Another holy day of (pant, pant) obligation

[This essay was written several years ago, for a different Marian solemnity; but the basic idea still applies!]

Behold, our traditional observation of this wonderful solemnity:

Husband wakes up early, brings two of three high school kids to school A in town B, where they can’t come in late because they have a morning concert in school D and the bus leaving School A won’t wait. He comes home, calls schools A, B, and C about lateness of Kids 1, 5, 6,7, and takes them to early Mass at Church 1 in town B. Also takes baby, because he is superman. Comes home, drops off kids, goes to work in town D. I pack up Kids 1, 9, and 10 and bring them to town B to drop off Kid 1 at work, then take the other two to lunch at Wendy’s because it is Kid 9’s birthday, and then we go to Mass at Church 2 in town B, and then go home. We all go to the bathroom. Then we pack up Kids 9 and 10 and go to School C in Town C, where we pick up Kids 6, 7, and 8, then swing by the library in Town B to pick up Kid 5 who goes to School B, and then pick up Kid 2 who has walked from the bus stop to her doctor appointment in Town B. Then we go back home (Town A), wolf down some hot dogs (leaving kid 4 at home since he already went to Mass and doesn’t sing), scramble into our pretty dresses, hoping kids 2 and 3 have made it home on the bus, and swing by Kid 1’s work in Town B (hoping she has eaten at some point) and bring her with us (not forgetting the cookies which Kid 3 baked last night!) to the Unitarian Church where Kids 5, 6, 7, and 8 have their concert and bake sale; and drop off Kids 2 and 3 so they can walk across town in the dark and the cold to late Mass at Catholic Church 1. After the concert, we drive home, drop off Kids 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in town A and pick up Kids 2 and 3 in Town B. AND THEN WE ALL GO HOME. And then my husband comes home from Town 4, and we open birthday presents for Kid 9, assuming we’re still able to make our muscles function enough to sit up.

(And no, there was no way of just prudently planning ahead to make things simpler. This was planning ahead. We couldn’t go to a Vigil Mass yesterday, because yesterday looked a lot like today, except with a different kid going to work, my husband having to travel to Town E for work, and one kid going to Roller Derby.)

So when someone asks how we are observing this important feast day, I give a little shudder and say, “Oh, we’re just going to get to Mass.”

And that is pretty good.

When we were figuring out the logistics, I honestly considered skipping Mass. It’s a war of obligations, and the kids truly couldn’t back out of their concerts or be late; but since we’re all healthy and able-bodied and no one is pregnant and the van is running, and my husband was ready and willing to make it happen, I realized that we could do it, and so we should.

We may not be wearing Marian colors or lighting special candles at our charming home altar, or making flower crowns or crafting special crafts; but we are putting forth a huge effort to get to Mass. And this tells our kids (and ourselves!), “THIS IS IMPORTANT.”

So if you had a hard time getting to Mass but you did it anyway, you honored Our Lady. If it was a tight squeeze and maybe you stumbled in late and breathless, with hungry, overtired, confused kids, you showed them, “THIS IS IMPORTANT. This is worth doing. This is The Thing You Make Time For.” And you honored Our Lady! Mass is where Mary wants you to be. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

Today I’m on The Catholic Podcast . . .

talking with Joe Heschmeyer and Chloe Langr about Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, for their series on the way of the cross. This episode, #57, is called “The Women of the Way,” and includes passages by the great Josef Ratzinger.

You can hear and download the episode here.

I talk about how I came to understand why and how Mary truly understands our suffering; and about the sensation of helplessness that so often comes along with motherhood and with love in general, and how that sensation can either tear us away from God or help us meet him more intimately. (This conversation was the impetus for my essay, Mary who stays.)

Their other guest is Deacon Brad Sloan who works with women who’ve been caught up in sex trafficking in the midwest. He says so many of them have never experienced what it means to be loved, by anyone else and certainly not by their maker.

The podcast isn’t just discussion; it’s intended to help you meditate on various themes in the stations of the cross. The goal is to help us understand that we’re not alone in our suffering, and to give us the courage to confront evil in our lives. 

