Mum, whatever you do: don’t read this!
At a recent conference in Modena, Italy, historians evaluated the role some distinguished Catholic mums held in shaping their children’s Catholicity, and their ultimate role in helping their children become saints. St. Pius X’s mother strikes an especially insightful pose; each day she exhorted her children to pray in the morning, and in the evening the family were brought together for an open examinations of conscience. Curé of Ars ascribed momentous importance to the responsibility of mothers in forming faith; "virtue passes from the heart of the mother to the heart of the children,"
Concerning the historians finding, Fr Zuhldorf has the following analysis.
The Catholic News Agency does not have as good a report as Fr Z, but nonetheless, here’s the link.
To an extent, I can see the historical evaluation of mothers-of-the-saints, as having a parallel in my own life, in terms of the influence of a mum. Not that I am anything compared to Pope St. Pius X. I’ll be begging St. Pius X to throw some water droplets from Heaven to ease my burns in Purgatory.
Nevertheless, When I was 14, my Mum had a dramatic religious reversion, which had far more of an effect on me than it had on my older siblings who at the time were in their twenties. Friends of mine comment (out of my parents’ hearing!) that not all my siblings practise. One pivotal factor was that Mum simply wasn’t as loyal to the sacraments when they were growing up, as she was when I was in my Holden-Caulfield-stages.
Before My Mum’s Catholicism re-charge, she and Daddy had always been loyal to the Church’s teaching, lived an example of ‘openness to life’ and were devotees to Humanae Vitae. I am very grateful for this and have thanked them; I know in my own conscience that I would be extremely promiscuous now had my parents shown an example of ‘contracepting’. My attitude would have been, 'if Mum and Dad did it in marriage, what's so wrong with it?' Plus my parents’ stance against contraception drew a lot of sneers from condom-country inhabitants; this defiance to contraception made Mum and Abba all the more worthy of my respect. And I know that I would not be pro-life if Mum had not explained with great urgency when I was seven (1992 – the X Case was the Irish news item of the decade) that abortion was always wrong.
In the years before mum’s catholic re-awakening, we, as a family said a decade of the Rosary on a nightly basis at my home, after dinner, something my father instituted. However, Mum and Dad, in their innocence, left it to local ‘Catholic’ primary schools to transmit the faith to me. Furthermore, we were Sunday Catholics who tripped in, late, a second before or after the Gospel. Confession was a Christmas and Easter affair. I vividly remember when I was eleven, my mum had a conversation with an older brother discussing that it had been a number of years since he had gone to confession. A casual attitude was taken to this lapse of some years since said older brother had been near a confessional. Once we were on holiday in London, we didn’t go to Mass on Sunday, and from then I had it fixed in my head that it was ok to drop Mass whenever I left Cork. Growing up I knew no one who was evangelical about the Catholic faith, no one with a love of Our Lord, and the gospels became something of a legend.
So, at twelve, I was a vegetarian atheist, just there in person at Mass, trying hard never to listen to any of the words at the sermon or liturgy, and planning to drop all pretences to religious practice when I grew up.
It became harder to conceal my hate for religion, when at the age of 14, Mum developed a fondness for praying, a love for frequent reception of the sacraments, and a seriousness in her faith that I found new – and unsettling. For the first time, Mum noticed my reluctance and the cross tone in my voice when I was called on to say the Hail Mary at decade-of-the-Rosary-time, ‘what’s that Mary? You’ll have to say that prayer again. You must say it with respect.’ I didn’t believe – but it had an effect – one night I couldn’t sleep until 5AM because Mum had earlier spoken of Fatima – and the thought of the three children witnessing hell jolted my adrenaline. Select things that she would say sank deep into me; she knew I loved CS Lewis and said that CS Lewis was the writer who had written that the cleverest trick of the devil is to fool the world into thinking he doesn’t exist.
She asked me to attend a Tridentine Mass with her, and I agreed because I was so curious, but reneged because she wanted me to cover my hair; ‘never Mum, never! How dare you ask me to hide my hair! That’s so sexist! Sexist!’ There were times when I insulted her outright – ‘that’s just stupid Mum.’ Mum was actually very patient with me. She gave me expensive ‘sparkly’ Rosary beads, and I left them gather dust for five years. She took me to confession, and was horrified when I strutted out, boasting about the fact that I had been refused absolution. Then there was my arrogance; ‘oh come off it, like, confession doesn’t matters! Doh!’
It was nice though, when she let me stay at home to honour the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and said to me ‘you should know that the so-called [Irish] government minister who abolished the school holiday for the 8th of December is not a practising Catholic. She wants you to focus on school and not on Our Lady!’ Mum felt Really Aggrieved that she had completely overlooked checking the content of our Catholic school text books; ‘there was nothing in those books! You had such poor catechesis.’
Mum started ‘hanging around’ churches and started to accumulate greater numbers of consciously Catholic friends, who we jokingly called ‘Mum’s prayer group’. Through her friends, I saw that it wasn’t ‘just Mum’ who was into the St. Brigid of Sweden prayers, doing holy hours and trying to get me interested in lighting candles. These new friends of mum’s were into visiting holy places, praying to Padre Pio, and shared mum’s delight at a fish burger in McDonald’s on Fridays.
And also, I knew interiorly that mum’s new friends didn’t use contraception. They quoted Humanae Vitae with a tenderness and love for the papal document that even I found inspiring. They spoke of hardships in their jobs, the difficulties they faced in not prescribing the Pill, and of their money pressures because they were one-income homes. Their apartness compared to other parents was something that I found interesting; ‘why are so many parents putting condoms in their sons’ wallets?’ was a question they often asked. I was impressed with their courage of conviction and respected them for it. Was their faith really worth all this effort? No, I told myself, they were just clinging to their religious Mary and Jesus fantasies.
Mum’s new friends rallied around her and supported her during the following incident. The exact moment that I passed from being an atheist to believing in ‘something’ was when I was run-over by a truck, but miraculously survived the impact. At the precise moment of the collision; my mother had prayed to my guardian angel, who according to the laws of physics, must have cushioned me from the killer head blow I received from the truck. There’s no ‘scientific reason’ for why I should have survived; only a mother’s clamouring of Heaven, the grace won, and my winged one sent to deliver me from certain death.
PS - The children of mum’s ‘prayer group’ were around the same age as me, and slowly over the years, I got to know them better, we became friends and swapped stories about our backgrounds. We remain friends today – we all ‘have the faith’ and compare notes on what ‘cool’ things we’ve being doing. How many holy hours have you done this week C? How many times did you pray outside an abortion clinic? What - they have a regular Latin Mass there? Had someone told me, when I was 14 that I would be going to a Tridentine Mass – and covering my hair – I would have told them to take it easy on the LSD.