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Saints: Simple People like our Mother

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On November 1 of every year, Christians celebrate joyfully the Feast of All Saints: those beatified and canonized by our Mother Church and the multitude of anonymous saints who lived a simple Christian life, including for sure members of our own families. On the eleventh month of every year, Christians are reminded of their vocation to holiness – and full happiness. God tells his people: “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy” (Lev 20:26).


All Christians – priests, religious and lay faithful - are called to holiness, that is, “to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Vatican II). Holiness is a loving union with God our Father, through Jesus Christ the Son of God and our Savior, and in the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son, our sanctifier and grace. Sanctity is achieved through doing God’s will; through practicing love of God and neighbor, and of God’s creation; through the ascending ladder of prayer, meditation, and contemplation, adoration.   

All the saints point to and follow Jesus, starting with Mary his Mother and Our Lady – the holiest among the saints -, and thereafter with the apostles, martyrs, pastors, virgins, confessors - and the simple people who lived their ordinary lives with extraordinary fidelity to God and loving service to neighbors.  In his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exultate, GE - on the call to holiness in today’s world -, Pope Francis speaks of holiness for everyone and points out the holiness of simple people, of ordinary people living in our homes and our neighbors’. These saints may include “our mothers, grandmothers, or other loved ones” (GE 3).

Certainly, each one of us has a saint or more in his/her family: parents, mother, brother or sister, friend, a migrant, the beggar to whom we give some alms … In our case, I am sure, with my brothers and sisters, that our mother is one of the saintly simple and humble people.    


Our parents, Maudilio and Florencia, had 8 children: 3 daughters and 5 sons. One of the daughters – the first – died about a year after her birth and a son – the last child – soon after his birth. We were a humble and simple family of farmers in the wonderful town of El Oso, in Avila (Spain). Our parents had some land and, although life was hard after the terrible Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), we never lacked what was necessary to have a dignified life. Our father worked the land and our mother took care of the house and the children. Our mother had a special love and care of our second living sister, a special child, differently able – and lovely. She loved God’s creation: animals, especially those in our houses, bull, rabbits, chicken, and birds, flowers, the fields, in a word, God’s creation.

From our father, an incredible narrator of stories, we learned to do well what we ought to do and to be just in our dealings with others. With our mother, we experience love, tenderness, piety, and compassion with the poor, sick - and the souls in purgatory (“the blessed souls in purgatory”). Our neighbors also experienced our mother’s kindness, meekness, and loveliness.

Our mother Florencia was totally dedicated to her family. She was the perfect housewife, the mother who is always there. She cooked very well and had the house always clean and in harmonious order.


Pope Francis underlines two especial characteristics of holiness: the practice of the Beatitudes, and of the so-called “protocol of the last judgment” in the Parable of the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46).   Our mother practiced both – like a saint.

Mother was “blessed”: poor in spirit, humble, kind, merciful, peaceful, sorrowful, pure of heart … She was happy when others were happy and suffered when others suffered. While reminding us of the poor children of Sudan, or somewhere else, who had not enough food, she always urged us to eat all our food on the plate (if we could not finish it, she would).  Our mother Florencia – with our father - taught us through her simple and sober life not to waste things or over-consume. She did not talk much and listened to always. She was truly pious. In our town, she always attended Mass when celebrated. After 1967, when our family transferred to Madrid, our mother went to Mass every day. She had a strong faith and trust in God and in his divine Providence. And she accepted his will, at times with tears in her eyes: “God wanted it; blessed be God.”

Florencia loved to pray to the saints and touched their statues or kiss their printed images on cards (“estampas”), particularly of Jesus carrying the cross or crucified, and of Our Lady. After she died, I got two often touched and kissed “estampas” from her purse: one of Jesus carrying the cross (the one who appeared to St. John of the Cross), and the other of Our Lady of Fatima. She always had a few coins in her purse and she spent them in the Church to light a candle to Jesus or Our Lady – or to give to the poor that crossed her way. I remember the words of Elder monk Zosima telling his nanny: “Go ahead, dear nanny, light [the lamp before the icon in his room]… For that is your way of praying to God” (The Brothers Karamazov). This was also a mother’s simple way of praying to God and to Mary, angels, and saints. Remembering her trusting piety, I understand better “the evangelizing power of popular piety” (EG 122-126).

While putting the little ones in the crib to sleep or cooking or cleaning the house or washing the clothes, she liked to sing, usually religious songs, or utter here and there some short prayers or ejaculations or appeals to the saints, particular to Mary “Madre del Amor Hermoso” as Our Lady of Remedies or of Carmel or of the Rosary or of Perpetual Help. 

Our mother taught us, her children many vocal prayers that we all still remember with love, above all, prayers before going to sleep. To St. Isidro she loved to sing often the song the town sung during the novena to the Patron of Farmers in May: “San Isidro Labrador, give us water although we do not deserve it; for if it were a question of deserving, not even the ground we walk on.”

