This morning I attending the first of what will be a weekly Bible Study at my new parish here in Kansas. It is a ten week study on the Eucharist. Amazing topic, well put together study…but I was there because of the childcare and in the hope that I could meet other women just like me: catholic moms at home with a load of kids that live in my neighborhood. I’m not ashamed to say that I am on the hunt for friends and community.
As it always goes on those first days, the kid drop-off in the playroom was a little less than seamless. I was followed out a couple of times and when I had finally disentangled myself from all three kids the study had already started and I was forced to take the only remaining open seat. I plopped my stuff down, caught my breath and looked up. I was at the 70+ table. Crap.
Across the way I could hear the ringing laughter of women my own age, letting loose as we only can when our kids are elsewhere being looked after and a whole glorious hour and a half of freedom lays ahead of us. And here I was; all of my tablemates were old, sipping coffee and forcefully clearing their throats. Now let me be clear. I have nothing against the elderly. I love being with my 95 year grandmother more than anyone else…it’s just that I was hoping to meet other young moms this morning–mothers I could relate to.
I fumed a little, but this is where I had sat. It was too late now.
The first question our table leader posed to our table asked why we had signed up for this study. I amended my real reason to include something about an interest in better preparing my children for First Holy Communion (which is true, although not the reason I was there).
Still annoyed, I tried to focus on the reasons these older ladies had signed up for the study. And they all had the same reason: They hoped that through this study they would be able to bring their children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews/siblings back to the faith. Every single lady, that was the reason.
There were ten older ladies at my table. They varied in age and appearance and manner. But really, they were all the same. Each spoke of a person or two they had been praying and praying for over the years–a person they loved deeply. A person that had lost their faith.
Most everyone cried as they spoke.
And when one shared the others nodded and touched the hand of the person sharing.
“I know all I can do is pray,” each seemed to say, “and I do, every day.”
It was heartbreaking and deeply touching. These women, mostly widowed, generally quiet, seated at the table in the back of the room were all mothers, and their legacy was prayer.
Many were frustrated that their years of pleading, tearful prayers had not yet been answered, and yet they continued to pray.
They shared the names of those they pray for and we repeated them, sharing the burden and spurring on hope.
What struck me is that not one of these women was praying for a person in financial trouble, or caught up in drugs or the perpetrator of some sin against the family. No, they each held deep in their heart the pain of a child or grandchild that had walked away from the faith.
I had thought I would sit at this study this morning relating to women like me, in their 30’s, still having kids, dealing with the stress of a husband’s job and a world gone to hell. But instead I found myself with women nearly three times as old as I am who were easier to relate to than I had expected.
My children are still young and (for the moment) believe most of what I tell them, just because I am telling them. They are in awe of Christ on the cross, can’t wait to receive Eucharist and place Priests and Nuns on the same level as superheroes and movie stars. But this will change. They will doubt and question, just as I did. Just as my husband did. We are securely in the church now, but I have a feeling that the prayers and tears of our own mothers had something to do with that.
The women I had the privilege of sharing with this morning where, for the most part, still fighting the battle. The conversion had not yet happened. Near the end of our time together one declared, “how long must I pray! I don’t have that long left!” And yet it was clear that she would pray until the breath left her body.
Because prayer is the legacy of a mother.
I can vividly remember the first time I embraced each of my children. They were gooey and screaming and as they lay on my skin an overwhelming sense of love and responsibility washed over me. The love I understood instantly. The responsibility I am still understanding more and more each day.
I am responsible for my children’s education, nutrition and happiness, but I am also responsible for their salvation.
The ladies at the study this morning showed me what a weighty responsibility this is, through their tears and their words. The responsibility for their salvation never ends, never. Their education might be fulfilled, they feed and cloth themselves, and yet the battle for their soul continues. My own grandparents have spoken of this responsibility and, thankfully, hold all of their descendants in a constant vigil of prayer.
But this is not just the responsibility of the old, it is my responsibility too.
I know I will fail in the formation of my children in one or a million ways. I am imperfect, impatient and poorly formed myself. In all likelihood I will one day be a white-haired old women shedding tears over children that have left the faith. I hope not–I pray not–but the chances are.
And so, the prayers must begin now.
I do pray for my children already, but for the most part my prayers are small and of the moment.
My prayers need to be big and for the full conversion of their hearts because as their mother that is my duty and, I hope, that will be my legacy.
Prayers this day for all you mommas out there, young and old. Keep praying, just keep praying.