Meanderings of a Catholic Mother
By Mira Vanleeuwen
Mira and Family
I share the same birthday as Mama Mary, 8 September. It is something that I always hold dear in my heart, keeping me grounded in my faith no matter what. It’s been very challenging living here in Australia for about ten years now where most people hardly ever go to church. There is a certain concept here that as long as you're doing good you’re not a bad person. You will be all right and you don’t need God. People here are so open to almost anything, and of course they don’t mind things like same-sex marriage, something that greatly challenges my own principles and beliefs.
Coming from a much poorer country made me reflect that as a Filipino my faith keeps me going. Things may be seen differently by people who live in an affluent world where much is easy and people don’t feel the need to depend on Someone much, much greater. Topics like faith and God would seem mundane if not weird to them. The irony that I can often see is that there is an atmosphere of people searching constantly for something missing in their lives.
My situation here in Australia is like that of a grocery shopper. As soon as I enter the supermarket I'm bombarded with so many marketing ads to entice me to buy what they offer. If I'm not smart I could very well buy things that I don't need. But if I stick to my shopping list more likely I’ll be on track with my budget.
Father Seán, Willy and his daughter Maeve, Melbourne 2009
There are so many distractions here. If I don’t keep myself in tune with God through prayer, through attending Mass and reading Bible passages I can easily slide away. Maintaining my relationships and friendships with my Catholic friends sustains me and inspires me to go on. I remember with fondness the time when Fr Seán Coyle visited my family six years ago. I felt special, honored and thankful to God for the grace of getting to know Columbans like him and the late Fr Niall O’Brien. In fact I named my son after Father Niall and named my daughter after his favorite author, Maeve Binchy.
Mira and her children with Father Seán, Melbourne 2009
As a mother, it is important for me to ensure that my children grow in their faith and that they truly understand Catholic doctrine and practices. I believe it will keep them grounded as we live in this very modern and free-thinking world. I try as much as I can to emulate Mama Mary's qualities: her obedience to the will of the Father and her nurturing love and motherly care for Jesus. It is as important as living the legacy my parents left me by bringing me up as a Catholic.
Just recently God's affirmation to my prayers is slowly coming into view by seeing Willy, my husband, a Dutch descent who grew up in Australia, little by little giving service at Sunday Mass as an altar-server. And Niall, seeing his Dad being so involved in the Mass, is encouraged by him to help at the altar too. He used to refuse to go with the other children to the children's liturgy of the Word but now he joins them with no fuss. And now without any prodding from me, Niall or Maeve says Grace before meals. Yes, these are some simple yet profound joys of being a Catholic. I will never trade them for anything in this world.
Niall and Maeve at their First Holy Communion