On This Day-Mother’s Day
May 8, 2022
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers and grandmothers in our midst and to all who share their love with a guiding hand and a compassionate heart with someone in your life. I recognize that Mother’s Day means different things to different people. For some, it is a reminder of a dear mother or grandmother, while for others, it is a painful memory of a mother who was unable to give us the care we needed. We have those who delight in their children and others whose hearts have been broken by theirs…and we have women who yearned to be mothers and never got the chance. And being a mother is both joyful and really hard. There are the moments in which we delight and times when the worry is endless. Everyone has a different story but there are connections for all who are mothers…and honestly, we have to imagine that God is not only father but mother, a mother who knows the anguish of mothers as well as the joy of sharing love with their children. Let us pray, O Holy One, you are present to us as mother watches over her young, we thank you for the unconditional love you offer us, for the peace you share with us, and for your tender care of us all the days of our lives. Amen.
A friend of mine from college lost her mother about a month ago. Her mom had been diagnosed with cancer last year and sometime in December, they knew there was not much more they could offer her medically and so hospice care began. My friend and her siblings took turns staying with their mother and caring for her at during the last months of her life. In January, they were told she maybe had a week to live. All of her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews made time to visit over the following weeks and she kept living. My friend said that she was comfortable and not in pain which gave they all a sense of consolation. After several months went by, her mom was asked how she was doing and what was keeping her alive. And she responded, “love has kept me alive…the love of my children and my grandchildren and my great grandchildren; love has kept me alive.”
Last week was Communion Sunday, a reminder of the ways in which we connect with those we love by gathering at a table to share a meal. For those who love to cook in our midst, those who love to welcome people into their homes for a meal, there is often a story from a beloved family member who cooked for them, evoking lovely reminds of meals shared, food savored, and fellowship. Lidia Bastianich, an award-winning chef, restaurant owner and cookbook author, was asked about those in her life who influenced her decision to pursue this as her career. She spoke of her grandmother and their time shared in the kitchen when she was young. Lidia was born in Pola, Istria, in 1947, which at the time was part of eastern Italy, but a post-war settlement later that same year gave ownership of the territory to the communist country, Yugoslavia (Istria is now part of Croatia) Lidia and her family went to live with her grandmother on her farm but were caught, as she says, under the reign of communism, and were not allowed to speak their native language, attend church, or travel to see other family still in Italy. The farm of her Nona Rosa provided food for the entire family and Lidia spent a lot of time with her grandmother in her kitchen.
When Lidia was about 10, her parents made a secret plan to leave so that they could provide better opportunities for their family. She went with her mother to Trieste, Italy, where they had family and her father had to escape secretly in the night after they had fled. It wasn’t until later that Lidia understood that she wasn’t going back to be with her grandmother who stayed behind. She says that her nostalgic desire for the warmth of her grandmother’s kitchen led her to spend time in the kitchen of the refugee camp where her family lived for two years. It gave her comfort to help share in the cooking as the smells and tastes reminded her of her dear grandmother.
Eventually, the family immigrated to the US where they began a new life. Lidia spoke about the courage of her mother in an interview with PBS, “Erminia, my mother, is my unsung hero, who at the age of thirty-seven decided with her husband to take their two children,( me Lidia (then 12) and Franco my brother (then 15), )and flee communism. To achieve ethnic and religious freedom, she guided us, comforted us and worked cleaning jobs, even being an educated teacher, so we could have extra food and shoes during the two years we awaited our visa in a political refugee camp. We resided in a long hall where every family’s small square space was divided by sheets hanging from a line. Many a night, while she thought we were sleeping, my mother would cry and ask my father whether the choice they made was the right one. Coming to America sponsored by Catholic Charities and being inserted in the American life, she represents many an immigrant mother who worked from early morning until late at night to create a new life of freedom and opportunity for her children. It was never about her. It was always about her family.” Lidia continued, “Saluting her, I salute all the immigrant mothers that travel the world looking for freedom and opportunity for their children. Our family was ever so greatly blessed by arriving on American shores.”
When the family arrived in the US, they worked hard and eventually opened two restaurants which they ran until Lidia’s father died. Lidia then opened her own restaurant with her husband and has hosted cooking shows, always with her mother at her side.
I am reminded of the many mothers and grandmothers who have fled Ukraine with their children over the past few months, desperate for safety and food. I think of the refugees on our southern border coming from Central America, many of whom are also fleeing violence and hunger.
My father’s mother, my Nana, was a Lithuanian immigrant, who toiled in the mills of Lewiston, Maine for many years. I remember her work-worn hands, scrubbing and grating potatoes in her kitchen, to make us one of our favorite treats, potato pancakes, or blinis. When she left home at 15, she never saw her own mother or sisters again. I know she carried that sorrow in her life always. She dreamed of a better life for her children and the generations to follow.
Sharing a meal is and has always been a sacred event for people of every culture and tradition. The memories of special recipes prepared often by our grandmothers and mothers can remind us of their love, their sacrifices and their care for us.
You may recall the scene in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevvye asks his wife, Goldie, “Do you love me?” and she responds, “Do I what?” “Do you love me?” Do I love you? For twenty-five years I washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cows. After twenty five years, why do you talk about love. If what I have given you is not love, what is it?”
Writer M.F.K. Fisher, has written extensively about the pleasures of food…preparing it, eating it and the sharing of it. In the forward to her book, The Gastronomical Me, she shared some reflections about the ways that our hungers and histories intertwine: “People ask me, Why do you write about food and eating and drinking…why not write about power or love. The easiest answer is to say that like most other humans, I am hungry. It seems that our three basic needs for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.
There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat.” She concludes, “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger and not wars or love?”
In each of the four Gospels, we hear stories of Jesus sharing table fellowship with others…whether it was the Wedding at Cana where his mother asked him to perform his first miracle… or Feeding the Five Thousand, eating at the home of Martha and Mary, the Last Supper and the meals he shared with his followers on two occasions after the resurrection…sharing meals with others was always intimately connected to his culture and his ministry. Sharing a table with friends as well as tax collectors or those with whom others would not sit was his way to model the sacred experience of hospitality, of welcome, and of love.
And so this Mother’s Day, let us give thanks for our own mothers who gave us life, who fed us from our earliest days, who cared for us in body and soul, and who often taught us what we know of faith and love.
Blessing the Mothers by Jan Richardson
Who are our first sanctuary.
Who fashion a space of blessing
with their own being:
with the belly the bone and the blood
or, if not with these,
then with the durable heart
that offers itself to break and grow wide,
to gather itself around another
as refuge, as home.
Who lean into the wonder and terror
of loving what they can hold but cannot contain.
Who remain in some part of themselves
always awake, a corner of consciousness
keeping perpetual vigil.
Who know that the story
is what endures is what binds us
is what runs deeper even than blood
and so they spin them in celebration
of what abides and benediction
on what remains: a simple gladness
that latches onto us and graces us on our way.
CBS Saturday Morning-The Dish, 2020