An Ode to Mothers

At my previous parish, St. Joseph’s Neier, Moth- er’s Day was a big deal. We always held First Communion on Mother’s Day with the first com- municants giving their mothers a rose at the end of Mass. And then, we would invite all the moth- ers in the congregation to come forward to get a small, but considerate gift. It was always some- thing really clever and thoughtful. It was a really sweet gesture.

For the most part.

As with practically everything nowadays, there were individuals who felt left out and some even felt hurt. The wonderful Mother’s Day remem- brance became something that stung several members of my parish. Let me tell you about three of them.

The first was a mother who had lost a son in a car crash. The accident, which took the lives of three 16 year old boys,   That accident took place about two weeks before Mother’s Day (on the day of my own mother’s death), and so highlighting that re- lationship just brought back all the pain, all the sorrow, all the grief.

The second was an elderly, unmarried woman. She would sit near the back and stoically watched as all the women who had children paraded to- ward the sanctuary with bright smiles and would then return to hugs and kisses from their fami- lies.  Her name was Marie (she has gone on to her heavenly reward), and she would never say anything or react negatively, but I got the feeling that this simple gesture crushed her soul a bit.

The third person was a married woman who was childless. I never dared to discuss the issue with her, whether it was by choice or by fate. It was none of my business. I knew that she was a teacher, so she adored working with children.

And she became an “honorary” grandmother when her niece (her goddaughter) had her first child. As I watched as the little gifts were given out to the mothers that not being able to partici- pate ate her up inside.

After several years of experiencing the ecstasy and the agony. I decided, unilaterally I may add, to be more inclusive on the gifting. I invited stepmothers, godmothers and anyone else who performed a motherly role. (Single dads still had to wait for Father’s Day.)         My decision was uni- versally applauded. No one felt cheated because others were included (there’s a whole homily in that sentence).

In fact, many people were overjoyed that long neglected women got a bit of recognition on that day. Everyone smiled when Marie got her little gift.

When people try to “mother” me a bit, I always note that my mother died in 1986, and that I re- ally don’t need anyone to take her place. That is not altogether accurate. I still enjoy when some people (depends on the person) takes some care with me. And although she has been gone for thirty-six years now, my mother’s influence and love still has a profound impact on my life, even now that I am well into my sixties.

There is a part of your heart that only a mother can reach (or anyone taking on the motherly role), and it is especially apparent when it goes missing in our lives. “Motherless child” may be the most shocking and sorrowful moniker in all the world. What’s even worse is when the moth- er/child relationship is dysfunctional or abusive. The few individuals who I counseled through that heartache seemed especially damaged.

But when that relationship is healthy and lifegiv- ing, there is absolutely nothing like it. As I said, my relationship with Helen Gannon Schmittgens is still strong, still life-giving, still thriving, even beyond the grave. It is one of the surest signs to me of God’s grace in my life.

So on this Mother’s Day weekend, blessings go out to all mothers, step-mothers (they are not all evil), godmothers, anyone who rocks a baby to sleep, anyone willing to care for someone in need. And this weekend I will think of those three women who help transform my notion of motherhood for the better.

Father Kevin

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