For about a month now we have been keeping an eye on the mother duck who had been sitting on a nest in the courtyard between the church and the school. Glorious evidence of the new life of Easter, all peeping and fuzzy, the ducklings at last have burst forth from their shells.
I'm hoping that these new little ones also can bring some extra joy and gratitude to our celebration of Mother's Day this weekend. It has been heartening to watch the God-given instincts of that mother duck, first to seek out a place for her nest that would ensure that her eggs would be sheltered and safe, and then to witness her unwavering and selfless dedication. That mother duck remained on that nest, doing without food or water for herself, through all kinds of weather. How God blesses us all through the sacrificial love and devotion of our mothers.
This month I celebrate the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I recall one moment in the ordination rite, immediately after the Archbishop anointed my hands with the Sacred Chrism, when I was handed a small white linen cloth called a manutergium. I wrapped my hands in the cloth to dry them off. Then the cloth was instantly taken away, labeled, and re-presented to me after the Mass was over.
There is a tradition whereby the newly ordained priest then gives the manutergium to his mother. The white cloth represents the swaddling cloths in which the Blessed Mother wrapped the baby Jesus when he was born. It also reminds us of the burial shroud that protected the body of Christ during His three days in the tomb. The cloth serves as a sacramental in honor of the love of God manifest through the priest's mother and of the life-long swaddling and protection she gave to her son.
It is also a custom for the mother to be buried with the manutergium – spiritually presenting it to God as symbolic of the love she demonstrated throughout her life as a mother. My mother has left a note, in her funeral instructions, that it be placed in the casket with her when the time comes.
The love and joy of God is so symphonic – from parish courtyards to ducklings to mothers to priesthood and everything, everything else. Thanks Mom, and thanks be to God for His loving plan and for the signs of His life and love sustaining us through it all!