Allow me to tell you a tale of two sons. It begins with a story told by my friend, Father Barnabas, a Franciscan friar in Connecticut. Online conversations with him over the past 10 years have often led to mutually genial exchanges of ideas — not to mention much hilarity and the joy of knowing someone totally at ease with himself as a man, as a Catholic, and as a priest.
In his chatroom, he recently favored several friends with a story from his Methodist youth. I’ll quote Father Barnabas since it’s his story and he tells it much better than I ever could:
“Interestingly enough, I started my music ministry at my mom’s bidding,” said Father Barnabas. “It began one Sunday when I was still quite young and going to church with my folks who are, as you know, devout Protestants.
“I’ll never forget the minister, Reverend Caulder, a good man. He had arranged a service for married couples to renew their wedding vows and receive his blessing.
“The church organist was Dan somebody — the name will come to me. He was set to play for the occasion. He had red hair and a bushy moustache. Oh, now I remember his name — Dan Parish! He was a great organist but he couldn’t make the service. He had taken ill, as I recall, and was out-oftown on top of it.
“When we arrived, my mother learned of the situation. I was then a young teenager trying to get a band together, as so many teens do. Mom, knowing that I played piano and electronic keyboards, asked me to play the organ for the service.
“I was familiar with the instrument but not used to playing it. I told Mom I couldn’t possibly play the organ in public. I wasn’t good enough to play hymns or church music. Besides, all that but left unsaid, I was too embarrassed — make that terrified. I had no intention of getting up and playing that organ in front of God and everyone.
“Mom brushed aside my objections and decisively told me, ‘You can do it. Now get up there!’ Then she turned to one of the ushers and asked him to set up the organ for me. The flummoxed usher made no objection. You don’t argue with she who must be obeyed!
“Well, I did play during the service — it was my first time —and I did pretty well, all things considered, and not being Dan Parish.
“Since this was a celebration of marriage and renewal of vows, the Gospel excerpt the Reverend Mr. Caulder chose was taken from John 2, about the Wedding at Cana. When he read the part about Christ telling his mother, ‘Woman, what is that to thee and to me?’ followed by Mary telling the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you,’ my mother turned to me and smiled!
“I’ve never forgotten that incident. I’ll never forget my mom’s face when she turned to me and smiled triumphantly, as if to say, ‘Ah hah! See? Jesus listened to his mother, too!’ She got me to do her bidding because she was my mom, and now, whenever I read that passage, I always think of her and that knowing smile we shared.”
At this point, Frances, who was also listening to Father Barnabas’ story, piped up, “Both good sons.”
Father Barnabas laughed. “I was probably a lot more reluctant. At least the good Lord knew he wasn‘t going to mess up!”
Sensing this article taking shape, I chimed in, “Mind if I ask your mom’s name, Father?” “Not at all,” Father Barnabas replied. “Her name is Grace. And don’t think the coincidence was lost on me!”
Now, it’s a fact that the kings of Judah, all of the House of David, bestowed on their mothers the title “queen.” It seemed reasonable to suppose that, as queen dowager, a king’s mother would look after his best interests and could be relied upon as his most loyal counselor, bringing to his notice worthy petitions from his subjects.
Before her son was conceived, the angel told Mary, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father. He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
At Cana, Jesus told Mary that his hour had not yet come. He was fully aware that, with his first miracle, he was taking his first steps to an agonizing death. Still, since his mother seemed to expect it, Jesus spared the newlyweds the embarrassment of running out of wine.
Calling for six water jars used for purification to be filled with water, Jesus told the servants to take some to the head steward, who discovered that the jars now held wine of the finest vintage. As the poet Richard Crashaw described the incident, “The conscious water beheld its creator and blushed.”
Mary’s title of queen comes to her honestly, not only by her being the mother of Jesus — the King of Kings, but also by right. Should anyone tell you it’s wrong to pray to Mary, asking for her heavenly aid, show them this verse: “And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:25).
Simeon foresaw Mary’s coming anguish. At the foot of Calvary’s cross, she earned the right to intercede with her son on behalf of his subjects and bring their petitions, “the thoughts of many hearts,” to his attention.
And so we honor Mary as queen. In truth, however, every mother is a queen to her sons.
Just ask Father Barnabas. Just ask Jesus.
Thus ends my tale of two sons.
Hail Mary, full of grace. Hey Mom! Your name is Grace.
(Sean M. Wright is an Emmy nominated television writer, a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is a member of the RCIA team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita, California. He responds to comments sent to Locksley69@ aol.com.)