Shepherds and Mothers

After Mass on Good Shepherd Sunday, which was also Mother’s Day, one of the parishioners at *Naenae said to me, "What you did at the end of mass was terrible." My heart dropped and as I frantically reviewed what I had done that could have evoked such a response she quickly added that "it was also lovely".

She explained that her mother had died recently and so the blessing I used touched her into a sense of loss that was terrible and painful but at the same time evoked a great sense of gratitude for her mother.

During Mass I was conscious of the strong parallels between the image of the Good Shepherd and Mothers. So for the blessing I used Psalm 23, which we had prayed earlier as the Responsorial Psalm, but changed the image from Shepherd to Mother so that it might speak to us of motherly care.

The Lord is my mother, there is nothing I shall want
Fresh and green are the pastures where she gives me repose
Near restful waters she leads me to revive my drooping spirit  
She guides me along the right path
She is true to her name
She gives me comfort
She has prepared a banquet for me
My head she has anointed with oil, my cup is overflowing
In my mother’s house shall I dwell for ever and ever   

Psalm 23 seemed to summarise so much of what our mothers do for us. I was thinking of my own mother – all the meals she prepared for us and especially those at Christmas time; all the comfort given when we were down, anxious and afraid; the Vick’s rubbed on chests and the fevered brows mopped when we were ill; the guiding hand; and the great lengths she went to see that we lacked nothing. That she sometimes did without herself in the process seemed only to confirm something else. Jesus spoke about sacrifice and the Good Shepherd – that she lays down her life for her sheep.  

Reading the Psalm helped me reflect not just on my own mother, whose name was Brigid but was known to many as Berry, but also on God as Mother. It did appear at one point, in the not too distant past, that we were getting more comfortable with using feminine images to explore the mystery of God and God’s love. Somehow the concern for inclusive language and for a wide range of images to help us explore our relationship with the divine seems to have faded from consciousness and from practice in our liturgies. As a result we miss out on so many fresh insights into God and also on the experiences of grace that these can open up for us. I hope we will keep on exploring these images that can, like the parables of Jesus, be terrible in that they dynamite the assumptions that underpin our actions but also lovely in that they create new possibilities for us.    

Columban Fr Pat O'Shea lives at St Columbans, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.

*Naenae is a suburb of the city of Lower Hutt in the North Island of New Zealand.

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