I grew up hearing the rhyme, ” A daughter’s a daughter all of her life, but a son is a son till he takes on a wife”. But what happens when the son doesn’t take on a wife, like when he becomes a priest. The most common question I get from other people is “What about grandkids?” I am okay with not having grandkids but my first question was “Am I going to lose my son?”
I recently took a trip to D.C. The trip was not only to see my son, but as a surprise for my mother as well. My very thoughtful sister, Beth, was bringing my mother down from Pennsylvania to visit Evan for a weekend. She suggested that I also come to D.C. and surprise Mom. The plan worked worked like a dream and even my father kept the secret. My mother was surprised and happy to see me. It was wonderful getting to spend time with her and my sister.
I arrived a day earlier than my sister and mother and Evan had to work that morning. I wandered down to the kitchen for a cup of tea and found another seminarian doing the same. Michael C. is a lovely man about nine years older than Evan. We struck up a conversation that lead to him talking about his calling and the path his life is taking. At the end of the conversation he commented that it was like talking to his mom, but not. There are some things you can never talk to your mom about because….she’s your mom. I also felt like I was talking to a son. A son I was just getting to know and who was already fully grown.
The conversation got me thinking and I took some time to ask a few of the priests in residence at the college about their moms, and moms in general. Usually these gentlemen talked about the fact that they were close to both their mom and dads but became closer to their moms around the time of formation. Some commented, as the “single” man in the family, they were often looked on to coordinate family events and help their mother. One individual commented the the death of a mother was often a mid life crisis event for priests.
After two days of visiting and touring DC on bus, Beth and Mom returned to Erie on Sunday morning. I stayed because my flight wasn’t until Monday morning. Evan and I had some time to visit the church of his spiritual director. I attended my first Eastern Rite Catholic Mass (a lovely spiritual event if you ever have the opportunity to partake) and dinner that evening was takeout from Evan’s favorite pizza joint (& Pizza). After the meal, Evan left me saying he and Mike H. were bottling a batch of beer they had brewed earlier. I stayed in my room for a while then suddenly grabbed my phone (camera) and went down to the kitchen. I got to spend two lovely hours talking and taking pictures of these young men while they bottled their cream stout beer. Mike loved asking me questions about Evan as a child. Evan groaned and Mike laughed about Evan’s climbing prowess and escape abilities at ten months. This made for a very congenial evening. A toast at the end with flat beer and Mike commented, “I know you don’t see it because you aren’t here all the time, but the whole house gets lighter when a mom visits. There is just something about a mom, even if it isn’t your mom.” (Another new fully grown son!)
I have had time to reflect on all this and I have come up with my own interpretation of the mom-son-priest relationship. God made man and woman to be support and help to each other. In a relationship where the man marries, that support and help comes from the wife. When a son gets married the mother steps back and allows the marriage relationship to flourish. A man who becomes a priest will still need that relationship of support and the benefit of a female perspective. Usually, the woman who suits that role best will be his mother. So a son is a son… for the rest of her life.
BTW. When asked if I would call Evan “Father” after ordination, I cheerfully reply “Of course, Father Sweetheart”