Looking around at Mass. . .

     As I looked around at a Mass, held outdoors on the Rome campus of the University of Dallas a few months ago, I was struck by the reverence of so many of those in attendance.  First, there were students, kneeling on the hard Italian stone, in the absence of kneelers.  The priest had selected the longest form of the liturgy for this particular Mass.  As I pondered the decision of some of these young men and women to kneel on the travertine, I admired their dedication. With their postures erect, shoulders thrown back, eyes tightly shut, hands folded, they were engaged all the more attentively in their worship by being on their knees.
     Then I could not help but notice a few children, the daughters of some faculty.  These girls wore white, lacy mantillas on their heads, in the style common to the traditional Mass.  Their precious headpieces spoke volumes of the piety brimming in their hearts, since the mantillas were not required by the campus, and not even their mother wore one.  I could only imagine that it was an act of singular inspiration for the girls to pull the scarves out of their bags or purses, and elect to place them on their heads without any prompting from their family or friends.  Juxtaposed to their graphic t-shirts, bluejeans shorts, and Crocs, the mantillas spoke loudly the girls’ message of personal devotion to God.
    But then my eye turned toward the mothers of small children gathered in and around the back row.  Some mothers bounced the infants in their arms to calm them.  Other mothers chased after their toddlers, keeping them from wandering too far or making too much noise.  Were these mothers less reverent than the prayerful students on their knees?  Were they signaling less love and devotion, donning, not white lace scarves to cover their hair, but white burping cloths to cover their shoulders?
        To me, these mothers showed in their bodies a reverence for Christ that surpassed that of all the other Mass attendees on that sunny afternoon.  I do not know all of these mothers personally.  But I know mothers.  Some mothers are swollen and stretched, having shed blood for their children in labor and delivery.  Who, besides martyrs, reflect so purely Christ’s gift of himself on the Cross, his blood being poured out for others, as do some mothers?  Other mothers carry in their wombs the cause of their infertility, scars of another kind.  Just as Christ’s resurrected body bore the wounds of the Cross on his hands, feet and side, so too these adoptive mothers, and mothers who may have conceived, but did not bring their child to full term, bear the mark of a love that is made holy through its brokenness.  They reflect so vividly the love made manifest through the broken body of Christ.  
     Still further, some of these mothers nurse their infants.  How remarkable is this reflection of Christ who nourishes us with his body?  As I stood there in Mass, I was awe-struck by God’s design of motherhood, so aligned with Christ in the Eucharist, made present on the altar before me.  Other mothers bottle feed their infants, either by necessity or by choice, and all mothers spend the duration of the time in which their children live under their roofs, providing meal after meal for their children.  Such mothers are not merely meeting a biological need.  One mother holds a bottle with love, attentively gazing at the priceless treasure in her arms.  Another serves a full plate on the table, at once satisfying the bodily hunger as well as the need for maternal love that every child’s heart craves.  Every mother finds her own way of resembling Christ who gives himself as our spiritual nourishment, feeding her children with food that is at once physical as well as laden with a spiritual dimension.  In a special way, adoptive mothers bear the image of the Eucharistic Christ.  These women elect to raise their children.  Just as the Son chose to become the Bread of Life for us, so, too, do adoptive mothers choose to become the bread of life for their chosen ones.  These moms make the choice to provide bread and all sustenance, physical as well as intellectual, emotional and spiritual, for their adopted children as long as they are in their mother’s care.  All mothers–biological mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, step-mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, spiritual mothers, aunts, big sisters, cousins, close friends–find their own way of nourishing and providing for their children, resembling the body of Christ in some way or another for them.

     Maybe some of these mothers behind me on that luminous afternoon in the Italian Albani hills would return to their rooms after Mass and read the readings that they missed hearing during the liturgy.  Maybe some of these mothers would say prayers late that night, once their children are fast asleep, words of praise, thanksgiving, and petition to God, making up for the prayers they were not able to utter during the Mass that afternoon.  Maybe some of them would never get to these tasks, so depleted by all the chasing and feeding and rocking and wiping and holding that they had done that day.  But far from being less reverent, less engaged, or less a part of the Mass than those participants who were more attentive, mothers distinctively image the body of Christ in their own humble bodies.  As we celebrated Mass that day, it struck me that it was the mothers, most of all, whose bodily form radiated a reverence for the body of Christ.