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On faith: The Heart of a Mother

Fr. Michael Lyons, pastor

Holy Spirit Two Harbors and St. Mary Silver Bay

For someone who was raised not far from the Shrine of Our Lady at Knock Ireland, it is understandable that the month of May holds memories of the Marian devotions held in her honor during May every year. “May is Mary’s month,” as the poet Gerard Hopkins wrote. Ever since coming to America, the month of May with its Mothers’ Day has provided an additional emphasis to the special role of the Mother of the Lord in my spiritual journey. And of course, the anniversary of my mother’s death during May has added a note of poignancy also.

Memories of my mother are too many to share here. One that does and indeed summarizes all of the others is that of my mother in the kitchen serving tea and scones to a woman from a nearby village who needed a caring and listening ear that only my mother could give. Another was her gifts of fresh fruit from our family store to expectant mothers who could not otherwise afford them. This was a common theme of many remembrances of her during her visitation and funeral.

In his poem for Mothers’ Day the poet Seamus Heaney’s condenses his memories into one.

“When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us

to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

A soul ramifying and forever

Silent, beyond silence listened for.”

That last line: ‘Silent, beyond silence listened for’ recalls for me the silence of Mary the mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross in John’s Gospel. One can only guess at what must have transpired between them as he grew into his awareness of who he was and the implications of his mission for the salvation of the world. Some suggest it was at the foot of the Cross when Jesus gave her to John as his mother and he in turn as her son, that the earliest consideration of the unique role of Mary in salvation began.

Certainly since the Council of Ephesus 431, the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God is so much part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions that they would be unrecognizable without it. Her veneration is however simply an offering of praise and thanks to God, whose grace was most fully realized in her unqualified consent to her special role in our redemption. When we join our prayers to hers, we do so only through the unique and powerful intercession of Christ as He stands before the Father imploring his grace and mercy in our behalf. Indeed, the rich iconography in both the Roman and Orthodox traditions help keep our veneration of the Mother of the Lord oriented in the right way.

Whatever your personal experiences or beliefs, we know that mothers play a uniquely formative role in our lives as well as in our spiritually journey. I know that mine did. All in all, as St. Therese of Lisieux said: “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother!” Have a happy Mothers’ Day!