The Catholic Podcast homepage is here and feed is here; and you can follow them on Facebook @TheCatholicPodcast.

Image: Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 4thstation : Jesus and his mother. Photo by Pethrus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Who wants a discount code for the FemCatholic speeches?

You do! Because they are awesome.

Today’s the feast of the Annunciation, and it happens that my speech “When Women Say Yes: Consent and Control In Sex and Love” focuses on that moment when the angel came to Mary and . . . asked? Or told? It is called “the annunciation,” not “the invitation” or “the proposal.”And if God didn’t give the queen of heaven and earth a real choice about what would happen to her body and her life, then what chance do the rest of us have?

My speech is about how I worked through my distress over women’s apparent low standing in the eyes of God, and how I came out the other side understanding what consent really means, why it’s so important, how Mary basically invented it, and what the rest of us can hope for, including and beyond consent.

My speech is just one of ten, and if you use the code SIMCHA, you’ll get a 20% discount. Go to this Vimeo page  to order these ten excellent speeches:

1. How the Church Beats Feminism at its own Game – Erika Bachiochi, J.D.
2. Woman and Man: Genius and Mission – Dr. Deborah Savage
3. Was Jesus a Feminist? – Claire Swinarski
4. Suffering and Holiness in a Modern World – Leticia Ochoa Adams
5. Am I Good? Life, Love & Same Sex Desires – Shannon Ochoa
6. When Women Say Yes: Consent in Sex and Love – Simcha Fisher
7. Love in the Ruins: The Prophetic Examples of Dorothy Day and Caryll Houslander – Mary FioRito, J.D.
8. Informed Choice: Reclaiming Women’s Health – Gabrielle Jastrebski
9. Learning to Love the F-word: Embracing Prolife Feminism – Aimee Murphy
10. The Wild Diversity of Catholic Femininity – Meg Hunter-Kilmer

Mary who stays

My daughter is drawing at church. She handily sketches in a crucifix: Top, bottom, one arm, then the other. She’s drawn it many times, over and over. Lately, she’s adding more detail, and at first I didn’t know what it was– some kind of ghost, a formless lump.

Then I saw it was Mary, swathed with robes and veils. Jesus on the cross is sharp and angular, and he turns his face up to the heavens in his agony; but Mary’s head is down, almost crushed into the ground as she bows under the great grief of his innocent suffering. She is utterly helpless. She can’t rescue the child she brought into the world.

In her grief, she is almost unrecognizable, and why not? Why should she be her same self, since the crucifixion is so outrageous? It never should have happened. How could it possibly have happened? This is God we’re talking about; actual God, that than which nothing greater can be thought, and here he hangs, bleeding dry.  Ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by some thugs wielding a hammer.

Never mind the veil in the temple, it should have been the entire planet, the whole fabric of the universe that was ripped in two when he died. I don’t know how the world was held together through the crucifixion. How did everything not come apart?

I do know. It was held together through Mary, who stayed.

Under the intolerable weight of the suffering of her son, she was helpless, almost crushed. But she didn’t leave. There was nothing she could do, but she stood by and let it happen to her with him. Sometimes this is the only action of love: To stand by and not leave.

The suffering of innocents is what tears people away from the Church, away from God: When we have to stand by and watch the innocent suffer, and no one will rescue them. It tears us apart. This is why the abuse crisis has been the breaking point for so many people: The Church was supposed to be where children were safe, but instead it was where there they were ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by thugs wielding a crosier.

It is not tolerable.

But it is nothing new.

The split, the rift, the gap, the unravelling: This has been the story of man since we left Eden. God the Father made His children for wholeness and delight, and what did they do but leave, tear themselves away from him; tear each other apart. Even when there is no ill will, this is the duality of the human experience of love since the Fall: We always live through love and loss at the same time. Never love without loss. From the moment we give birth, we prepare our children to leave us. From the moment we marry, we take on the burden of preparing our spouses for death. This is nothing new.

