Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Role Of An Earthly Mother; The Role Of Holy Mother Church

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 13, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 15: 1-29; John 14: 23-29.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2007]

It’s the role of a mother to give birth to her children (for further information on that subject, consult a biology textbook!).

It is the role of a mother to nurture her children.

It is the role of a mother to comfort her children.

It’s the role of a mother to discipline her children—even if they respond by whining and stomping their feet and calling her names!

It’s the role of a mother to challenge her children—whether they want to be challenged or not!

It’s the role of a mother to settle arguments that take place between her children. In fact, in most homes it’s the mother who functions as the family’s unpaid referee!

It’s the role of a mother to teach the truth to her children. Most of us learned our first—and perhaps most important—lessons in life from our mothers.

Speaking of important lessons, it’s the role of a mother to be a teacher of forgiveness and a facilitator of forgiveness. Think about it: Who was the first person you said “I’m sorry” to in your life? It was probably your mother. And how often did your mother say to you, “Tell that person you’re sorry”?—“Tell your sister you’re sorry for calling her names”; “Tell your brother you’re sorry for taking his toy without his permission and breaking it”.

Obviously I mention all these things today, because it’s Mother’s Day. But I also mention them because they have an application to the spiritual dimension of our lives—specifically to that reality we call “the Church”.

And our readings today confirm this.

Now if you’re one of those people who sees the Church only in institutional terms, what I’ve just said might sound a little crazy to you. You might be thinking, “The Church is an impersonal institution and a big bureaucracy. It’s not anything like my mother!”

Oh yes it is!

As I said at the beginning of my homily, it’s the role of a mother to give birth to her children. That happens for us, spiritually speaking, at the moment we’re baptized. Through a sacramental act of Mother Church, we are “born again” of water and the Holy Spirit; we become God’s adopted children; we receive sanctifying grace into our souls. And remember, if a person does not have sanctifying grace in his soul when he dies, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven!

Sanctifying grace: don’t leave earth without it!

So for that reason alone—for bringing us the grace we need to attain eternal life—we should be grateful to the Church as our spiritual Mother.

But it doesn’t end there.

As I said a few moments ago, it’s the role of a mother to nurture her children. The Church does that for us spiritually every day through the word of God—if we let her. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel text from John 14, “Whoever loves me will keep my word (in other words, whoever loves me will be nurtured by my word—formed in obedience by my word through prayer and the sacraments), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

But we must allow this nurturing to happen. It’s not automatic! You see, just as we can cut ourselves off from our nurturing earthly mothers, so also we can cut ourselves off from our nurturing spiritual Mother. We can choose not to pray; we can choose not to actively participate at Mass; we can choose to tune-out the truth of Scripture and Church teaching.

But when we do that—when we choose to turn our backs on our spiritual Mother and live by our own rules—we almost always end up angry and unhappy (just as we become angry and unhappy if we cut ourselves off from our earthly mothers).

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I know a woman here in Westerly who has a very close friend in the entertainment industry. Her friend is a world famous comedienne (if I mentioned her name, most of you would recognize it immediately). Sad to say, this comedienne is also an ex-Catholic—a very bitter and angry ex-Catholic. And every time she gets together with this woman from Westerly or talks to her on the phone, she spouts her venom against the Church and the Church’s teachings. In the terms of this homily, she “whines and stomps her feet and calls her ‘Mother’ all kinds of names”!

She has not allowed herself to be nurtured by her spiritual Mother, the Church, for many years. In fact, she would tell you in no uncertain terms that she “hates” her spiritual Mother.

She also has no inner peace; that’s evident from her conversations with her friend here in Westerly.

To me, that’s not a coincidence! You can’t have peace if you hate your mom.

I said earlier that it’s the role of a mother to comfort her children. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This woman would find comfort, if by the grace of God she let go of her anger and came back home to her spiritual family and her spiritual Mother. She’d find the peace she doesn’t have at the present moment.

And it’s certainly possible. It’s happened to many other people in the past; it can happen to her now. We should pray that it does!

I said earlier that it’s the role of a mother to teach and to challenge and to discipline her children—whether they like it or not.

The story in today’s first reading from Acts 15 is a perfect example of our spiritual Mother, the Church, doing all three of those things: teaching, challenging and disciplining.

Apparently some early Jewish converts to Christianity were telling people that Gentiles were bound to observe the Mosaic Law if they wanted to be Christians. Among other things, this meant that adult, Gentile men would be forced to undergo circumcision.


Under the guidance and anointing of the Holy Spirit, the apostles met and discerned the will of Jesus on the matter. Their final decision was that Gentiles could become Christians without being circumcised and observing all the ritual laws of the Old Testament.

The Gentile men of the time must have been thrilled!

That became the official teaching of Holy Mother Church. The teaching was then announced everywhere (as we heard a few moments ago), people were challenged to be faithful to it, and those who continued to promote what was false were disciplined (at least verbally).

Holy Mother Church continues to teach and to challenge and to discipline—with the authority of Jesus Christ—in the world today; and many people (including many Catholics) don’t like it! But what do we expect? Every good earthly mother teaches her children and challenges her children and disciplines her children out of love, so that they will fulfill their potential and be the best they can be!

Shouldn’t we expect the very same thing from our spiritual Mother?

Of course, as I said at the beginning of my homily, every good mother also forgives, and is a facilitator of forgiveness when her children fail to live according to her teachings. The same is true of Holy Mother Church, who forgives us through the sacraments, especially Baptism and Reconciliation.

So today is a day to remember and to thank God for the mother who gave us physical birth—who nurtured us and taught us and challenged us and disciplined us and comforted us when we were in pain, and who forgave us when we hurt her and said we were sorry. Even if she was not the best mother she could possibly be, she did choose life for us, and for that alone we should praise God!

But at the same time we should also thank the Lord for providing us with a Mother who has given us our spiritual re-birth, a Mother who will nurture and teach and challenge and discipline and comfort and forgive us for the rest of our lives, if we let her.

We should thank and praise God, in other words, for giving us Holy Mother Church to be our guide here on this earth—because we all need a mother; we all need a motherly presence in our life.

That’s true whether we’re 5 or 105—or 50 (like old Fr. Ray).