When I was a child, I awoke many mornings and found my mother in the kitchen preparing breakfast or folding laundry, while she watched Protestant television evangelists preach the word of God. Some days, I stumbled downstairs to find her curled up on the couch, tears running down her face as she listened to the morning message. I caught her on the phone donating money to the needy children who had no food or water in third world countries. I noticed spiritual books lying around the house and if I ever I opened her bible, there were all sorts of ink blotted notes in the margins. Once, when she met a homeless woman with five children, one of whom was disabled, outside the grocery store during a snowstorm, she personally drove the family to the motel in which they were living. Then, she took it upon herself to get the woman on state assistance. She found the family a home and she had it furnished with donated items.
If you had asked me as a child if my mother believed in God, I would have said yes. I knew God was important to her because of what I saw her doing and not necessarily because of what she preached. I knew she cared about her faith and she cared about religion because I witnessed her search for God, even though the parish priest didn’t know her first name and my family wasn’t always sitting in the first pew at Sunday Mass. Although my mother wasn’t the instrument God used to teach me the doctrines of the Catholic Church, it was my mother who taught me how to choose The Better Part. It was my mother who taught me, without ever using words, all I needed to know about cultivating an authentic relationship with Jesus and living it out in the modern day world.
Though she was baptized a Catholic and received First Communion, my mom had no other formal religious education. She grew up in California in the 1960s and was exposed to drugs, alcohol, racism and every other shade of morally questionable behavior. She came out of the womb carrying an etiquette book and even as a young child, she always valued proper behavior, despite the sex-saturated and drug-infested culture in which she resided. Her desire to do the right thing kept her on the straight and narrow, but it didn’t remove the fact she was never properly catechized in her faith and so she didn’t know the depth and richness available to her in the Catholic Church.
When I was a nine-year-old, my family returned from an overseas assignment in Japan and my paternal grandparents offered to pay for my siblings and me to attend the Catholic school run by the Dominicans of the Congregation of Saint Cecilia. My parents, at first, politely declined the offer, but when my devout grandparents insisted, I soon found myself donning a blue and white plaid jumper with matching black patent leathers and sitting in the front desk of Mrs. Pope’s fourth grade class.
Initially, my mom was happy because her children would receive a good education; something she valued above and beyond the world’s most precious diamonds. What she didn’t realize, however, was that the little Catholic school down the road from our home would become instrumental in her reversion.
Tucked under a blanket on the living room couch one evening, perusing my little sister’s second grade First Reconciliation and Communion text book, my mother unearthed the true treasure for which she’d been looking: the Eucharist. As she poured through the pages of her daughter’s religion workbook (a daughter who would one day join the ranks of the same Dominicans who ran the school), she discovered the thing for which she’d longed, but didn’t know—she discovered the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. She also discovered the open-ended invitation for her to come and eat Him every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church. She accepted the invite, after many years of investigation, and came home to Christ in the Sacraments and the Catholic Church after being away for so many years. She has been a faithful, practicing Catholic ever since.
The greatest thing my mother ever taught me about the Catholic faith had nothing to do with the Catechism or papal encyclicals or the rosary or appropriate Mass attire. The greatest thing she ever taught me was how to seek and find Jesus in the Sacraments. As a child, I saw my mother knocking on God’s door and I eventually saw the moment in time when God saw fit to open it to her.
Whatever practical knowledge she may have lacked as a Catholic parent, my mother got the most important thing right when it came to presenting any kind of faith to children: she was authentic in her own search for God and in her desire to love Him, which in turn cultivated an openness and desire in her own children. Though she didn’t begin at the starting line with all the facts, her openness eventually got her where she need to be. She brought us along for the ride; my mother’s conversion in turn converted my entire family.
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