But Mary is something new. She holds in her heart the making and the unmaking of her beloved, and she does not come apart. She is strong enough to make the son of God and strong enough to stand by and watch him unmade, and still she does not leave. She is steadfast like no other.

Our sorrows are the first part of the story. The long story, the whole story, is that the world is all knit back together again in the womb of Mary. If Penelope wove and then unravelled a shroud, over and over again while she waited for the king to return home, then Mary weaves . . . what should we call it? The swaddling clothes that somehow bind up eternal life itself. And every day, death tries to unravel it, and every night she knits life back up again, day after day, over and over again. She does not leave her island. She is waiting for the king to return.

There are times when we all flee from the foot of the cross. It is too crushing. It hurts too much to be so helpless. We are perhaps willing to suffer, ourselves. But how willing are we to stand by and watch the ones we love suffer? That is the thing that feels intolerable.

But leaving the foot of the cross leaves the world unravelled. Running away from injustice, and staying away, leaves injustice as the final word. If we want to meet Jesus, we must meet him in suffering, in injustice, on this island world at the foot of the intolerable. That’s where he is right now. That is where love is. There is nowhere else, no other place but this temporal island called suffering. We will not be here forever, but we need to be here ready to meet him. To try to escape is to leave the world unravelled.

I can hear that I sound like I’m saying, “Don’t leave the Church, or you will betray the world and betray God.” I am not. I know I have said things that sound like that, and I am sorry. I don’t know what I would do if it had been one of my children abused. I don’t know what I would do if I were a reporter or a district attorney who talked to hundreds and hundreds of victims. When I do write about how the Church has betrayed the innocent, there always comes a time when I close my computer and put my head down and cry. But this is not my life’s work. If it were, I don’t know what I would do.

I am only thinking of Mary, and how glad I am that she didn’t leave.

Jesus was crucified for our sins, and Mary stayed at the foot of the cross for our sorrows. She stayed there for us, waiting on that island called suffering and death. She stays with us still. With her son she will make the world whole again; and then there will be love without loss.

 

The Virgin In Sorrow by Simon Marmion. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons

 

On St. Joseph’s femininity

The other day, Taylor Marshall tweeted, um, a bunch of things. But stay with me! This post isn’t really about him. I just don’t know how else to talk about what I want to talk about, except by starting with what he tweeted.
.

First, apparently understandably distraught over an interview with McCarrick’s first victim, he tweeted some foul garbage about how gay it is that seminarians had a gingerbread house-building contest. Seriously, he did the f*ggy lisp and all, and included a name and photos of the men engaging in this “effeminate and puerile” activity, because that’s how you act when you’re a serious Catholic theologian and scholar.

It was wildly gross and offensive (and since he asked, can you imagine Basil and Gregory tweeting at each other?), and insanely insulting to gay people in direct contradiction of the catechism.
.

But it also threw into high relief how poorly so many people understand what it means to be masculine. Many of his followers apparently believe that any time you’re not studying Latin or logic, building fires, chopping something, or shooting something, you’re a whisker away from of sliding into that dreaded horror, effeminacy.  In order to save the Church, we must stop having . . . gingerbread.
.

His tweet was thoroughly trounced by many others, so I left it alone. But then he followed up with something that really nagged at me:

“The womb belonged to Joseph and he set it aside for Christ. The tomb belonged to another Joseph and he set it aside for Christ.”
.

 I guess what happened is he read Fr. Longenecker’s tweet about wrapping Jesus’s body, and thought, “Whoa.  Joseph-Joseph . . .  womb-tomb!” and, despite not being Dylan Thomas, he went with it, rather than doing a quick heresy self-check. When readers responded to that phrase “The womb belonged to Joseph” with revulsion and dismay, he dug in with this:

He clarifies that Mary ruled over Joseph’s body, as well as vice versa: that there is mutual self-gift in marriage. He meant, apparently, that Joseph gave over his reasonable expectations that he’d be able to have sex with Mary, because he was willing to make a sacrifice to God of that privilege. And this is true enough.
.

