I realize that it’s a little late to write Mother’s Day messages. In my case, it may be a little late to write a eulogy for my mom who died 15 years ago. Nonetheless, there is something that I would like to share with all of you who are parents and those who will be parents.
When a parent approaches the Lord for the final judgement, the most important question that he must face is whether or not he fulfilled his duty as a Christian and passed on the faith to his children.
Passing on the faith is more involved than sending kids to weekly CCD and putting them through the drills for First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The sacraments are not graduation ceremonies. The sacraments are part of a journey. This is where my mother comes into my spiritual picture.
Whatever her faults, were many things that my mom did well. But the one thing that she did with outstanding fidelity, love, courage and concern was to hand down the faith. From the moment we were born we were incorporated into the faith community. I say incorporated to mean that we didn’t just get dragged down to the church to be baptized or the temple to be blessed and “Goodbye”. There was much more. Faith was part of our domestic culture.
I remember that the first picture book that I ever read was the story of Moses. From there, I read every other story in the bible. Faith was part of our recreation, because bedtime reading was a ritual and a fun time for me.
Religious symbols were present in every room in our house. I was taught to pay attention to them. I remember my mother insisting that I bow my head each time I passed a crucifix that was in the entry foyer. Bowing to the crucifix and altar in church were not new to me.
Morning, evening and night prayers were part of our family schedule. We prayed before going to school. When I was older, I prayed the Holy Rosary with my mom every day at 7PM. I have no idea why it had to be at 7PM. I can tell you this. I have no idea what was on TV at 7PM. That was time for evening prayer. Then there were night prayers that were said at bedtime. The very first prayer that I learned to say was the Lord’s Prayer. Because I grew up in a bilingual home, my mother made sure that I could pray it in two languages. After that, other prayers were added, including prayers at the table.
My mother taught us Judeo-Christian morality without proselytizing and without nagging. I would come home and tell her about something I saw at school or on the street. My mother would stop to listen. If the action was good, she explained how I should imitate it, because it pleased God. If the action was bad, she explained the importance of avoiding it, because it was a sin and sin could land you in hell. My mom was not afraid of words like “sin” and “hell”. Despite her use of those terms, I don’t suffer from PTSD. If anything, I suffer from a guilty conscience when I mess up.
Not to drag this on too long, which I already have, when I was about 11 we had a fire that destroyed a good portion of our home. It took several months to rebuild, paint and do whatever else they do when they rescue a house. How would I know? I was only 11.
I’ll never forget standing outside at 3:00 AM on a very cold March morning, in my PJs and a blanket, watching flames come out of one of the upstairs windows. When the fire was finally out, I asked my mother, “What are we going to do?” My mom was very quiet for a moment. Then she said, “I have no idea. Let’s not worry about that now. Let’s find a warm place to sleep. God always has a plan and he will tell us what to do when the time is right.” This was a belief that she instilled in us from childhood. “God has a plan.” And “Only God knows.” We were always assured that Providence was taking care of us.
Like any good Judeo-Christian, we worshipped every weekend and on holy days as well. There was no such thing as sleeping in and not going to Church until you were old enough to pay your own bills.
The best thing that I learned from my mother was love of God and love of neighbor. I saw my mom take in kids whose parents could not care for them and they would live with us until the parents were ready to take them home. One child lived with us about three months. I saw my mother stop inside the church on her way home to visit the Blessed Sacrament.
I was not asked if I wanted to come in. I just naturally followed and knelt in front of the tabernacle. There was no doubt that Christ lived in that little box. There was no excuse for driving or walking by the church and not stopping to say hello to its sovereign resident.
Remembering these things, I believe that at the moment of her death, whatever faults my mother had were outshined by her perseveration when it came to handing down the faith to her children. This is the first and most important vocation of parenting.
The roof over the head, the food on the table, the school tuition, and medical bills were all covered. But as my mother once said, “Giving your kids the material things they need won’t get them to heaven. No bikes allowed in heaven. You have to give more.”