Thank you, Mother, for faith

Anne Hittinger (1927-1972) Grotto, Notre Dame 1971

“Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.” Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women

Forty years ago I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. My mother traveled from Alexandria, Va. to visit the campus for a beautiful fall weekend. We stopped for a prayer at the Grotto. She had a bad cough that weekend and she told me that it was bronchitis.  Six months later she died of lung cancer. In facing her cancer (she had smoked multiple packs from the time she was seventeen), she went through the classic stages of denial, anger, and fear. She was prepared for death by a Dominican sister, an evangelical nurse and the parish priest.  The Dominican (Ohio) was Sister Mary Catherine, a member of the True House community at Notre Dame. She came home with me from Notre Dame and spent over a month with our mother. I am still astonished at her generosity of spirit. 

Faith was her anchor and she was an anchor for us along the journey. My mother died peacefully, in faith and hope, the evening of April 30, 1972. We celebrated a funeral Mass at the chapel at Fort Meyer and laid her to rest on a green and rocky hill in Arlington cemetery.

From her brief life I do recall the importance of faith in her life and for this she was an anchor for me. My mother and father both lived faithful lives — without any special fanfare. The preconciliar Church was characterized by an un-self-conscious faith. But it was a real faith, a living faith. For the parents to commit themselves and their family to weekly Mass, to say nightly prayer, to support the boys as altar servers, to drill the catechism, to pay for Catholic schools — this required real faith, and more, a love of Christ and his Church.This real and simple faith, backed by the priests and sisters, and shared with other families in the parish or neighborhood could make a deep impression on the children.

“The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother — exercising their royal priesthood — penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface. Let us again listen to the appeal made by Paul VI to parents: ‘Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young: Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of Christ suffering to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints?'” Familiaris consortio §60
With mother,  after Mass,  Quantico, Va. 1961
On Mother’s Day I think it fitting to  thank our mothers for that deep impression of faith that future events will not efface. I still continue to use the little prayer cards I inherited — Sacred Heart, LaSalette, St. Joseph. They are little signs or tokens of that faith of our fathers, and mothers, living still. 

“We will be true to thee till death.”

Pope John Paul II recognized the source of living faith in parents: “From the outset they need to have their hearts and thoughts turned towards the God ‘from whom every family is named’, so that their fatherhood and motherhood will draw from that source the power to be continually renewed in love. Fatherhood and motherhood are themselves a particular proof of love; they make it possible to discover love’s extension and original depth. But this does not take place automatically. Rather, it is a task entrusted to both husband and wife. In the life of husband and wife together, fatherhood and motherhood represent such a sublime ‘novelty’ and richness as can only be approached ‘on ones knees’.” Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families §7

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