Reflection – Who Taught You To Pray?

On Mother’s Day, 2003, I attended mass at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, a church, but not a parish, strategically located amid casinos and hotels on The Strip in Las Vegas.  19 years later, I can still remember the homily from the presiding priest, who shared the story of the very first Liturgy he had ever presided on Mother’s Day in his home parish, parents and siblings proudly sitting in the front pew.  “Now,” he said, “I knew it was Mother’s Day.  And I knew my mother expected to have that acknowledged with mention made of what a devoted, Christian, faith-filled mom she was.  But Mother’s Day is not in the liturgical year.  It is not a Feast Day of the Church.  It is not a sacred event in the life of Christ.  So, I made no mention of mothers, Mother’s Day, or my own mother during my homily.” 

In fact, our priest is right.  The Ordo for this present liturgical year clearly notes: “Because Sunday is first of all the Lord’s Day, undue emphasis must not be given to this secular celebration.”  Obedient to that order, this new priest did as was expected.  However, when one brother went to receive Communion, he whispered, “You are in big, big trouble.”

At a celebration with family and friends in his parents’ home following the liturgy, gathered to honour this significant moment in the young priest’s life, he explained to his mom why he COULD NOT speak about mothers during his homily.  His mom looked him in the eye, leaned in for a huge hug, and whispered in his ear, “Who taught you your prayers?” 

With some concern that this may be perceived as a stereotypical statement, I believe mothers are the backbone of our faith.  The mother of Jesus remained at the foot of the cross throughout the crucifixion, after most of the men who had followed and accompanied him had disappeared in fear.  In our Rite of Baptism, when speaking of the child’s parents carrying out the “parts truly proper to them in the celebration of Baptism,” the Rite states, “they (the mother in particular) carry the infant to the font.” (5.3) Clearly, the Church accepts the important role mothers can play in passing on the faith. Throughout the world, particularly in the Global South, it is mothers / grandmothers who balance jobs, family life and other commitments to ensure their children live in their faith and help sustain belief in this God; it is mothers / grandmothers who attempt to teach their children to meet God during everyday life. 

My father was a person of faith, who lived that faith daily, but it was my mother who made sure we got to church; it was with her I had conversations of faith.  My husband is a person of faith, who lives that faith daily, but he would concede that our children were raised in the Christian faith because of my commitment to it.  Increasingly we do see fathers take on roles that were conventionally held by mothers.  I acknowledge there are also mothers who fail and neglect their children, even horrifically abuse them.  Yet, my lived experience as a catechist shows that 80% or more of catechists are mothers, 70% or more of parental involvement in catechism is by mothers.  

So, the Ordo is correct: Sunday is the Lord’s Day; Mother’s Day is a secular celebration.  Far be it from me to argue with Church teaching.  But on this Mother’s Day, which is also the Sunday traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, such a beautiful image of mothering, and as a mother filled with gratitude for her children, the most important of any legacy I may leave; and having had a mother who taught me how to love both God and my family, how can the Church not expect me to speak of mothers?   Those women who gave birth to us; many women who may have mothered us; women who are agonizingly longing to be a mother; or women who have failed to mother as they should and carry the guilt of that with them always, are to be remembered today. 

Our priest in Las Vegas ended his homily with: “I have never failed to speak about mothers on Mother’s Day since,” acknowledging the one who began his journey by teaching him to pray.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Ellen Bennett
Archdiocese of Moncton, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis


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