I didn’t see you when I first entered the church.
My preschooler needed to use the bathroom just as my family walked into Mass, so I slid into our pew a few minutes late.
Then I was busy settling the preschooler and passing the baby to my husband.
It was well into the first reading before I noticed you sitting at the end of our pew.
You were a beautiful, elegantly dressed woman, about the same age as me. And I saw a tear running down your cheek.
My heart went out to you immediately. But I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t start talking to you in the middle of Mass.
So I took a tissue out of my diaper bag and handed it to you.
You took the tissue, looked at me, and whispered, “Thank you.” It seemed that perhaps you felt a little better for a moment.
But then the homily started. And the priest, bless his heart, spent the entire 15 minutes talking about the beauty of motherhood. About what a gift motherhood is. And how blessed mothers are.
And the more he talked, the harder you cried.
At this point, I was almost ready to start crying myself. Your sorrow was clearly connected to the Mother’s Day theme.
Then, at the end of Mass, the priest asked all the mothers to stand for a special blessing.
That was more than you could take. You sat next to me and sobbed as though your heart would break.
I felt distraught wishing there were something I could do or say to help. All I could do was pray for God to be with you.
After Mass, I leaned over and whispered, “I don’t know what’s going on, but hang in there. I’m praying for you.”
You said, “Thank you. I just found out last week I’ll never be able to have children.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. There was so little I could say to express how my heart hurt for you.
“Your kids are so cute,” you said, gesturing at the four little ones crowding behind me. “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Then you walked away, still crying.
It’s been weeks since Mother’s Day, but I haven’t stopped thinking about you.
Perhaps you went to Mass that day to find consolation in your grief. It seems so wrong to me that Mass on Mother’s Day hurt you so deeply instead.
I know the priest meant well, but the truth is, I wish he hadn’t asked the mothers to stand for a blessing. I wish he hadn’t made the entire homily about the amazingness of motherhood.
It’s understandable that he wants to honor mothers. He had the best of intentions. But surely there are ways to do this without hurting the many women who can’t have children, or who may find Mother’s Day so difficult.
Whatever honor he meant to give to me and the other mothers at Mass was not worth the pain it caused to you.
I wish I could sit with you in your suffering and hold your hand and be a friend to you. Since I can’t, I’m praying for you, and for all those like you who long for children.
I’ll never forget meeting you. And I can’t help hoping that my thoughts about our encounter might inspire a different approach to Mother’s Day.
Perhaps Mother’s Day Mass could include a heartfelt prayer for those experiencing infertility, who have lost children, or who long for marriage and motherhood.
Perhaps the special blessing could include all women, since we all share the call of spiritual motherhood.
And perhaps we could stop asking mothers to stand up. It’s awkward and painful for many women who are not mothers and instead may feel like they’re the only woman in the entire church sitting down.
Maybe parishes could offer flowers on a table in the vestibule for women to take on the way out if they want to, leaving it up to them.
I’ll probably never see you again, since we met while I was traveling, at a church far from my home. But meeting you changed my life.
I hope and pray that somehow, some way, you will find something that fills that longing in your heart. Whatever happens, I pray for God to bless you.