But the trouble is first in the way he phrased it. Saying Mary’s womb “belongs” to Joseph is just . . . gross. Things belong to us; people (including their organs) do not belong to us, not even if we’re married. If you want to hear how absurd and unseemly it is to phrase his idea as he did, say instead: “The penis belonged to Mary, so she went outside and peed with it.”
.

I’m sincerely not trying to be crude. I’m trying to point out that a womb is an almost indescribably personal, intimate thing for a woman, and it’s bizarrely wrong to say it belongs to her husband. It doesn’t. It is hers. A woman rightly gives herself to her husband, over and over and over again, but he never owns her, no matter how much it may feel that way, no matter how many times she gives herself to him.
.

And there we have the second, much more serious problem with Marshall’s thought. Joseph did not, in fact, consent to give Mary’s womb over to the Lord. How could he? It was hers to give, and she gave it at the Annunciation. Joseph only found out about her decision after the fact. He didn’t give anything, because there was nothing for him to give. The consent had already been given by the time he found out she was pregnant.
.

Joseph’s choice wasn’t to give or not to give; his choice was either to get rid of her quietly, to get rid of her noisily, or to accept the situation with love, trust, and awe, because God told him not to be afraid to accept it.
.

And that is what he did. There was no transfer, no consent, no free will offering originating from Joseph. Mary was never going to be “his,” because she had already given herself to God in a real, radical way.
.

If Joseph gave Mary to God, then what did Mary’s “fiat” mean? Not a hell of a lot. More like when a child is allowed to sign a document that needs an adult’s signature to be official. No, it was Mary’s choice to make, and what she said to the Lord changed the course of . . . everything.
.

But Joseph’s whole deal reminds me of the concept that “we are all feminine in relation to God.” I’ve been wrestling with this idea my whole adult life, and most days, the best I can do is set it aside and do whatever job’s in front of me.
.

But so much of being a woman is being asked to accept things after they have already been decided, rather than being asked if you want them to happen or not. Yes, of course we decide many things, and make many choices. But women also very early confront the idea that things happen to them which they are not truly free to change or avoid. Ten times I have labored to give birth, and ten times, when the true agony set in, I have changed my mind. I decided I didn’t want to do it after all. Didn’t change a damn thing, thank God.
.
It’s not that women are passive. It’s that humanity in general is far more helpless than it realizes. It’s mankind in general that’s the damsel in distress; mankind in general that sits weeping in a tower, waiting for the savior to come. Women’s lives show this reality in high relief, largely because of our biology, and so women tend to realize much sooner than men that none of us is really in control of their lives. On a good day, we’re in charge of slightly changing the trajectory of little chunks of life as they fly past us. Freedom very often consists not in choosing what will happen to us, but in choosing how to respond to what happens to us.
.
And that sounds very much like what Joseph knew. He listened, a lot. He decided, out of love, not to fight things that had already come to pass. He worked with the system as long as he could, and when it wasn’t working, he gathered his family and ran away. He was willing to play a supporting role. He decided not to insist on taking what he could reasonably argue was rightfully his. And he was silent. In other words, Joseph’s behavior in the Gospels is like what we today normally think of as feminine — trusting, waiting, nurturing, self-sacrificial, chaste, modest, and quiet. This may account for how weirdly effeminate he looks in so much religious art, and it probably accounts in part for Marshall’s weird attempt to put Mary’s fiat in Joseph’s hands: Because he doesn’t behave in a way that checks off boxes in our modern understanding of masculinity.
.

We get St. Joseph wrong because we grasp that he is not what we commonly think of as masculine; but correct our mistake by assigning to him what we wrongly think of as feminine, or by refusing to face how wrong we are about what it means to be feminine. Mary’s behavior is what we should think of as feminine; but it’s so hard to grasp that we saddle her with a simpering passivity, turning her into a virgin too fragile to deal with men, rather than a virgin strong enough to deal with God.
.

Hell if I know what it all means, except that most of what we commonly think of as masculine and feminine is garbage, which probably accounts for why so many people think it doesn’t mean anything. In other context, my sister Abby Tardiff said this (and this was just part of a Facebook comment she dashed off, not some polished work of prose):
.

