This is the Feast of the Ascension, and it’s Mothers’ Day as well. Perhaps we could join them by saying this is the day when Jesus was able to go home to his mother.
I am going to cheat both the Ascension and our mothers by telling you four little stories personal to me. Three of them have to do with seeing Mary as my mother, while the fourth is about a Mothers Day sermon that was worse than this one.
My first story about seeing Mary as my mother goes back to my growing up on a street where all the other kids were Methodists. We hardly ever mentioned Mary, so when I went to the minor seminary where the kids all talked about their devotion to Mary, it left me cold. Still, I wanted to be like the other boys so I started saying a Hail Holy Queen every night, asking Mary to give me some feeling for her. It took two years, but ever since, she has made me feel that she is my mother.
My second story about seeing Mary as my mother comes from the major seminary in the 1940’s when the holier students made themselves Mary’s slaves. They offered all their prayers through her, and they put all the merit they earned at her disposal. They gave me a book that said sending my bare prayers to God was like offering him an unwashed piece of fruit, but if I sent up my prayers through Mary, she would offer them up on a silver platter. Again, I wanted to be like the others, so I went to an old priest for help. He told me that the Holy Father had approved of souls making themselves slaves of Mar, but I said, “I still can’t picture prayers as being like fruit on a silver platter.” He said, “Thomas I wish you could be like me. Anything the Pope says, I fall for it.”
My third story involves not being able to like the Rosary because I couldn’t do two things at once. I couldn’t think about the Hail Mary’s I was trying to say at the same time I was meditating on the mysteries. But I got over that difficulty by remembering going Christmas shopping with my mother when I was four-years-old. In the crowded department store aisles I would hold tight on my mother’s hand while gaping around at the wonders. I decided I didn’t need to think, of the words of the Hail Mary’s if I just turned them into holding Mother Mary’s hand while I gape at the mysteries.
My awful Mothers Day story is about Father John Phelan who was a great friend to all us priests, while he was mean to all the ladies in his parish. Perhaps he just wanted them to come up to the standards his own mother had set. But any time I would say something nice about him, my oldest sister who was from the next parish, would say that was not the Father Phelan his parishioners talked about. Anyway, my sister Kay was conducting a door-to-door survey when at one house she saw a bulletin from Father Phelan’s parish; and remembering that it was a few days after Mother’s Day, my sister asked, “Did Father Phelan say anything about Mother’s Day?” and the lady answered, “Did he ever! He told us we were the lousiest pack of mothers he’d ever seen.”