Dear Catholic Women,
If none of your children have any embarrassing quirks, or if your children are all under the age of 12 and haven’t made choices that cause you to want to crawl under the pew, then feel free to move on. Enjoy the homily, enjoy the blessing your priest bestows on all the women in the parish and the flower they give you on the way out.
But if you have teens and young adults learning their way in the world, if you have a child on the spectrum who struggles in the pews, if you have a whole bunch of little ones who are sticky from your minivan car seats, goldfish crumbs and snot on their hands that they wipe on your last clean shirt, then this is for you.
Mother’s Day homilies suck.
Priests will eek out an homage to motherhood from the gospel readings. No matter what the liturgical cycle, they will talk about the devotion of moms to our kids, the meals we bring to our friends, the way we serve in our parishes. They’ll use us an example of what it means to sacrifice.
Our priests mean well, but seriously. They. Don’t. Know.
The reality of motherhood is much messier than these homilies.
The truth is, we are acutely aware of our failings. They keep us up at night. We wonder if it was the lack of rosaries prayed that led our adult child to join the prodigal in running away. We wonder if it was the abysmal lack of routine in our days, or the opposite extreme, our intense micromanagement, that has led our young teen to rebel against the world. We wonder if we yelled one too many times, and that is why our fifth grader just punched someone at school. We wonder if our kids get so many colds because there is generic hydrogenated peanut butter in their lunch boxes. We wonder if we made our kid weird somehow by letting them be themselves, and that’s why no one invites them to birthday parties. We wonder if we ate the wrong foods while pregnant and that’s why our child has learning or social difficulties. Somehow, everything is our fault.
Yet here is the well-meaning priest, going on about the glories of motherhood and how one day we’ll have a crown for our service. Two pews over is the mom whose children never do anything wrong that people can see, and you’re sure she is gloating, and eyeing you up, because she knows what your teen was doing last Friday night. She’s the one who will use God as a pretense to come over and tell you that she’s ‘praying’ for you.
And you’re quite sure your priest means you specifically, when he adds he knows that our job is hard and that the parish women’s bible study is the answer to all your woes. He’s been trying to get you to go for months, but the bitchy woman two pews over is also there, with her cronies. And when you tried once to attend, you stood in a corner hyperventilating, hoping no one would notice you.
How do you survive this homily?
1. Feel free to step out. Use a bathroom break as an excuse, or take a child to walk the halls. I have it from a good and holy priest that the homily is the least important part of the mass. Feel free to zone out.
2. Another trick is to visit a parish where nobody knows you. The homily will still suck, but you won’t feel like the priest is speaking to you, and there won’t be people who know you are failing at representing the perfect Catholic family.
My favorite place to escape to is the adoration chapel, if your parish has one. Jesus is there, and He understands. Stay there until communion, sneak back into the church for it, and then sneak back out.
3. But most importantly, read the parable of the Prodigal Son before Mass. Read it from the eyes of the the father. He’s a good father, and yet he has two sons, one who is humiliatingly wayward, and another who is consumed by spite and jealousy. Maybe he also knows what it’s like to be judged at the town gate for his embarrassing children. Because people don’t really change.
Know that the heart of the Father is in solidarity with us. Free will is a cruel necessity. No one knows better than our Father what it is like to have children. And no one knows better than our Blessed Mother what it is like to be the mother of the kid that everyone has misjudged.
Fist bump to you all, dear mothers. Mothers Day shall pass. In the meantime, let us pray for our well meaning priests. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Eve Alexandra is a member of the Sick Pilgrim community, a writer and a mother.