[S] ex and gender have to be understood first as cosmic paradigms. So, “feminine” doesn’t mean “like a woman.” It’s the other way around. A woman is someone who embodies the eternal archetype of femininity. But she won’t do it completely, because she’s an instantiation [a representative of an actual example], not the archetype itself. She’s a particular, not a universal. Also, her instantiation of the feminine will filter itself through her personality, through tradition, through society, etc. For these two reasons, you can’t pin down any one characteristic that every woman has. Any time you try to say what characteristics women have, you’ll find exceptions (often me).

However, if you start from the archetype, and say (for example) that the feminine archetype involves the taking of the other into the self, then you can conclude that every woman is cosmically called to do this as well as and in whatever way she can. So the point is not to say what women are like, but what their vocation is.

.
Taylor Marshall and his ilk are rightly angry that McCarrick and others have so smeared and ravaged human sexuality with their crimes and perversions. But Marshall’s brutal, puerile urge to squash all men and all women into small and clearly defined boxes of masculinity or femininity is, in its way, just as disastrous. More than one abused woman has told me that, early on in her marriage, before the beatings began, her pious Catholic husband railed at her for not being sufficiently archetypically feminine, as if any one woman could or should be. As if he had married womankind, rather than an actual person. This is the trap Marshall et al fall into: They want individual human beings to be the embodiment of all of their sex (“all seminarians must be masculine”); but since no one can or should achieve that, they reduce an archetypal reality to a few small, individualistic traits, and then rage at anyone who doesn’t reduce himself to those traits, as if they’ve failed at being human.
.

It’s a way of making sense of the world, and it’s intensely depersonalizing. We do not love by making what is large small, and we do not love by railing at what is small for not being as large as the whole universe. But people who behave this way don’t think they’re being cruel to individual people; they think they’re being noble by upholding ontological truths. But first they have to squash those ontological truths into bite-sized pieces.
.

Dressed up as respect for God’s creation, this way of thinking turns men and women away from our vocation, which is, in our particular ways, to be open to God: To be feminine in relation to God.
.

Yes, that looks different for men and for women, and it looks different for for one particular women compared to another, and one particular man compared to another; but in some very broad way, this is the true feminine, what both Joseph and Mary did.
.

I saw it myself yesterday, dozens of times, at Mass, at the Eucharist, men and women. They walked up to the front with all the burdens and glories of their particularities, and then opened up to receive God. How? Because He alone can take ontological truths and make them, as it were, bite-sized. He has made small what is larger than then universe, larger than masculine and feminine. Love makes itself small. Never to make others small.
.

Our vocation is to be open like Mary and open like Joseph, and neither one of the two of them look like anything I’ve ever seen before on this earth, except in brief flashes like at the altar rail. Hell if I know what it means. My kids were asking me about the Second Coming today, and all I could say was everyone who thinks they know what they are talking about is in for a surprise.

 

Mary and her darlings

“I once saw a lady on a train,” said John Paul I, “Who put her baby to sleep in a baggage holder [a net above the seat]. When the little one woke up, he saw from above his mother sitting facing him so that she could watch over him. ‘Mamma,’ he would say to her.

“‘Darling,’ she replied, and for a long time the dialogue between the two did not change. ‘Mamma,’ from above, ‘Darling’ from below. There was no need for other words. ”

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

I’ll be in Manchester, NH, this Saturday

. . . delivering one of my favorite speeches, “Beautiful Stranger: Making Contact with the Mother of God.” Short notice, I know! My host is the Women of Mary group, which meets at Ste. Marie in Manchester, 378 Notre Dame Ave.

PDF of flyer here

Donation is $5 to join in.

Here’s the schedule:

7:15- 7:45      Mass at Ste. Marie Church.

7:45-8:00       Women greet one another; have coffee, tea, and light breakfast, fellowship with one another at tables.

8:00-8:10       Opening songs led by our Music ministry. Welcome new members.

