For the Mothers of My Church

On this Pentecost, just a week after Mother’s Day, I think it is valuable and important to remember our Mother Church and all the mothers she gives to us. 

The last words I got to say to my grandmother before she died were, “I love you.” Just prior to that, I was able to break bread (well, bagels) with her. While others picked up the dishes, I stayed behind while the extraordinary minister came to give my grandmother the Eucharist. I prayed along the Our Father, listened to the Gospel, and sat reverently while she took the Body of Christ into her tiny, shrinking body. I wish I could remember what the Gospel was. As it was being read, my grandmother said in her New York cadence: “Oooh, this is my favorite Gospel!” I can’t remember her favorite Gospel. I wish I could.

I think I’m destined to some extra time in purgatory for not thanking God nearly enough for this gift. I can’t say why exactly this story is coming to me now, months and months after her death. But folding soft, warm laundry brought on the memory. Breaking bread, praying how Our Lord taught us, the Eucharist. And then the reason for it all: I love you. I think of it as I yearn for my Catholic friends & family. For the rich culture and sensory world of Catholicism. For my Mother Church which has held all my mothers. I can go through in my head all the reasons Catholicism and feminism are not only compatible but even necessary, when I think about the women who have been my mothers, I realize I don’t need those.

I think about my grandmothers, born in an era that limited women’s roles and possibilities, and I imagine their hands folded in prayer, pleading with God to strengthen them as they reared families (and not small families, I might add).

I think of my own mother, and her quiet, delicate faith that is both thoughtful and raw. How her prayers are in her actions. How she taught me what it means to believe, and yet I never heard any lecture.

I think of the sisters I’ve known – my own sister by birth, by my neighbors, my best friends. Young women born into a world that promises them everything; but it’s not enough. My sisters push for justice, for peace, for forgiveness.

I think of the women religious in my life – both current and former religious – who have inspired me by their bold, no-nonsense faith-in-action. Women who serve a Church that often neglects them. Women who embody the Gospel in a way I could only dream.

I think of them all, and their feminine hands folded in honest, gut-punching prayer; reaching out for hope and truth. They finger rosaries, and locks of baby hair, and the keyboards of computers. How could I ever leave a Church that has birthed them? That has birthed my very soul? That has sustained us in many trials? It is not always easy to be a woman in the Church. It’s not easy, but it also is. When I think of my grandmother, in ecstasy exclaiming, “This is my favorite Gospel!” and following the Eucharist with an honest, “I love you” – my call to the Church is as clear as day.

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