I wonder if even the greatest saints ever outgrow the desire to please their moms.
Not long ago I discovered that I had not.
My mother was proud enough of my accomplishments. I knew that. And I heard, every now and then, secondhand and thirdhand, of her bragging about my latest book or TV show.
Firsthand … I heard very little. Between us there was the matter of religious difference. When I was growing up, our family was Presbyterian. I became a Catholic as a young man. Mom eventually came to attend a Baptist church. It’s understandable that she might see my Catholic theologizing as a rejection of what she gave me.
But of course it wasn’t. For Catholics, the Church is mother, and Mary is mother. We understand these truths more easily if we have known a good mother. And I did. That was my privilege. Motherhood and fatherhood both figure prominently in my approach to theology, and that is my legacy from Molly Lou Hahn and her husband, Fred. Insofar as I have succeeded, I have to give Mom credit.
I told her all that, but there was still the difference between us. I could sense her guard go up when our conversations drifted into religious matters.
So I was surprised, one day, when she asked me about the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology, which I founded in 2001. “You’re always talking about it,” she said. “What exactly does the center do?”
What an invitation! It was my chance to speak about what Mom and I held in common, and what my Church held in common with hers. I talked about our common love for Scripture. I explained how the center promoted biblical literacy for all Catholics and biblical fluency for clergy and teachers. I told her about our events, publications, web presence — everything.
I was feeling so good that I grabbed a brochure the center had recently produced and handed it to her.
With that, I had apparently crossed a line. She said: “Scott, you know I’ve never supported Catholic things and never will.”
I was taken aback. I wasn’t looking for money, and I explained that to her. Nonetheless, it was an awkward moment.
I was, I guess, fishing for Mom’s approval — which is a good thing, but not the best. In my heart I gave God the glory.
Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, she called to tell me she had read the brochure. “I never knew you were doing such amazing things,” she said. “I’m sending you a check for a thousand and five hundred dollars — as long as you promise not to tell anyone.”
I was beaming. But I told her I didn’t think I could make that promise.
“Oh, fine,” she said. “I’ll send you the check anyway.”
How grateful I am for that moment, which I count as an actual grace. I’m grateful to God that it happened when it did. Mom died on Aug. 20 of that year after a brief battle with cancer. I miss her. I’m holding on to many memories as consolations. But I’m holding on to that one in particular.