8:10                Announcements

8:15                Decade of the rosary

8:25-9:00 (or 9:15)  My talk

9:15-9:25-9:30.       Closing song by our Music ministry.

All are welcome! It would be lovely to see you there.

***

 My speaking schedule for the rest of the year still has some openings. If you’d like to book me for your group, conference, Theology on Tap, or other event, drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com, and let’s work something out!

Mary’s downward gaze

This is the conversation she wants to have with an archangel: Let’s talk about my Son, because it’s personal.

There’s that downward gaze. So much better than rolled-up eyes! It’s a good look, on Mary and on all of us: that personal, intimate, “You’re real and so am I” connection. That would be a good posture for all of us to adopt for the rest of Advent: Look to the ones who are closest to us.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Adoration of the Shepherds (detail) by Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Official Vatican Commission: Current Medjugorje apparitions doubtful

The vast majority of phenomena at Medjugorje can not be said to be of supernatural origin, according to most votes cast this week by the official commission on Medjugorje.

The Commission, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, was asked to evaluate separately the first seven apparitions, which allegedly occurred in the summer of 1981, and the tens of thousands of subsequent apparitions, which allegedly continue to this day. The commission includes five cardinals, two psychologists, four theologians, a Mariologist, anthropologist, a canonist, and an official of the Doctrine of the Faith. According to La Stampa, the commission

met 17 times and screened all documents filed in the Vatican, the parish of Medjugorje and the archives of the secret services of the former Yugoslavia. The commission heard all the seers and witnesses involved, and in April 2012, they carried out an inspection in the village of Herzegovina.

Most members of the commission voted that the first seven apparitions were supernatural in nature, and not a hoax or demonic [note that the quotations from La Stampa have been translated from Italian, which accounts for the somewhat clumsy language]:

Members and experts came out with 13 votes in favor of recognizing the supernatural nature of the first visions. A member voted against and an expert expressed a suspensive vote. The committee argues that the six young seers were psychically normal and were caught by surprise by the apparition, and that nothing of what they had seen was influenced by either the Franciscans of the parish or any other subjects. They showed resistance in telling what happened despite the police arrested them and death threating [sic] them. The commission also rejected the hypothesis of a demonic origin of the apparitions.

The commission was much more doubtful about the supernatural origin of subsequent apparitions, though. Regarding the circumstances and nature of the subsequent apparitions themselves,

the commission took note of the heavy interference caused by the conflict between the bishop and the Franciscans of the parish, as well as the fact that the apparitions, pre-announced and programmed individually for each seer continued with repetitive messages. These visions continued despite the youngsters had said they would end, however that actually has never happened. There is then the issue of the “secrets” of the somewhat apocalyptic flavor that the seers claim to have been revealed from the apparition.

Based on the “behavior of the seers,” the commission reports

eight members and four experts believe that an opinion cannot be expressed, while two other members have voted against the supernatural nature of the phenomenon.

Regarding the much-touted “spiritual fruits” of the phenomena, “but leaving aside the behaviors of the seers,” La Stampa reports

3 members and 3 experts say there are positive outcomes, 4 members and 3 experts say they are mixed, with a majority of positive, effects and the remaining 3 experts claim there are mixed positive and negative effects.

Thirteen of the fourteen commission members have voted to put Medjugorje directly under the authority of the Vatican. The establishment of an authority that answers to the Vatican “would not imply the recognition of the supernatural nature of the apparitions,” but would aid the Church in overseeing the pastoral care of the millions of pilgrims who visit the region every year.

These pastoral developments would also provide “clarity on economic issues.” Commerce related to Medjugorje has become a global industry, producing steady income for some of the alleged visionaries.

On his way home from Fatima, Pope Francis told reporters Saturday that he had “worse” than doubts about the authenticity of the phenomena at Medjugorje. The Pope said:

The report has its doubts, but personally, I am a little worse. I prefer Our Lady as mother, our mother, and not Our Lady as head of the post office who sends a message at a stated time.

