Circles of life, cycles of grace

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If I’m totally honest, Mother’s Day is my least favorite “Hallmark holiday” of the year.

Not because I don’t love my mothers (yes, plural, because I do have two who are both my “real” moms, plus double the grandmothers and multiple other deeply influential women along my life path), but because no card ever expresses the uniqueness of my love and gratitude, coupled with its nuanced complexities.

Celebrating Mother’s Day this year in Italy, after spending four intense days in Rome, brings to the forefront another Mother I love and am grateful for, a relationship with its own puzzling providences.

Mothers are channels of life, channels of grace. I have to humbly and painfully admit as a mother myself, we are, albeit never intentionally, also channels of struggle and suffering for our children. Whether it be human weakness or woundedness, circumstantial residue or the basic laws of cause and consequence, a mother cannot – and I believe should not – shield and protect her children from all adversity or struggle.

As the home of the Holy Father, Rome is a place where one encounters the Mother Church in her holy glory as well as her blushing imperfections. A complicated intermingling of human and divine, of weeds and wheat, of grappling and grace.

As the seat and seed of Western civilization, Rome is a crossroads of past, present and future.

And as the location for my brother’s ordination to the priesthood, Rome has been a convergence point; a place we have come to and can’t possibly leave retracing the exact steps from where we came.

Understandably, my focus this Mother’s Day hinges on the new “padre” in the family, Fr. Terrance. Appropriately so, as it is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

History is never as clearcut as we would like it to be. Personal, family, church and world history is all the same – there is light and darkness, advancement and retraction, life and death, triumph and defeat.

Those four paradoxes can be directly applied to what both celebrations honor – joys and sorrows, gains and losses, comings and goings, successes and failures – all connected with both motherhood and lives of following God’s call to exclusive dedication to him.

Circles of life, cycles of grace.

We receive physical life through our mothers, sacramental life through our Mother Church; in particular, through the hands of our priests. But the focal point, the unifying center is not ourselves, or even the Church as an institution in time.

In the homily my brother preached at his first Mass, he shared a question he had asked Christ repeatedly during his eight-day retreat leading up to ordination, “Jesus, what do you see in my priesthood? What does my priesthood look like to you?”

He confided that he did not receive a clear answer, and drew a parallel with the Blessed Mother and the mission she received at the Annunciation. She did not have a clear answer or complete understanding of what was being asked of her. Nonetheless, her response was a confident commitment to follow wherever the Lord led – “Let it be done to me according to your Word.”

No priest, no consecrated person, no mother, and in fact no father or any person has total clarity at the moment they respond to a life calling.

There is no crystal ball when a baby is first given to its mother’s embrace, no exact outline given as the priest’s hands are anointed and consecrated, no detailed map for a couple at the moment they exchange their marriage vows.

Mary’s response wasn’t even directly to God. Her fiat was a response to the words of God’s instrument, but it was her relationship with him that gave her the confidence to consent.

It is so easy, so naturally human, to focus on the circumstances, the surroundings and the outcomes of our response to God in everyday life. For myself, the grasping efforts to understand the whats and whys of where he has brought me from and where he is leading me to can be exhausting, laboring.

My hope, my prayer, is that during these days, I have fine-tuned my inner ears, recalibrated my inner compass. In such a way that I can find greater joy in the journey, more freely interact with an ever-changing present moment.

All because I am more securely fixed to the Alpha-and-Omega axis, the Creator who encompasses all motherhood and fatherhood, all physical and spiritual paternity, the God in whom I can abandon myself with childlike trust – peaceful in the Church’s moments of shadowy eclipse, calm amidst family storms, confident in the One who knows my strengths and weaknesses, with my heart securely fixed on his loving gaze, but soul safely seated in his embrace.

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