I am thirty-four years in age and until a year ago, other than the death of an extended elderly relative here and there, my life had been fairly free of traumatic events. The most traumatic, life-changing event in my life has been the sudden death of my father on September 30, 2009. While working in his yard on a beautiful day last fall, he was killed when part of a tree fell and landed on him. He died at the age of fifty-eight, and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought about him and longed to once again hear his fatherly voice and advice.
Shortly after my father died, I read a book called A Grief Unveiled by Gregory Floyd, a father who lost his young son also in a tragic accident. In the book, Floyd recollects a conversation he had with his priest the day before his son’s funeral. The priest said to Gregory, “Up to now, you’ve been carrying this. Tomorrow, Mother Church carries you.” When I read that line in the book, I knew exactly what the author meant by Mother Church. The images that came to mind were the many hundreds of people who stood in line for hours to pay their condolences to our family; the countless meals that were prepared for our family; the spiritual counsel from the priest and staff; the lovely eulogies that were said in my Dad’s honor. All of this is what, for me, “Mother Church carries you” means—sisters and brothers in Christ wrapping their collective arms around my family and holding us up. They carried and shouldered our burdens with us, exactly what a mother does when one of her children is hurt. What a beautiful experience it was for our family, and my heart continues to be warmed by those memories.
Just this past weekend, along with a handful of parishioners who shouldered my burdens a year ago, I was blessed to spend time with a dear friend and her dying mother. Over the past four years, my friend had been caring for her mother with acute Alzheimer’s. Her health had deteriorated to the point where she only had a few more hours of life. When we heard this news, the Holy Spirit guided us and we organized together to support our friend beside the bed of her dying mother. We prayed the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet; we shared spontaneous prayer; we sang “Go in Peace.” We, the same members of Mother Church, collectively wrapped our arms around our friend, held her up, and helped shoulder her burden, just as I had experienced a year ago.
How sad I feel for the increasing number of people who say, “I’m spiritual, not religious. Church is for the weak and those who cling to religion.” Had my family been of that mindset, we would have missed out on all the graces that Mother Church provided during a very dark time. Those graces made us stronger, not weaker. One of the last things I said to my friend before we left her mother’s side was, “Allow Mother Church to carry you. It will make you stronger.” She understood—she experienced it a year ago with me. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). That’s Mother Church.