This isn’t Jesus’ mother. And these alleged apparitions don’t have much value. I say this as a personal opinion, but it is clear. Who thinks that Our Lady says, ‘Come, because tomorrow at this time I will give a message to that seer?’ No!

For an extensive explanation of the many concerns and alarms surrounding the alleged apparitions, see my essay in The Catholic Weekly, The Lady of Medjugorje Is Not Your Mother.

________
NOTE: This post was edited at 10:55 AM eastern on 5/17/17. The first sentence originally read: “The vast majority of phenomena at Medjugorje are not of supernatural origin, according to most votes cast this week by the official commission on Medjugorje.” I do not believe this statement is inaccurate, but the edited version is more clear. 

***
Image of a cross at Medjugorje by Miran Rijavec via Flickr

Dear priests: This is how to survive mother’s day

Dear Father,

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “Quit telling priests what to do.” You guys are super busy and already working harder than anyone could reasonably expect.

But today I’ll give one of those imaginary dollars back, because today I’m going to tell you what to do this Sunday. Trust me, it’s for your own good.

This Sunday is, as you no doubt know, Mother’s Day, and a lot of your parishioners are going to expect you to acknowledge it. Also, a lot of your parishioners are going to be mad if you acknowledge it.

A good portion of your congregation feels that the world despises motherhood, and they look to the Church to be the one place where they are appreciated for their sacrifices and their hard work.

Another good portion of your congregation feels that the world only cares about women if they are mothers, and they look to the Church to be the one place where no one despises them for not being mothers.

Some of your parishioners are pregnant, and they’re miserable about it. Some of them desperately wish they were pregnant, and are working hard not to hate their fertile sisters. Some of them look pregnant, but are just fat, and if one more well-meaning priest blesses their unoccupied abdomens, they’re going to sock him in the jaw.

Some of them look pregnant, but they’re the only one who knows that the baby they’re carrying is already dead.

Some of your parishioners are the mothers of children who are already buried, or children whose bodies went straight into the hospital’s incinerator while their mothers wept and bled. Some of your parishioners paid to have their children put there.

Some of your parishioners have been wretched mothers, and they know it. Some of them have been excellent mothers of wretched children, and everyone assumes that wretchedness must be the mother’s fault.

Some of your parishioners hated their mothers. Some of them just lost their beloved mothers yesterday. Some of them never knew their mothers at all.

Some of your parishioners are excellent mothers who pour their heart, soul, mind, and strength into caring for their families, and as soon as they get home from Mass, everyone expects them to get right back to cooking and cleaning and making life easy for everyone else, the same as every other day.

And then, of course, you will have the people who are mad that you mentioned a secular holiday during Mass. And the people who remember how much better it was when Fr. Aloysius was in charge, oh yes, it was much better then. It’s a shame.

So, what’s your plan, Father? Gonna make all the mothers stand up and be acknowledged? You’ll be forcing a lot of women to make a statement they may not want to make. Gonna pass out carnations? Same problem. Gonna make us extend our hands over mothers in blessing? Well, you’re the priest, aren’t you. We would rather keep our hands to ourselves.

The real answer would be for Americans to just calm the hell down about motherhood, and not to expect the Church to cater to their every emotional need. But that’s not where we are right now. It’s a mess, and you’re right in the middle of it. Sorry! But I really do think you can thread the Mother’s Day needle without getting poked if you offer something like the following blessing before the end of Mass:

On this Mother’s Day in May, which is Mary’s month, we remember that our Blessed Mother was honored above every other human being besides Jesus Himself when she was asked by God to bear His Son. We ask God’s blessing on all women, because all women, no matter what their state in life, are specially privileged to bring Christ into the world. Mary is our model in joy and in suffering, in trust and in sorrow. We ask Mary to intercede for our earthly mothers and for all the women who cared for us, and we ask the Holy Spirit to increase our love so that we will always honor the women in our lives. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. 
Amen.

Then scoot out the side door before anyone can yell at you.
Amen.

***

Photo of woman who is disappointed in you via Pixabay
This post originally ran at Aleteia in 2016.