A Mother’s Love
I still remember some of the hand motions that we learned in second grade to go along with the words to Now Thank We All Our God. Sister Francis Mary taught us the song and the accompanying movements for our grade’s first turn to lead the singing at a school Mass.
The lack of a second car didn’t deter my mother from walking the mile-plus distance so she could be in attendance. I didn’t see her immediate reaction because I dutifully kept my eyes focused forward, just as Sister had taught us. But that afternoon when I walked in the kitchen door, my mother got down on her knees and hugged me tightly. “That song was so beautiful!” she said as she squeezed me even harder. I knew that she had been working on that hug all day waiting for me to get home from school. It made me feel warm inside to know that I had done something that pleased her so much.
I am well aware that many people claim that their mother was the best. I also know that they are all correct. That doesn’t lessen my conviction that my own mother was the best mom that any boy could ever hope for.
She did not raise her voice, but that certainly didn’t mean that I was unaware when she was less than pleased with other decisions I made and actions I took while growing up. My first big screw up was to go home with Mike Duchateau after school one day. It wasn’t anything intentionally bad; Mike simply invited me as we walked out of school at the end of the day and I accepted the invitation. Of course, he lived in the opposite direction from school as I. We were playing catch in the back yard and it was getting dark when Mike’s mother asked me if my parents knew that I was there. That was the first instant that it even occurred to me that I should have asked permission. She asked for my phone number. My stomach suddenly didn’t feel so good. When Mike’s mother came back out to say that my parents were driving over to get me, my queasy stomach got even queasier. There was no second occurrence!
I would like to say that I was a saintly child from then on. I would like to say it, but that doesn’t make it so. More importantly, my mother was always saintly to me. Her punishments were always fair, although it usually took me a while to figure that out. She protected me when I needed protecting, and let me fend for myself when that was the best way forward. Her love was constant and unconditional.
She took joy in my accomplishments. She wasn’t shy about challenging me to do better, especially at my schoolwork. I had a knack for school and I knew that it was important to her that I would go to college. I didn’t resent it; her concern and confidence in me was a huge motivating factor.
She demonstrated an unflappable faith in God. Her rosary was either in her hand, or in her apron pocket at almost all waking hours. I never asked, but instinctively knew, that her prayers were always for me and my siblings and their families, even when she battled cancer, first when I was still in grade school, and the second time pretty much all of my high school years and the three and a half years it took me to graduate from St Norbert College. The chemo was as brutal as the disease. She battled hard, but eventually tired. I vividly recall the early December afternoon that I stopped at St Mary Hospital on my way home from school to see how she was doing after the latest operation. She was awake and patted her hand on the bed for me to sit down next to her. “I was so disappointed Danny to see the hospital room when I opened my eyes,” she said. “I so wanted to see Heaven.”
When she passed away just three weeks later on a dreary and rainy Christmas Eve, the only comfort that I could take was knowing that she finally got her wish. She was where she wanted so much to be.
43 years later found me on a pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey, following the footsteps of St Paul. While visiting Ephesus, we took advantage to drive up a tall hill overlooking the town, where the small home still stands where it is believed the beloved disciple John brought Mary following Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension to fulfill Jesus’ wish that he would take Mary as his mother and care for her in her old age.
As I stepped off of the bus there I had an overwhelming sense of home. Father Luke Ferris, our Spiritual Director for the trip, had graciously allowed me to preach several times, including at the Mass that our group would pray at this site. I slipped into the small chapel to gazed at Jesus in the tabernacle and prepare. I had my rosary in my right hand but I wasn’t praying the words – it was enough somehow in that moment to simply hold the rosary tight – kind of like a hug.
Then I had a brief vision. It was just a flash really. On the right side of the tabernacle stood a figure I immediately knew was Mary. One the other side of the tabernacle stood my mother. Both gazed downward. Both of them held their own rosary. Neither said a word. I sensed that they were deep in prayer and that prayer, at least partially, was for me. Then, before I could even comprehend what I saw, they each vanished. But I did not feel abandoned. I felt loved.
Those on the pilgrimage thanked me later for a great homily, but honestly I don’t even recall much of what I said. I do know that somehow I was able to choke out these words from Now Thank we All Our God:
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today
His Peace <><