As a little girl growing up in New York City, my mom took plenty of kidding about her name. She hated anything to do with sports, and whenever she dropped the ball or stumbled, her classmates made enormous fun of her, because she was called Grace.
She gave me that name, too, when I was born — as my middle name — but it was many years before I realized its deeper significance.
Yes, grace can describe someone who is physically nimble, but the spiritual meaning really resonates with me.
In Catholic school I learned that sanctifying grace comes from reception of the sacraments, such as baptism, penance and Holy Communion. But there is another kind of grace called “actual” — and it is offered to us by God in the ordinary events of life.
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When I look back at my mother’s life, I’m stunned by the evidence of this everyday grace.
She was a faithful churchgoer and sacrificed plenty to send her daughters to private schools so we could learn the basics of our religion.
When hard times hit the family, she gave up her dream of full-time mothering and went back to the job she had before she married, which was teaching.
First, she instructed deaf children, and then in her later years she taught the kids others often gave up on, including those with severe learning disabilities like Down syndrome.
I would go to school with her now and again, and I recall how the little ones herded joyfully around her, hungry for the love she so generously poured out.
When I was in high school, my father had to have open-heart surgery, and this was in the days when it was a relatively new procedure and extremely risky.
My mother and father were the proverbial two peas in a pod — good friends as well as sweethearts — and I know she dreaded losing him.
Looking back, I see it was God’s grace that gave her the strength to cheerfully give my dad what could have been a final kiss before his surgery.
When I was in graduate school, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and despite all the family’s prayers she died five years later.
Throughout it all, she remained upbeat and calm because she had her sights set on Christ.
Even as she lay dying, she didn’t dwell on her own suffering but instead worried about me. I had bronchitis and she told my father to take me home so I could rest.
She died that very night, and although this was long ago, I have never gone a day without dwelling on her love.
Every Mother’s Day, I look back on all the sacrifices and all the trials, and all the love. It seems to me that her name suited her perfectly.
She was a lady of deep and abiding faith — and wondrous grace.