Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Importance and Dignity of Motherhood

(Fifth Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 14, 2017, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 6: 1-7; 1Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Easter 2017]

The Holy Father was not pleased.

As many of you probably heard …the other day the Pope was speaking to a group of students at the Vatican, and he expressed his great displeasure at the nickname the United States military has given to the most powerful non-nuclear explosive in its arsenal: the “Mother Of All Bombs”—which was the weapon that was used against ISIS terrorists in Afghanistan last month.  He said, “A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother.  What is going on?”

Since English is not his first language, it’s understandable that the Holy Father isn’t attuned to all our idioms and figures of speech, but what he is attuned to is the importance and the dignity of motherhood! 

That’s why he said what he said to those students.

We should also be attuned to the importance and dignity of mother—and not just once a year, on Mother’s Day!  Many, of course, are not so attuned.  Let’s be honest about it, we live in a society right now where motherhood is very often treated like it’s a disease.  That’s one reason why contraception and abortion are so prevalent.

Well, motherhood is not a disease!  It’s a gift—a gift without which none of us would be here right now.  Yes, it’s true, no earthly mother is perfect—and some of us have had an earthly mother who is (or who was) extremely imperfect.  But every one of us was blessed with a mother who said yes to God and who cooperated with him to give us life.

And for that fact alone, we can (and we should) be grateful.  Eternally grateful.

But even if we’ve had a severely-flawed earthly mom, the good news is that at the same time we’ve had (and do have) a heavenly Mother who is not flawed in any way whatsoever—and her name is Mary.  On this Mother’s Day weekend we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mary’s first apparition to the three children in Fatima, Portugal: Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia.

How appropriate that is, since our Blessed Mother appeared to those three children for the sake of all her children—including you and me.  She came to remind them—and us—to pray (especially the Rosary), to repent, and to obey God in every situation of life (which is basically the message she gives in every apparition).

Like every good mother, she tells her children the same things over and over again—because children usually need to hear the same things over and over again!

They usually don’t “get it” the first time.

I think that Mary would like our readings today, because, even though they’re not explicitly about motherhood, they do point us towards certain qualities that we find in good earthly mothers—qualities that Mary demonstrated perfectly in her own life.

Take, for example, our first reading from Acts, chapter 6.  There we heard about the call of the very first deacons.  The English word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for servant—“diakonos”—which I would say pretty accurately describes what a good mother is to her family.

You young people, how often do you say “thank you” to your mom for driving you to all your appointments and activities?  For cooking for you, and cleaning up after you, and for giving up the things she wants to do so that you can do the things you want to do?

Hopefully you say “thank you” more than once a year on Mother’s Day!

In today’s second reading St. Peter says that true believers offer “spiritual sacrifices” to the heavenly Father through Jesus.  Good Christian mothers do that by living their vocations well, and by offering up their sufferings for their children (remembering the lesson that St. Paul gives us in Colossians 1: that offered-up suffering is like prayer, in that it draws down God’s blessings into the world and into the lives of those we love).

Later on in that second reading Peter uses the image of a “rock” in speaking of Jesus.  Every good Christian mother helps her children to build their lives on that rock:  the Rock” of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

So, young people, don’t complain that your mother makes you go to Mass every Sunday!  You thank God you have a mother who cares about you that much—a mother who makes sure that you have an encounter with Jesus in word and in sacrament every weekend and every holy day!

She’s helping you to build your life on a solid rock foundation!

And then we have this gospel text from John 14, which begins with these words of Jesus: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Here we see our Lord at the Last Supper—just a few hours before his own horrific passion and death—actually consoling his friends (his friends who would all, in the very near future, abandon him in one way or another). 

His focus, incredibly, was on their suffering, their anxiety, their pain—not his own.

A good earthly mother is like that, isn’t she?  A good mother might be in terrible physical or emotional pain herself, she might be going through the worst trial of her entire life—it doesn’t matter.  If one of her children needs her assistance, if one of her children needs a word of encouragement or a message of hope, she will do her best to provide it.

That’s why when children are in really, really big trouble or are really, really hurting, they will usually call for their mothers.  I’ve been told that even hardened criminals will do that.

In today’s gospel Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the [heavenly] Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus reprimands Philip immediately.  He says, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  In other words, “Philip, if you want to know what God the Father is like, all you have to do is look at me, God the Son.  My words and my actions will reveal to you all that you need to know about the First Person of the Blessed Trinity.”

Philip did not see in Jesus what he was supposed to see in Jesus.  That was his problem.

By the same token, we sometimes do not see in our mothers what we’re supposed to see in them—what Almighty God wants us to see in them.  We can very easily take for granted their love, their compassion, their dedication, their service and their sacrifice.

May that change—forever—for each and every one of us—on this Mother’s Day.