Mothers’ Day is one of the most important Sundays of the year. Mothers come to Mass joyfully with their children, even the scrappy young adults who have stopped attending Mass regularly, so attendance is up and the priest has an opportunity born in part of his sympathy with the mothers who pray and await their children’s return to the practice of the Faith.
What can motivate them to return? What can the homilist say that will move their hearts and minds?
Well, there is an answer suggested from the Church’s calendar this year, Mothers’ Day coincides with the calendar feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady who appeared just over a hundred years ago to three Portuguese shepherd children: Bl. Francisco, Bl. Jacinta, and Lucia. Her message was one of maternal anxiety for the happiness, goodness, and salvation of all her children. She reminded us to pray, to control our cravings, and to receive the holy sacraments, and she guaranteed joy and eternal life with her in heaven if we follow her motherly instruction.
In fact, just like the readings for this Sunday, mother love is a deep and devoted but also realistic and practical love. Our religion gives us comfort, reassurance, and the guarantee of happiness, and no one represents this to us more easily than the sweetness of the Mother of God. She instructs us that our God is a happy God, a Father who loves us, who indeed is love. It is not a coincidence that the apostle who instructs us today and during all of Easter tide about the love of God most intensely and regularly is the one with whom she lived day in and day out for the last decades of her earthly life. At Fatima she demonstrates to us her fiery heart, the organ of love, the unmistakable sign and source of union with Christ’s mother and ours.
And yet it is a heart surrounded with thorns. Yes our mother consoles us and motivates us, but she also warns of the consequences of our sins, on her Son and on her and on us and on each other. She warns us to turn from our sins and take up the means of grace to repair and heal our souls likewise wounded by our own misdeeds. She goes ahead, and like Our Lord and the apostle, she warns us of the fate of the lost who do not turn and repent Present-day “religious education” experts (not to mention diocesan attorneys!) would be rather unlikely to commend us of the catechetical style of Our Lady, who displayed the three children the yawning abyss of hell. But consider her words. “You have seen hell, where poor sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my spotless heart.” What is clearer than this? Our Mother’s heart will restore us from the misery of sin and hell. Have recourse to her, as God himself did out of love for us to save the human race: “Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.”
As fearful as the prospect of hell is, we can be saved from it by abiding close to the heart of Mary. Anyone who has ever committed a grave sin has already been among the souls who have fallen into hell. Our Lady’s power extends even there, because her intercessions and cooperation with her crucified and glorious Son are unfailing. As we pray in the Memorare, “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy assistance, or sought thine intercession was left unhelped.”
So where can we start with our own wandering children? Commence by being cheerful, and after a good measure of cheerfulness find a point to insert the suggestion that they pray at least three Hail Marys a day for your intentions, just for Mom. In any case, just encourage at least this minimum and there will be ultimately a joyful result. It’s simply impossible that those who persevere in invoking the Mother of God will not accept the graces of salvation.
There is a lovely Russian icon, from that Russia whose conversion Our Lady predicted at Fatima, which is called the “Mother of God of the Unexpected Joy.” A very immoral man had nonetheless the everyday habit of saying three Hail Marys before an icon of the Virgin and Child at the city gate as he passed it. On one day the Holy Child appeared alive and bleeding from his hands, feet, and side. The criminal said, “Who has done this to you, my child?” The Mother of God responded, “You have done this by your sins.” He repented on the spot: the grace of his repeated prayers finally having their effect. This is why they call the image the “Unexpected Joy.”
Our Lady’s presence was an unexpected joy for the world. The persevering prayers of mothers everywhere and the prayers of their wayward children will do the same blessings today. Happy Mothers’ Day!