Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mother's Day Homily, Year A: Word and Sacrament

            Following Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples did not have the same joy that we have felt.  After a full season of Lent, intensifying our prayer, offering up things as sacrifices to God, giving more generously of ourselves for others, purifying certain aspects of our lives, we naturally are relieved when Easter finally comes.  All of the grace we need to do those things throughout the year is given to us anew.  The whole Church is filled with great joy.  After subduing our worship and not saying the Gloria at the beginning of Mass or chanting Alleluia throughout Lent, it gives me goosebumps every year when the organ finally bellows the Gloria again at the Easter Vigil.  Grace is always a surprise but at least we have the benefit of 2000 years of Tradition to give us an idea of what to expect.  It was a different story for Jesus’ disciples.
            After Jesus’ Passion and Death his disciples were still unsure of what exactly would happen.  They feared for their lives.  They were sad and had lost hope.  Their Lord had disappeared and they didn’t know why.  Instead of joy, they have confusion and despair.  But Jesus, having risen from the dead, appeared to two of his disciples as they walked to Emmaus.  They were talking about what had happened and debating with each other what it all could mean.  But they did not have the light of faith that would have allowed them to see with their spiritual eyes the deeper meaning of the events outside of Jerusalem and on Mount Calvary.  And this darkness also kept them from being able to recognize the risen Jesus.  So they explained to him what happened as if he was a common passer-by.
            Little did they know that they would receive a very, very special and privileged gift.  This stranger who they did not recognize, our Risen Lord Himself, then took the opportunity as they walked to explain all of salvation history, starting with Moses and the prophets, and how every aspect of his life, from his birth, to his ministry, to his death, and Resurrection was foreshadowed in Scripture.  Can you imagine?!  Having Jesus Christ Himself, the Eternal Word of God, walk with you and explain the Scriptures to you!  What I wouldn’t give to have been an eavesdropper in their conversation!  I’m sure we can all call to mind times when we, like these two disciples, were sad, or without hope, or afraid, or confused and wanted to turn to the Bible but weren’t sure were to go.  Or when we have read a certain passage and could not figure out what it meant.  Who do we have that can explain the Scriptures to us?
            When the two disciples and Jesus arrived in Emmaus they did not want him to keep going, they wanted him to stay with them because finally they were beginning to understand with true Faith, Faith which brought them to a higher level of understanding than their unaided reason was able to take them.  Their hearts which were filled with the darkness of doubt were now filling with light and love.  Their hearts burned within them as Jesus spoke to them on the way and opened the Scriptures for them.  It was the meal that was the climax of their experience with him though.  It was in sharing a meal together that they finally recognized the risen Jesus and knew him for who he really was.  It was in the meal that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  He tookblessedbroke…and gave… the same words used in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, and more importantly, the same words used at the Last Supper, the first Eucharist.  Starting with the Scriptures and ending with a meal, our Lord gradually brought them to greater and greater Faith and greater and greater knowledge of Him.  Who do we have that can help us to believe in Jesus in the Eucharist?
            One of the things that I like to do when I celebrate Baptisms with young families is to explain how it important it is that they take their duty as Christian parents seriously and work diligently through prayer and teaching to raise their children in our Catholic faith and to guard and protect the priceless graces they receive through the waters of Baptism.  Who do we have that can explain the Scriptures to us?  Who do we have that can help us to believe in Jesus in the Eucharist?  I think today gives us the answer… our mothers.
            As a young deacon, about to be ordained a priest, I have celebrated about a dozen Baptisms and each one has truly been very joyful for me.  And the faith that each set of parents has shown has been commendable.  But sometimes I am a little disappointed when I learn that parents have delayed the Baptism of their child, not because of medical or family troubles, but because they want their child to decide for himself if he wants to be Baptized or they feel like they don’t want to impose a particular faith on their child.  With mothers this is the hardest for me to understand.  From the moment a mother learns she has conceived her child, she naturally begin to plan the future – what type of house will be needed, if her and/or her husband’s job is making enough to give them the security they need, how she will feed, clothe, and nurture the child, what neighborhood the child will be raised in, what family and friends will be available to him, what schools he will go to, etc.  All of these decisions for the child’s natural, physical well-being are decided long before the child has a say.  Why then do some mothers today leave their child’s supernatural life and their eternal well-being up to chance?  Having a neutral attitude with regard to a child’s religious life is in fact not a neutral choice but a negative choice that deprives the child of an essential good.[1]  This good is the aid of a mother who will, from the beginning, nurture not only his natural health, but his spiritual health as well.  A child’s mother is naturally, then, the one he has who can explain the Scriptures to him and to help him to believe in Jesus in the Eucharist.  Who else but a mother can say to her child when he is old enough to receive Communion, “My son, I fed you with milk from my own body so that, at least for a while, you would not be hungry, but here Jesus feeds you with his body so you will never be hungry again.”
            The benefit of becoming a child of God, one of the many gifts of Baptism, is something that I think mothers should give their children as soon as they can and afterwards nurture with all of the feminine genius at their disposal.  The time honored practices of the family rosary or gathering together to read the readings before Mass are simple ways a mother, along with her husband, can gradually raise their children in the faith.  When my three brothers and I were children, for whatever reason, our family didn’t pray the rosary or read the Scriptures together.  But I clearly remember my mom encouraging my dad to come to our rooms and teach us how to pray when he came home tired from a long day’s work.  My mom was and still is a Catholic elementary school teacher.  She may not have sat down and explained the Scriptures to us but she taught us our faith and helped us to understand it when we came home from school.  I remember riding in the car on the way to school, she would rehearse with us the prayers we were learning in religion class.  We said the Act of Contrition over and over until we learned it.
            Today I want to thank and encourage all of the mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers who have been faithful from the very beginning in nurturing the bodies and the souls of their children.  I don’t know if I would be a deacon today, on my way to the priesthood, if it wasn’t for my mother helping me along the way, keeping me on track, and coming to my assistance when I was sad, without hope, afraid, or confused.  But I also want to challenge today the mothers who may not have realized that this was their duty or who haven’t been as faithful to it as they could be.  Today, Mother’s Day, is not a religious holiday, but it can still be one in which the Holy Spirit calls us to be grateful and to thank the Mothers of our parish for all they have done to raise us in the faith.  And it can be an opportunity for us to support our mothers, to reach out to the mothers in our extended families or groups of friends, and help them to be the supportive mothers that they are called to be.
And should you be among those today who are reminded of the loss of your mother, be not afraid.  Your Mother the Church, has always been here for you, always willing to give you the help that you need, especially through the Mass, that most precious gift that she has preserved for 2000 years.  For all of us, through the Mass each and every day our Holy Mother the Church opens up the Scriptures for us and makes Jesus known to us in the breaking of the bread.

[1] Instruction on Infant Baptism, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 20, 1980

No comments: