celebrating Mom

mom_letter_400wMy mom passed from this life to the next on Holy Thursday of 2013 (March 28).

Several years beforehand, one of my sisters initiated a Christmas letter from my siblings to my mom, and it turned out to be a great way of honoring her. I think, with our Dad’s loss fresh in our minds, we realized that we didn’t want to wait until she was gone to send up some words of appreciation.

Here’s the idea as my sister presented it. She collected our letters, which were based on the following format:

  • Identify the top 2 things you like most about mom and why they’re meaningful to you. Add up to 3 more areas that you admire or like about her, (optional)
  • When you think of mom, you think of __________(from 2 words to 2 sentences)
  • Two important things that mom has taught you. (Can be more) This can be by her example as well, etc.
  • Most important gift mom has given you.
  • Favorite day, moment or memories with her (this is not limited but can expand as far as you’d like- beyond just one moment, day, experience too)
  • Funniest or silliest memory of her (laughable moment/s).
  • Your hopes, prayers or dreams for her now-what you would hope she will have/experience, related to her fulfillment.
  • (Optional) One thing she doesn’t know about you that you’d like to her to know (it can be anything, silly or serious-the point is sharing something here with her that she doesn’t know yet know about you or your life, that you’d like her to know).
  • Thanking her for … (Personal thanks for whatever comes to mind) (Some of these things may overlap but that’s fine).

A sampling of the responses from my nine brothers and sisters is posted here.

My own contribution:

The two things I most appreciate about Mom: her generosity and her receptivity. She defines what it means to be recklessly large-hearted, and fearless of the pain that might come from making herself so vulnerable. And by receptive I mean welcoming, not in any formal, dutiful way… but genuinely ready to open herself to whoever would present themselves to her. And then there’s her sense of humor, generally self-deprecating but always alive to the incongruities of life and all that is inherently silly… without caving in to the temptation of being ironic or sarcastic in any form.

Like last Christmas Eve, when she and I spent a good hour traversing back and forth across Clark Fork looking for the Holy Grail of plumbing: a toilet plunger for the overflowing facility at Sacred Heart.

lily of the valleyWhen I think of Mom, I think of lilies of the valley and sailboats, two things she’s fond of. Mom is like those delicate, fragrant flowers that change the whole aroma of the place without drawing attention to themselves, and like a sail open to wherever the Spirit might blow, and constantly tacking to see where the Wind might want to lead next. I think that’s how she taught me the value of discernment: testing everything, and keeping what is good.

Favorite memories include the lunches we shared together at the Burger King at Vine Hill and Highway 7, when I was in junior high school. I was just attending the junior high on a part-time basis, spending the rest of my time homeschooling. Generally, a bus would pick me up midday to take me to East Junior High. But from time to time, Mom would offer to drive me, so that we could have lunch together. It was just as the era of Home Covenant School ended, and during these undivided times shared with Mom, I felt I was getting to know her all over again.

My hope and prayer is that in this particular chapter in her life, she can look back with satisfaction on all of the artistry she has co-created — not the least the family she raised and nurtured with Dad — and look forward to all the new expressions of creative love that she has within her, waiting to be revealed in the days to come. She’s an artist of the human heart, with a canvas that has stretched as far as the eye can see… and a lot farther, I’m sure. There are realms of that canvas for her to revisit, and others to explore for the first time.

So I hope she’ll hop on her pontoon sailboat, so to speak, find the Wind like the expert sailor that she is, and set the course anew each day… touring that entire canvas, that whole work of art that is her life. It’s going to be a joy to watch.

fiat voluntas tua

What pleases me is freedom –
the key given to each soul,
an invitation to willing captivity.

A tender soul,
making itself my captive,
captivates me
as it walks into the cell,
locks the door behind it, eagerly,
and, reaching its arms through the iron bars,
throws the key far out of reach.

The little souls –
some are quite impulsive –
throw their keys with all their might.
They remind me of mother,
which isn’t surprising…
she taught me to throw when I was a child.

From mother,
the great economist of the heart,
I learned that keys are made
to be thrown away.

Of course, she learned it from Father.
Father was the first to lock himself in,
to throw His key away…
with His back to the door
and a grin on His face,
He launched it over His shoulder.

He was so proud of mother
when she threw away her key.
“That’s my girl,” he said.
“That’s my girl.
Have you ever seen such an arm?” he asked me.
“Where did you get such a mother, anyway?”

This business of throwing keys away –
it wasn’t my idea, really,
though Father and Spirit like to say
that is all began with me.
It’s a conspiracy of praise on their part,
to which I willingly submit.

Father knew what He was doing
when He invented keys,
and when He sent me among men
to show them how to throw.
For men,
throwing away a key
is not such an obvious thing to do.
Having been a man,
I understand this.

Now there are many souls
throwing their keys with eager haste
and I throw with them.

Side by side
we laugh
and throw away the keys.

From a collection of poems entitled Only Say The Word

on having your world turned upside down

large-wave-capsize-boatOn a day like this, it can feel like everything has been turned upside down… or like the boat you’ve been traveling in has just capsized.

Well, that’s not always a bad thing.

Here’s a talk I gave twelve years ago this week on the value of having everything upset in your life.

IV: Jesus meets His Mother

From the midst of a sea of angry, fearful faces, the Mother appears, her eyes tender, vulnerable, and heartbroken. “I’m here,” she says; nothing more is needed. What else could we ask of a mother’s heart? Jesus meets one heart in solidarity with His own, and it is enough. He studies her face: This face I will carry with Me all the way to Golgotha. Her loving face is the certain sign of My victory, the sure evidence that truly I will make all things new, that I will take stony hearts and make them hearts of flesh. In her face, I see this promise: the redemption of humanity.

Love means being dependent on something that perhaps can be taken away from me, and it therefore introduces a huge risk of suffering into my life. Hence the express or tacit refusal: Before having constantly to bear this risk, before seeing my self-determination limited, before coming to depend on something I can’t control so that I can suddenly plunge into nothingness, I would rather not have love. Whereas the decision that comes from Christ is another: Yes to love, for it alone, precisely with the risk of suffering and the risk of losing oneself, brings man to himself and makes him what he should be…. I think that that is really the true drama of history.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth

my brother’s keeper

Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)Brother kills brother. Like the first fratricide, every murder is a violation of the “spiritual” kinship uniting mankind in one great family, in which all share the same fundamental good: equal personal dignity. Not infrequently the kinship “of flesh and blood” is also violated; for example when threats to life arise within the relationship between parents and children, such as happens in abortion or when, in the wider context of family or kinship, euthanasia is encouraged or practised.

At the root of every act of violence against one’s neighbour there is a concession to the “thinking” of the evil one, the one who “was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44). As the Apostle John reminds us: “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 Jn 3:11-12). Cain’s killing of his brother at the very dawn of history is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazing speed: man’s revolt against God in the earthly paradise is followed by the deadly combat of man against man.

After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the one killed. Before God, who asks him about the fate of Abel, Cain, instead of showing remorse and apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). “I do not know”: Cain tries to cover up his crime with a lie. This was and still is the case, when all kinds of ideologies try to justify and disguise the most atrocious crimes against human beings. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”: Cain does not wish to think about his brother and refuses to accept the responsibility which every person has towards others. We cannot but think of today’s tendency for people to refuse to accept responsibility for their brothers and sisters. Symptoms of this trend include the lack of solidarity towards society’s weakest members – such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants, children – and the indifference frequently found in relations between the world’s peoples even when basic values such as survival, freedom and peace are involved.

Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), paragraph 8