I have two role models for practicing my faith—my mother and my maternal grandmother. When you talk about good people, these two are salt of the earth. They are very devout Catholics, but in a nonpreachy way. And they have both had "issues" with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (What Catholic hasn't?) My grandmother nearly left the church during the late 1950s, early 1960s over its teachings. And she was incensed that my parents were to remain outside the communion rail during their wedding because my father was not Catholic (he was Methodist and later converted). Today, at nearly 83, she sings in the choir at St. Bartholomew, volunteering to sing at all funeral masses. I get tears in my eyes whenever I hear, "How Great Thou Art" because I hear my grandmother's beautiful soprano voice.
My mom practices her faith very quietly, almost serenely. And yet I know she also has struggled with faith. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. She was operated on Feb. 1 and I had my youngest child the next day. It was an incredibly stressful time for my family, especially for my dad. I remember my grandmother saying, "But your mother has done everything right." She walked daily, never smoked or drank and was a person of faith. Ultimately, it was her faith—in God, in her own inner strength, in her family's love and support and in her doctors' care—that pulled her through and continues to do so.
And so I walked into the movie theater by myself on Saturday afternoon to see "The Passion of the Christ." I had my mother on one shoulder, my grandmother on the other. I had been reluctant to go, for fear of my emotional reaction. I had the same feeling about "Schindler's List." But I was so glad I saw that movie and, ultimately, I'm glad I saw "Passion."
It was hard to sit through the scourging scene as Jesus' flesh was torn from his body by the Roman guards' whips. But what broke my heart and caused the tears to flow nearly constantly was the beautiful, heartbreaking, luminous expressions of Mary, his mother.
I've always prayed more to Mary than anyone else. I've sought her guidance as a wife, mother and woman. Certainly God and Jesus made tremendous sacrifices for humankind. But Mary … I think hers was the greatest sacrifice, that of her son. What made the movie so emotional for me was watching her grief and her helplessness. There's a brief flashback after Jesus falls while carrying the cross. Mary remembers him falling as a young boy when she could run to him and shower him with kisses. As she recalls this moment in Jesus' youth, she realizes how he needs her now. She runs to where he has fallen and says, "I am here." Three simple words that mean so much. Any mother can relate, but I think it's especially touching for mothers of sons.
The women—their incredible faith—struck me in this film. It was the women who trusted in Jesus, the women who spoke up for him, the women who tried to comfort him. From Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate who offered Mary and Mary Magdalene towels to mop up Jesus' blood after the scourging, to the wife of Simon, who although he wanted no part of the crucifixion even though the guards insisted he help Jesus carry the cross, was encouraged to do so by his wife who called Jesus, "a holy man."
But in the end, it was Mary for whom I wept. She endured what no mother should—the public beating and death of her son. And yet she accepted it as God's will. And so it is her faith that is the ultimate model of self-sacrifice, love and grace.