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To mothers, with utmost love

By Melvin Arrington

In a homily delivered more than half a century ago Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, offered the following inspirational comments: “the supernatural value of our lives does not depend on accomplishing great undertakings suggested to us by our overactive imagination.  Rather, it is to be found in the faithful acceptance of God’s will, in welcoming generously the opportunities for small, daily sacrifice.”

In my mature years, I have tried to live up to this high standard, but I fail on a regular basis because my overactive imagination keeps getting in the way.  However, there are those among us who consistently realize this supernatural value, namely all those mothers who view motherhood as a high calling, a true vocation, no matter whether they work outside the home or not.

The recent death of Barbara Bush calls to mind the saying “behind every successful man is a strong woman.”  The former First Lady is a national icon.  She is fondly remembered as “America’s Grandmother” and the stabilizing force behind all the headline-grabbing men in her family.

Simply put, mothers are the glue that holds families together.  They constitute the bedrock of our civilization.  We idealize them, as great cultures of the past have done, precisely because they are essential to our survival.

As Fulton J. Sheen notes, you can judge the level of any civilization by the level of its womanhood.  Classical civilizations venerated women in a special way by personifying traditional virtues and other abstract concepts as goddesses.  These allegorical representations have survived in the popular imagination in figures such as Lady Liberty, Justice, Wisdom, Victory, and the goddess Fortune, otherwise known to gamblers as Lady Luck.

Some are portrayed as mothers because of their nurturing traits.  Consider, for example, the term Alma Mater.  Alumni treat her with great respect, often demonstrating their loyalty and affection for her through ongoing financial support.

Also, we have Mother Earth, who nourishes and nurtures plant and animal life, and Mother Nature, who can be kind and gentle; however, if provoked she will release her wrath, as those of us who remember the old Chiffon margarine commercials (“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”) will attest.

But in my view the classic virtue moms embody above all others is fortitude, that strength of character that enables them to face difficult situations with firmness and resolve.  Fortitude encompasses self-denial, self-sacrifice and also patience, the latter a quality mothers have in spades.

In my family, I have seen all these features displayed time and again by my mama, my wife and our younger daughter, who is the mother of our three grandchildren.

I realize all mothers don’t have that level of devotion, but most do, even when saddled with weighty burdens, such as deadbeat husbands, delinquent children, or life-threatening illnesses.  And yet, those heroic women usually go unheralded and underappreciated.  Why do we honor them only one day a year?

Moms also intrinsically understand the real meaning of love, that it’s about giving of oneself for the good of the other person.  They get that.  Now if the rest of us would just take notice and follow their example, our culture would be the beneficiary.

My mama has spent her whole life in service to others.  She worked many years in Jackson as a registered nurse and later served about 15 years along side my daddy as a missionary in South America.  A life spent in service to others is a life well spent.  Mama now resides at Oxford Health and Rehab (OHR).  Even at age 94, she continues to nurture her loved ones, regularly inquiring about the wellbeing of family members and reminding me to say hello to all of them for her.  Thank you, Mama.

Recently, a local charitable organization gave baby dolls to the female residents at OHR.  Activities Director Karen VanWinkle commented on how the women held their dolls lovingly in their arms, exhibiting tender motherly qualities.  She concluded, “it just goes to show you never forget how to be a mother.”

When a woman, along with her husband, cooperates with the Creator in the creation of new life, she exhibits heroic qualities.  And when she makes small, daily sacrifices for the benefit of her family, she imitates Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who, upon hearing that she had been chosen to give birth to the Savior replied, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

In the Magnificat, Mary proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  You can’t get any more countercultural than that!

Compare her meekness with the attitude of those men and women in our society who, fueled by their out-of-control egos, spend their time magnifying themselves and pursuing their own gratification.  We need to hold up Mary’s humility and selflessness as a counterbalance to the proud, the boastful, the selfish, and the self-serving.  She is, as the poet Wordsworth wrote, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

When we honor mothers on their special day, we would do well to remember that without them we simply wouldn’t be here.  Period.  Dwelling on this thought for a few minutes, should help keep us humble.

Humility, fortitude, love, self-denial, self-sacrifice, patience — these are just a few of the virtues mothers display.

So no matter your political leanings, religious beliefs, or team loyalties, we should all be able to agree on one thing, that “mother” is one of the most beautiful words in the English language.

MELVIN ARRINGTON retired from the Modern Languages Department at Ole Miss in 2015. He can be reached at marringt@olemiss.edu.