We are the Pilgrim Church on Earth, journeying towards our universal Home. This image of a pilgrim church at sea is reaffirmed in the design of our church buildings. The main body of the church is called the “nave” from the Latin word for ship (think “naval”). Look up at the ceiling of the church and with little imagination you can see an inverted hull. This beautiful analogy gives us a sense of the common mission and destination of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the common calling of our own parish. I think the analogy can also be extended down to the level of our domestic churches—our families. Like the passengers and crew of a ship we raise the sails, swab the deck and keep a lookout for anyone who may have fallen overboard always with an eye toward our final goal in Heaven.
In this analogy I think the role of Motherhood is found, more than anywhere else, in the sails. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit being like the wind, which blows and we do not know its source or aim. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost there was a rush of mighty wind. The sails receive the wind and deliver its driving force through the mast to the whole ship. Sails are a paradox. They have to be soft enough to embrace the wind yet firm enough to transmit its power. Without sails the ship is dead in the water and so is the family without its life giving mother.
This was my experience growing up. Dad was head of the household, and Mom’s embrace of his headship gave life to it, just as she gave life to my brother and my sister and me. Her discipline came through expressing disappointment, which stung more than any punishment or grounding. She was always there to listen, even when I wasn’t saying anything worth listening to. Mom was the one I went to when I needed wisdom, counsel or courage. Most of all she was the one I went to when I needed unconditional love. A mom’s love is the definition of gift of self. It’s fitting that Mother’s Day so often falls near the Pentecost. Just as the Holy Spirit is poured out on us (Joel 2:28) a mother’s love and very life are poured out on her children.
God doesn’t limit good things. He multiplies them. My biological mother is not the only mother He gave me. I count no less than five. He gave me my birth mother. He gave me His own Blessed Mother from the cross. He gave me Holy Mother Church. He gave me a wonderful mother-in-law. And of course He gave me an amazing wife, who is mother of my children. There are countless other women who have been spiritual mothers to me all throughout my life. Mother’s day is an opportunity to say thank you and reflect on these remarkable women—sails that embrace and empower. By their example of sacrificial love, mothers bring us to Jesus Christ.