Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, Caravaggio, Rubens. The list could go on and on, enumerating all of the world’s most famous artists who have painted the image of Madonna and Child. But, what makes these works of art so famous, so moving, so inspiring? It is this: they capture something of a mother’s love. And, in each, we discern something of the tender love of our own mother, and, if we are so blessed, the love of our grandmother and even great-grandmother.
This past Sunday, we expressed in a special way the love we have for our mothers, those with us as well as those called home to God.
Mother’s Day is just one day. It comes and goes each year. But, the love we have for our mothers never passes. It is woven into the joys and sorrows of every day.
There is no bond on earth as strong as that of a child and a mother. From the very first moment we enter this world, our mother’s love surrounds and nourishes us. All the while she is giving of her body to fashion our mortal frame, she is gifting us with love that knows no end. From our mother’s lips, we learn to speak. From her gentle caress, we learn to love.
Our joys fill her with happiness. Our trials and suffering become her sorrow.
The prophet Isaiah once said, “Does a woman forget her baby…or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15). In recognizing a mother’s heart in God, Isaiah reminds us that there is something of God’s eternal love in the heart of every mother. In truth, God draws us close to himself by first drawing us close to our own beloved mothers. As the oft-repeated proverb reminds, “God could not be everywhere and, therefore, he made mothers.”
This Mother’s Day was my first without my own mother.
She lived a full life of 99 years and six months. Uncomplaining. Generous. Giving. Bearing pain rather than ever being the slightest burden to our family. To this woman vibrant, active, reaching out to others with care and compassion and alert to the end, her death came quickly in just three days. We handed her back to God on Divine Mercy Sunday. Painfully, tearfully. But we could not keep her.
My faith assures me that her death was not the end of her journey. She walked her entire life with God. Prayer - fully. Devoutly. Faithfully. She gave us much joy and untold happiness. Like each of us, she was made for more than this world can give. When God wanted to embrace her in his arms and hold her close to his heart, how could we dare refuse her the happiness she so richly deserved?
May those whose mothers are still with them always cherish them and never forget them. May they surround their mothers with concern and constant care, whether their mothers are in good health or ill. And, for all of us whose mothers have gone before us to God, we have the
sure and certain hope that “life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven” (Preface for the Dead).
I have been privileged as priest to assist many in their last moments. Some of them have told me that, before dying, a family member had come to them. In each instance, this took place while the individual was very much aware of what was happening. Days after my own mom died, my niece told me that my mother had been telling her that her parents had been coming to her.
In the moments before she passed, my mom, still conscious, opened her eyes and looked up. In answer to my niece’s question, she nodded that there was someone there for her. What a consolation to know that, as we let go, others on the other side of life are there welcoming those we love. What a comfort to pray the prayer of Mother Church at that moment: “Saints of God, come to her aid. Hasten to meet her and present her to God the Most High.” Christ who died and has been raised up never abandons us. Nor do our mothers!
When we are young, our moms hold our hands for a short time. But, they hold our hearts forever. And, when they are gone, they do not let go. The bond of affection and love between us makes us realize that our true home is not here. Once, a little girl, when asked where her home was, replied, “Where my mom is!” I know what she meant.