The Blessing of Our Mothers and Grandmothers, Guardians of the Hearth
As we gathered around the table of the Lord at the archdiocesan women’s conference this spring, I recalled how as a young boy I saw the word “hearth” on a poster. When I asked my mother what it meant, she told me it was an “old English” word for a fireplace. This was from the days when kitchens were built around a big fireplace in which the family meals were cooked. She further explained that “hearth” came to mean home, as in the warmth and love that is a hallmark of family life.
Today, not many kitchens contain a fireplace, but is this not where we still gravitate when family gathers? Is not the kitchen the place in which we have had some of our best conversations with our mothers and grandmothers as they were cooking a meal or as we were staring into the refrigerator deciding what we wanted to eat? It is not only conversations that happen in kitchens, many kitchen tables also serve as homework space, and so a lot of learning goes on in the kitchen as well. Kitchens are then not just the hearth of family life but the classroom of family love.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that “the home is the first school of Christian life” and “a school for human enrichment” where “one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (CCC 1657). Parents are the primary witnesses and teachers of the faith and with the help of grandparents and Godparents the whole family transmits the story of God’s love.
Building on this, another image the Church uses to talk about family life is of the family as a “domestic Church.” A Christian family constitutes a specific manifestation and realization of an ecclessial communion. It is a sign and an image of that communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Homes have a pride of place in the shaping of the Christian community and the transmission of the faith. Traditionally, as guardians of the “hearth,” women have had the privileged place of passing on the faith throughout the years.
From the very beginning of the Church we can see how the faith community, the family of early disciples, was sustained and nurtured through their gatherings in homes where they were invited for the Eucharist and a family meal. In Rome, where there are churches built on what were these ancient first century Christian homes, it is telling that the names are all of women – Priscilla, Pudenziana, Domitilla, Praxedes, and more. My own titular church, Saint Peter in Chains, traces its roots and heritage back to a small chapel built by the daughter of the jailer of Peter in Rome who kept the chains that had bound Peter to the prison and used them as part of her catechesis – teaching – of the next generation of future disciples.
Today, we celebrate the power of mothers and grandmothers who tell the story of God’s love and of Jesus’ place in our lives. My prayer for all our mothers and grandmothers is that God will continue to bless you in your strengthening of your families and the enriching and ennobling of your children and grandchildren by your own words and witness that God is truly a part of life.