Thursday, May 13, 2010

Column: What do you ask of God's church?

In Barnacle Boy's mind, do it twice and it's a tradition (once if it was really, really fun). By his standards, this is my now traditional non-traditional reflection on Mary, for the month that is traditionally associated with her. (Last year it was Rahner and small devotions, the year before Mary and rebellion...)

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 13 May 2010.

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “You see this child; he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected — and a sword will pierce your own soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.” —Lk. 2:33-35

As the cantor at the Saturday evening Mass, I had a great view. Three young girls in white dresses and veils stood by the font in the back of the church, waiting to process up the aisle to their families in the front pews. As Father Dennis blessed the children and proceeded to sprinkle the gathered assembly with holy water, memories flowed from the waters of the font.

The memory of standing behind the font, waiting to walk down the aisle with Victor to celebrate our marriage. Memories of bringing both my sons to this font for baptism. Memories of leaving them there on the day they would first receive the Eucharist. The memories were warm and grace-filled, signs of faith and love and the support of this parish community.

I started the processional hymn and watched as my now nearly full-grown son held the cross high above the crowd to begin. Michael was halfway down the aisle of the packed church when it hit me. In a moment of bone-chilling clarity, I realized just what I had done when I brought him to be baptized. I had bound him to the cross.

“What do you ask of God’s Church for Michael?” Father Adrian had wanted to know as Victor and I stood at the doors like Mary and Joseph bringing our newborn son to be gathered into the community of faith. “Baptism,” we replied, Victor’s firm profundo echoing off the ceiling.

True as far as it went. But what I had really asked was that Mike be clothed in Christ, conformed to the mystery that is Christ’s life: passion, death and resurrection. I had surrendered his life, submerging it in the waters of baptism, that he might emerge a new creation — one that belonged not to me, not to himself, but to God.

Seven years later, on another brilliant Eastertide day, I brought Mike again to the back of the Church to receive Christ in the Eucharist for the first time. “Become what you receive,” counseled St. Augustine. Become Christ. Pour yourself out for God.

Now, as the entrance procession wound its way down the aisle, I had no eyes for the girls garbed in lace; my gaze was riveted to Mike, solemnly bearing the weight of that cross. I thought of Mary, watching her Son carrying the cross through the crowds in Jerusalem. What was in her heart then? Did she think of the joyous day she’d brought Him to be presented at the temple? Could she ever have imagined that this was to be the sword that would pierce her through the soul?

Seeing my son, so nearly a man, his life now bound inextricably into the mystery of God’s salvation, I taste of the cup that Mary drank. I grasp more deeply how daring Mary’s “yes” to Gabriel’s question was. It was not just “yes” to God’s will for her. It was a “yes” to offering what any mother knows matters more to you than your own life — the life of your child.

The realization, that I too have made these promises saying “yes” to God not merely with my own life but with the lives of my sons, takes my breath away. Mary, Mother of God, pray for me.

Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Mother of divine grace, pray for us. Mother of good counsel, pray for us. — from the Litany of Our Blessed Mother

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  1. When we talked about baptism in our church and sacraments class last fall, there was much discussion as to whether parents would offer their children for baptism if they really understood what they were doing.

    Maybe it's something most of us cannot understand until later in life anyway. If then.

  2. So beautiful, Michelle. So beautiful. We try, don't we? As humans, as mothers, to "do the right thing" and to love to the best of our ability.

    I so often am filled with the presence of Mary when I see, really see, one of my children ... and see not only the joy and the life but the pain and the agony as well. That yes to life includes such agony.

    For them and for us.

    And none of us knows where it will lead or how.

    Piercing the soul. That is a mother's path isn't it? To have one's soul pierced?

    Again, thank you for writing and voicing...

    (my word verification is "council" isn't that kind of amazing?)

  3. Lovely, Michelle. I didn't think of it during our first baptism either, though I remember the shiver when I knelt down and put her little hand on the cross on Good Friday. The next Easter season was the funeral, with a baptism theme, when we walked with her tiny white casket down the same aisle I had walked with my dad, then carried her for the baptism while her dad carried the water. Since then every baptism, and meditation on the Presentatio, is both joyous and a memory of "a sword will pierce your heart."

  4. Catholic girl clarification: baptism aisle walk was two years after wedding one!

  5. "The memory of standing behind the font, waiting to walk down the aisle with Victor to celebrate our marriage. Memories of bringing both my sons to this font for baptism. Memories of leaving them there on the day they would first receive the Eucharist."

    That made me cry.

    Robin, I am reminded that parenting is always, always, an insane dare we take in the service of life. Maybe there's a reason we cannot understand what we are doing until later.

    Cindy, I hear my Friends talk about children "breaking their hearts open," too.

    Sophia, your "Catholic girl correction" made me laugh. How many current or even former Catholics blush, well into our marriages, when we see someone put together "pregnant" and "had sex" with regard to us?

    Holding each of you in the care of the Mother.

  6. Robin, do you know the Annie Dillard essay that roams that territory - what we understand and don't?

    And Cindy, I think it so hard to grasp what we have taken on...

    {{{{Sophia}}}} can never quite get the Catholic all the way out of the girl :)

  7. If I did once (and surely I did), I've forgotten.

    I seem to be signed in as my alias. Too lazy to switch.