8 May 2016
“‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word …’” (John 17:20) In the name …
The church is in a transitional period this Sunday. In the Acts of the Apostles, we’re told that Jesus ascends into the heavens on the 40th day after Easter, which was this past Thursday. As this happens, He promises His followers that the Holy Spirit will then be shared among them, and thus they wait. Today, we’re in that same period of waiting. Jesus has returned to the heavens and the Holy Spirit has not yet been sent to earth. So we wait. And that’s where the reading from the Gospel of John comes into the story. Jesus is preparing His disciples for the time when He is no longer physically among them. He’s letting them know that they will have to be His voice. He even prays to the Father on their behalf, and then Jesus further prays “‘on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.’” The disciples are not only charged to remain faithful; they’re charged with the sacred responsibility of helping others to become faithful.
The followers of Christ are to nurture the faith, which is a wonderfully appropriate point to transition again, and this time to the fact that today is Mother’s Day in the United States. We pause to honour mothers and motherhood. So restaurants are full, florists are busy, visits are made. The comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “We all take Mother’s Day seriously and then it’s like a month later, a bunch of kids get together and say, ‘I guess we’ll have to do something for dad too.’” But mothers really are essential in so many ways. This is why we say prayers for the mothers who are among us and for the mothers who have already been called to their heavenly reward. We even place flowers at the Main Altar and on Mary, the Mother of God’s altar.
Bp. Hodur did not reject the title of “Virgin Mary,” but he instead emphasized the title “Mother Mary.” He did this not to deny the teaching about Jesus’ birth. He did this to honour the role of Mary as the one who began Jesus’ formation as a person and as a believer, and who remained a part of His life to the very end. Jesus’ conception was an act of God humbly accepted by Mary, but when we speak about the motherhood of Mary we touch upon a special responsibility entrusted to her by God. The child Jesus was placed by God in her care. The incarnate Son of God was taught His first lessons of love and faith through Mary. When we choose to emphasize Mary’s motherhood in this way, we in turn choose to honour all that is sacred in her motherhood and in motherhood everywhere, and that’s why we place the floral crown on her statue on Mother’s Day. God trusts the care of a child to a mother. We often call mothers a child’s first church because the first lessons of love and morality are often taught by mothers. Motherhood is a sacred calling whether it be Mother Mary or any mother.
And when we think about motherhood in this way, we can hear the connection with Jesus’ words to His disciples that they must nurture the faith of others. Jesus prayed for them because through them others would hear of Jesus. The disciples brought Jesus to life for future generations who would never have the chance to see the earthly Jesus or to hear His voice. Mothers do this as well. They begin to instill a sense of right and wrong and faith in a child, and the lessons we learn from them often stay with us for a lifetime. And those lessons are sorely needed.
In today’s first reading we hear about the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. It’s read because of Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God in heaven, which makes a lot of sense a few days after His Ascension. But in that same reading we also hear of baser things. The crowds listening to Stephen become “enraged.” We then hear they “all rushed together against him” and “they dragged him out of the city.” This is a mob mentality at its worst. This is the vilest part of human nature erupting uncontrolled. If you remember from the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, they took Him to Pilate because they didn’t have the authority to execute Jesus themselves. Nothing had changed between that day and the time of Stephen’s death. That means this is a mob acting outside of the law. This is a lynching. And sadly, this kind of raw depravity did not die with that generation long ago. Just pick-up the paper, turn on the computer or watch television and we can see it played out in so many ways, so many times. A mother’s love can’t change all of this savagery, but it sure can help. When a child doesn’t know love, lesser emotions will fill the void. We need to pray for all mothers because they are the best way to save a child from loosing his or her way. They are the best way to start building a better tomorrow.
And mothers help to do this by their unbelievably consistence ability to see the possible and the good. With this in mind, think back to Jesus’ words of promise and hope that are shared with us this morning. The reality of the mob and the baseness of too many human activities are unavoidable realities in our world, almost to the point where we have to take a break from the news now and then, but Jesus saw the same things in His day, and yet He still saw the possible and the good in us. The technical, theological term is apotheosis, becoming like God. And that’s what Jesus is talking about when He says, “‘The glory that you [Father] have given me I have given them so that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me that they may become completely one.’” (John 17:22-23) Shared glory and a shared unity of nature: these are the qualities that unite Jesus with God, and now, says Jesus, they unite all of us too. He sees the potential of us becoming like God. He sees what we can be rather than just what we are, and who personifies that quality of persistent hope any better than a mother? Sometimes that encouragement makes all the difference in the world. So let’s do our best to make this a wonderful Mother’s Day for them, and for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo