Sharing Life Experience

Mother, Me, Aunt Margaret

For the Jews in Sunday’s gospel Jesus is way out of line when he identifies himself as bread come down from heaven. They murmur and question how he can say such things.

My mother and I murmured and questioned each other for a long time. Her murmuring against me began when I started going to daily Mass during Lent when I was sixteen. She didn’t like it. She preferred that I stayed home to make sure the rest of the kids got off to school because she left early every morning to teach in a country school ten miles away.

When I wanted to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph after my first year of college, she dismissed her school for a day and came to register me at the more secular University of Minnesota. She didn’t want me to waste my life. I murmured against her that she didn’t care what I wanted. We agreed that day that I would finish college before making any life decisions.

Like the Jewish Christians for whom John writes, my mother and I lived in an era of sharp boundaries between Protestants and Catholics. Our own family table was a place of division. Raised Methodist, Mother had many anti-Catholic prejudices. She worried that voting for a Catholic president would put the Vatican in power. She murmured every Friday about having to cook fish.

Her dad, who lived with us, liked neither fish nor Catholics (nor the Yankees). Mother forbade us to make the Sign of the Cross and say the Catholic meal prayer at her table — probably to keep peace with Grandpa. For the years of my growing up, Mother went neither to her own church or to ours. She just didn’t go.

When I still wanted to enter the sisters after I graduated from college, she didn’t stand in my way. To her, my decision was an unspeakable grief. Slowly we lived into some understanding. I learned her objections came out of the deepest love for me. She learned more appreciation of the sisters.

When her father died and she got sick, mother decided to join the Catholic Church with the rest of us. She asked me questions about Catholic belief in her letters, and I answered with fervent reflections. But the cloister separated me from the family. Not until my younger sister Jan’s baccalaureate Mass at the College of St. Catherine did mother and I worship together for the only time and celebrate the end of our long antagonism.

It was never Jesus as lord and savior who attracted my life commitment; it was the Jesus of Sunday’s gospel, the bread of life, the one who gathers us at his table, gives himself for the life of the world, and promises eternal life to those who eat this bread.

  • With whom have you murmured?
  • What is the value of holding differences in tension?