A Mother’s Tears
Fourth Sunday of Lent. Fr Robert Verrill wonders about the prodigal son’s mother. (Our sermon for the Solemnity of the Annunciation can be found here.)
One question that comes to mind in the light of today’s Gospel is where does the mother figure in all this? In the Gospel parable, we hear how the prodigal son callously demands his inheritance from his father, and when everything goes wrong, it is the thought of his father than brings the prodigal son back to his senses. But no mention, however, is made of the prodigal son’s mother. Jesus leaves the mother’s role in this story to our imagination. But the mother’s role is something we would do well to think about, especially given that Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally celebrated as Mothering Sunday.
The celebration of Mothering Sunday in England can be traced back to around the time of the Norman Conquest where the custom developed of visiting the church where one was baptized. Laetare Sunday was chosen for this occasion because of the maternal theme in the Introit: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” In more recent times, Mothering Sunday has also become an opportunity to honour mothers in the family home as well as Mother Church since it was an occasion that brought the whole family together.
There are of course many ways in which we should be grateful to our mothers. My mother was the person who brought me into the world; she helped me and sustained me when I was entirely helpless. She comforted me when I was upset and reassured me when I was frightened. She was the first person I formed a relationship with. I learnt my mother tongue from her. When the prodigal son in the parable came to his senses, we can imagine that he too would have had similar thoughts of gratitude towards his mother. When we remember our mothers, we remember where we come from, where our home is.
Although people can go very far astray in this life and can do deeply inhuman things, the relationship people have with their mothers still allows us to see a glimmer of humanity in them. Mothers will still love their children even if their children do the most wicked things. For instance, when Keke Geladze the mother of Joseph Stalin met him for the last time shortly before she died, Stalin is reported to have said to her “Mama, do you remember our tsar? Well, I’m something like the tsar,” to which she replied “You’d have done better to become a priest.” Stalin had been a seminarian as a young man, and his mother wasn’t going to let him forget this. Being devoutly religious to the end of her life, she would no doubt have frequently prayed for her son’s conversion, for that is what devout mothers most desire for their children.
It can be a cause of great sorrow for mothers when they see their children lose their faith, but it is a blessed kind of sorrow. For any mother who sorrows in this way knows that the greatest gift anyone can have is the gift of faith, and anyone who realizes this is truly blessed. Moreover, Jesus promises that those who mourn will be comforted, and so mothers should keep mourning for their wayward children trusting that the Lord will transform their sorrow into joy.
When St Monica mourned for her wayward son Augustine, she went to a priest begging him to speak to him that he might come to his senses. The priest refused, however, since he saw that Augustine was too puffed up with pride to pay any notice. But when St Monica kept insisting, the priest rebuked her saying “Go your way and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish.”
So maybe we can imagine that the mother in the parable of the prodigal son was a mother who shed many tears for her son and prayed that he would one day come home. And when the prodigal son finally did return, we can imagine how he would have embraced his mother and thanked her for all her kindness and the role she played in helping to bring him back to his senses, reminding him of where he came from, and where his true home is.
Not every mother gets to be reconciled with her wayward children in this life, but if she keeps praying for them trusting that God will comfort those who mourn, then it will be a story with a happy ending when they are reunited together in the life to come. For God will not let the children of a mother’s tears perish.
Readings: Joshua 5:9-12 | 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 | Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Image: detail from St Monica with her son at the Basilica of Sant’Agostino, Rome, photographed by Lawrence Lew OP.