Question: In our parish, there was a big celebration of mothers during Mass on Mother's Day. As we left church, the men's organization gave roses to all women. I told the man at the exit that I was not a mother, but he insisted on giving me a rose anyway. I would love to be a mother, but I am unable to be one. I felt the man was insensitive, and I felt embarrassed. Please comment.
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: I know I will seem like a spoilsport to some when I say that Mother's Day is not on the Church's liturgical calendar, but it's true, it's not. So, the secular holiday should not become the object of a "big celebration" at Mass. In the parishes in which I have ministered, mothers are prayed for in the general intercessions, and briefly mentioned in the announcements at the end of Mass, and we have left it at that.
I sympathize with your reaction to the gentleman who offered you a flower on Mother's Day. Yours is a good example of why occasions like Mother's Day need to be handled deftly in the liturgy. For some -- hopefully most -- mothers, Mother's Day is an occasion of joy and happiness, but for some mothers, it isn't. There are mothers who have lost children through death, are alienated from them or neglected by them in life. There are women who have had abortions, and for whom the yearly celebration is a source of pain. There are women who are divorced and whose family relationships are complicated and often difficult. There are women like you who have never had the opportunity to be mothers.
Priests need to be sensitive to the women in the congregation on Mother's Day for whom the occasion is not a happy one or to whom the annual observance does not apply. On Mother's Day, I always mention these categories of women -- and the response I get is always a positive one, especially from women like you, who make up a significant part of the congregation.
Question: What is the difference between good-luck charms and talismans that promise all kinds of good things and the Rosary and the miraculous medal and scapular I wear around my neck? I know there is a difference, but can you explain it to me?
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: There are four differences between charms and talismans and genuine religious objects such as you describe.
First, charms and talismans promise all kinds of worldly successes and often respond to people's more base inclinations (greed, lust, need for power), while religious objects only respond to virtuous and positive moral inclinations. You will never become rich and powerful by saying the Rosary or wearing a scapular.
Second, charms and talismans seek to manipulate the world to our needs and desires, while no such manipulation occurs with the use of religious objects. God cannot be manipulated, but responds to our prayers according to his will.
Third, the use of magical objects requires nothing from us, only that we believe in them. Religious objects and prayers require personal conversion and a change of heart on the part of those who use them. In religious devotion and the use of religious objects, it is we who are changed, not God.
Fourth -- and most important of all -- charms and talismans do not work! Sincere prayer to God and the use of religious objects do not always have the effects that we expect, but God always answers our prayers in one way or another, either now or in the future.
Most people use good-luck charms for fun or for simple decoration. However, taking them seriously is both unwise and silly.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.