 Her favorite prayer was the Rosary, which our mother prayed every day, usually in the church before the celebration of the Holy Mass, or with other members of the family, in particular with one of her sisters. (It was a joy for me in summer to see both praying the Rosary so calmly, so serenely). At times, and kneeling on the bench closest to the altar, she prayed the Rosary during my Mass in the Parish in Campamento, Madrid. I told her smiling: “It is not that good that you pray the Rosary during Mass.” Her calm answer, also smiling: “It is fine because I pray it for you.”

I do not remember who was, but someone did a reproachable deed to her. I wanted to tell the person concerned. Her answer: “Son, do not do it, please; we are going to live about four days, and I would not like that they get angry at us; I want to be I good terms with all.”

As we all know well, the cross – suffering, failure, disappointment – is part of our life. Our mother carried her cross patiently and serenely – and helped us carry ours. I never heard her complain when we knew she was suffering physically and spiritually. Perhaps, the hardest blow she received in life (the whole family, really) was the death of her elder son, our eldest brother and our icon, when he was 57 only and left his wife, and their three children – and his parents and brothers and sisters. Never in my life had I seen her crying so inconsolably. This was part of her “dark night” and through it, she never wavers on her faith and trust in God. On the contrary, she increased her prayers and devotions.


Pope Francis tells us that love of the needy neighbor – of the poor -, is the priority, the distinguishing characteristic of all the followers of Jesus: “the great criterion” of holiness also today is Christ’s call in the poor, I was hungry and you gave me food…” (cf. Mt 25:35-36). Our mother carried out well the so-called protocol of the last judgment.    

Our father, who seldom talked to us of our mother, told me one day, “Son, your mother had two kinds of friends: the saints and the poor.” We never saw a poor person who knocked at the door of our home leave without something, usually food. She always shared with every one of them something of what we were going to eat or had eaten that day. She had compassion of the poor because she loved them.

Our mother lived in the presence of God. She had a profound and simple faith. A story among many others. A few successive nights, when our parents were asleep, repeated pounding on the table of the dormitory for several successive nights woke them up. What could that be? They had transferred the framed painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the attic, which was dark and hardly visited. Our mother thought: “May be the repeated pounding is due to the fact that we transferred the painting there, and sort of abandoned it.” So they brought the icon of Our Lady down to the main room again, and then no more pounding. (We treasure this Marian frame, which continues to be in our ancestral home in El Oso) Our father who did not believe in those “outer” encounters, told me: “Son, it is true. I heard the pounding on the table for a few nights; then after we brought the holy frame down it stopped.” Coincidence?

I am convinced that our mother performed miracles. Starting with the miracle of her life: the virtuous life of an “anawin” of God, of a poor of spirit (Mt 5, 3). If I continue as a Dominican priest, it is because of her. Well, because of God, of course, but through her never-failing intercession. She asked, beseeched God to give her a priest. She prayed for me daily since I was in primary school. Why did I not leave when many others around me did - right after Vatican II? Through the intercession of our mother, I did not. How could God refuse her, in spite of my continuing deficiencies and failures?  God did not – and here am I, still a sinner!

One day she fell from the bed and was immediately taken to the hospital. She suffered a cerebral hemorrhage: “no hope.” Accompanied by our father and their sons and daughters, she spent twelve days in a hospital in Madrid before she passed away on August 7, 1992. She had asked the Lord often for the grace of not bothering the family in her old age (she was nearly 80 when the Lord took her) – and she obtained it.  At the hospital, she had lucid moments and usually, at night she passed out and dreamt awakened. Even in these moments, she remembered her loved ones, her grandchildren (in those moments, she thought she was at home): “Hijo, get some coins from the drawer and give to them” - this was a ritual she fulfilled faithfully when the grandchildren (12) went to visit their grandparents. In her few days in the hospital, she prayed the Rosary all the time when she was alone or with me. The days before her death, she asked me to be sure that her favorite Rosary (one I had given her, from Jerusalem) be placed around her hands before she was buried. I was amazed at her calmness and hope in saying that. When she was near death I asked her: Why are you always praying the Rosary? “For a good death,” she answered without any fear, with great serenity. She died with the Rosary in her hands. Her last words: “Ave Maria Purisima.”  These are the words the poor who knocked at the door of our house in our town pronounced all the time. Our mother always answered from inside the house, and before opening the door to them: “Sin pecado concebida”- conceived [Mary] without sin. Those were her last words before giving up her spirit: “Ave Maria Purisima.” I do not think it is presumptuous to think that she was asking St. Peter to open the door of heaven for her. (By the way, the beautiful Baroque Church of our noble town El Oso is presided by St. Peter the Apostle).

Some town mates told me at different times and days: “Your mother should never die because she is so good.” A young Filipina working in Madrid for many years, who became a friend of my mother and knew her well, told me without asking her: “I have found only one saint in Spain: your mother.” 

There are many good people who live their simple and humble life in the presence of God. They are the anonymous saints, like the “aroma of Christ” in our world (cf. II Cor 2:15). I have no doubt that our mother is among them, May our mother and the saints in your family protect us and help us.

Fausto Gómez Berlana OP