I am trying to figure out why the mother of the prodigal son wasn’t anywhere in the story. In real life, those anguish-filled mothers are everywhere. They are in every parish in every town. We know their names. We’ve seen their tears. They scan the shelves at local Catholic bookstores for titles that will ease their pain or provide them with tips to help their grown children rediscover their Catholic faith. These mothers even have a patron saint in St. Monica. They find solace in the fact that St. Monica’s bishop said that “it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish,” and these troubled women nod their heads empathetically.
They relentlessly knock at heaven’s gates, imploring divine assistance. They quietly enter the Adoration chapel and claim an hour of Our Lord’s time. They persistently remain on their knees in prayer long after the aches and pains of middle age demand attention.
They have learned the holy art of praying without ceasing. They can do it anywhere, during their commute to work, while throwing a load of clothes in the washing machine, even while thumbing through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room.
This mother is a creative intercessor. On her commute, she sees the road before her, and she prays that her son will be filled with a desire to turn his life around and simply head back home.
She imagines her son’s dirty, stained soul as she throws the clothes in the old machine and adds detergent and laundry booster. She can almost see her boy waiting outside the confessional, like he did when he was young and still eager to please God.
As she sits in the doctor’s waiting room, the mother imagines her son seeking spiritual healing. She longs to have this young man kneel beside her and to hear his deep voice say the words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Yes, she is a very creative intercessor. She’s learned to convert all of life’s work into a most efficacious prayer. No bit of suffering is wasted. She calls it spiritual frugality. God calls it faithfulness.
Any remake of the prodigal story would have to include the boy’s mother. In this version, she would glance from the father to the road, waiting expectantly. She would wipe away a steady stream of tears when the music swells and the son rounds the bend, making his way up the long lane. She might even set off to meet their son half-way and slip her arm inside his arm and match him step-for-step all the way home. She would only release him when they reach the front step and she lets him fall safely into his father’s arms. And then the old story would go on as it always has. Get him a new robe. Kill the fatted calf. Our son has come home!
Yes, I’m convinced that any retelling of this story would require the addition of a mother to the list of characters. And I think it has something to do with our transition into the New Covenant.
We have a Mother. Her job description is to get us home to the Father. Jesus Christ gave her that mission from the cross when he said, “Woman, behold your son.”
Every day, she waits and prays. She turns to the Father and implores him to be patient a little longer. The boy will come home. She just knows it in the depths of her Immaculate Heart.
The New Covenant isn’t simply a sequel or a remake of the original. The New Covenant is the redemption story made accessible to all humanity, all nations, all people – of every gender. Yes, there are even daughters mixed in with these prodigal sons. And the Mother is praying for their return, too. The Gospel message of Our Lord Jesus Christ is Good News for every prodigal of every race. The Mother is Our Lady. And she is Mother Church. She waits for us, she intercedes for us, and she meets us on the journey to lead us all the way home.
She is there when we enter the Church through the cleansing of baptism. She brings us the Bread of Life, that we might be nourished and live. She teaches us in the way we should go and sends us into the Father’s presence for His empowering blessing at confirmation. She guides us with wisdom as we discern our vocations. She mends our wounds and dispenses the right medicine when we are ill or dying. And she will always, always lead us to the Father for that ultimate moment when friendship with Christ segues into the fullness of eternal life.
She does this not by her own power but by the merits of her Son. The perfect Son. The Son who gave His Mother this mission.
Imagine that. The only woman who ever had a perfect son agreed to “mother” a world of imperfect (and sometimes rebellious) children. The irony is too much to fathom.
Yes, there would definitely be a mother in today’s prodigal story. This Mother sets the standard for all mothers as she shows us how to pray for the safe return of our children.
Luke 7:12-15 As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother. . . . A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother (NAB, St. Joseph Edition).