of a national day honoring mothers. There had been a number of earlier attempts at the same project, some tied to the Temperance Movement and others to women’s rights, but none had captured the public opinion. Jarvis’ own mother had been something of a radical, and had founded a body known as the Mother’s Work Day Clubs, which gave medical aid to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, and encouraged women to give a day to aid the fallen on both sides of that bloody conflict. Jarvis founded the Mother’s Day International Association to lobby for the new holiday. Spending her inheritance on the project, Jarvis approached politicians and clergy and in 1914 persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to declare a national day in honor of mothers, which continues to this present day. Many subsequent presidents have issued Presidential Proclamations on the day.
While Mother’s Day became very popular it turned in directions Jarvis never expected. In her mind, a day dedicated to Mothers and motherhood should reflect respect for women and improvements in care for the elderly. When Mother’s Day become increasingly commercialized and came to focus on sales of jewelry, cards and candy, she publicly turned against the festival she had created. She remarked, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” Anna Marie Jarvis never married and had no children. She died angry in 1948.
Next Sunday, I know that my church will be full of families with friendly looking matrons, many wearing flowers seated with sons and daughters who have that look on their face which says, ”I have no idea how long this service is going to take and I do not know what the minister will do next.” Many have not darkened the door since last Mother’s Day. This is not the same bunch as the Christmas/Easter only crowd. They know that they are officially religious, but just cannot bother to come more often. The Mother’s Day crowd is often clueless about religion, but Mom wants them there and so they will be. The American Restaurant Association has declared that this is also one of their busiest days of the year, which I can attest to as being a former “porcelain maintenance engineer”or dishwasher. Candy and jewelry associations will make similar claims.
You can bet I will be at my evangelistic best to preach to the dearest heathen offspring in my pews in need of a bit of conversion. That’s why Mom brings them to me. The ancient pagan holidays became Christian holidays while the temples of the mother goddesses became churches dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary. In my trade, we have been busy using this motherhood festival thing to turn pagans into Christians for a very longtime.