Mother’s Day: On the path of life, you have never been unloved

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3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A: May 8, 2011
Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

Each year, Americans celebrate this second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, a day to honor mothers and motherhood—to honor your own mother, and the other mothers that you know.

And we might suppose that, when coming to Mass on this day, it would be appropriate to hear the same Scriptures that we hear on Holy Family Sunday, right after Christmas.

  • To hear from the Book of Sirach [2:6]: “He who reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys the Lord who brings comfort to his mother.”
  • Or to hear a Gospel reading about the life of the Holy Family—of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in their quiet life together in Nazareth, when our Lord Jesus was obedient to them and grew up with their help, advancing in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. [Luke 2:51-52]

But we do not hear these readings today, and perhaps it is just as well. For they focus upon the period of childhood; but the relationship between a mother and her son or daughter does not end when that one becomes an adult and moves away. It changes; as the Catechism [2217] tells us, such an adult no longer needs to obey their mother. But they will always owe her respect. And this respect “derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace.” [2215]

And so how appropriate that today should be set aside especially for showing this gratitude and respect. It is reported that Mother’s Day ranks high in the amount spent on flowers, jewelry, greeting cards, and other gifts. It is now the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant; as well as the biggest holiday for long-distance phone calls.

And how will those conversations go, in the restaurants and over the phone? Surely there will be plenty of reminiscing: as sons and daughters look back with their mothers on all those memories of growing up, and say thank you, for all the care given during all those years. For so many gifts, so many sacrifices, at every hour of the day, in every place. Thank you, for so much love.

And yet this reminiscing may also be bittersweet. For as the past comes into view, how will it compare to the present? Perhaps you remember pain and disappointment from the past. Or perhaps you see joy in the past but sorrow in the present. Perhaps you see careful guidance and teaching in the past onto a particular path; but the path the child has walked since then has been very different. Many things may emerge from this reminiscing.

But of course, this reminiscing, as it goes further and further back, will reach the point that the child cannot remember; but the mother again tells those familiar stories, which she remembers well. Of the 9 months when she was pregnant with them; of giving birth; of those very first months and years, with all the late nights, the diapers, the feeding, the special togetherness, and all the rest.

And surely there will also be the story of the day that mother and father brought them to the baptismal font, a simple font filled with the water that had been invested with the power of Christ’s resurrection.

  • On that day, Mother handed her new child over to God, so that they might be adopted as a son or daughter of God, their sins forgiven and washed away.
  • On that day, Mother accepted the responsibility spoken by the priest or deacon: “You must make it your constant care to bring them up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives them is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in their hearts.”
  • And so, on that day, Mother received her child back, with the relationship changed. Still mother and child; but now also fellow children of God, fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus and temples of the Holy Spirit, walking together the path of life on this sojourn toward their heavenly home.

No, your children don’t remember that moment of baptism. But they do remember how you carried out that promise during the years of their childhood: how you told them about Jesus, and how he loves them; how you taught them to make the sign of the cross, and to pray at meals and bedtime; how you taught them the Our Father and the Hail Mary; how you told them stories from the Bible and the lives of the saints; how you brought them to Mass each Sunday and helped prepare them for the first time they would confess their sins, and receive our Lord in Holy Communion, and be confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and even make the lifelong vows of marriage.

This, the children remember. They remember how they heard these things first from your lips. And it is not so different from the experience of the disciples on that first Easter Sunday, when Christ rose from the dead. For those disciples too heard the news first from the women—from St. Mary Magdalene and the other women, who went to the tomb and found it empty, with the stone rolled away, and angels who announced that he was alive. It was women who first told them this joyful news.

And how did they respond? Now this is where it gets a little funny. For we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, right before today’s reading: their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.

Sister Joan Gormley, who taught us Scripture in the seminary, didn’t like that verse. She was rather annoyed at St. Luke for writing: their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But I thought: you can’t get mad at St. Luke for telling the truth!—because the truth is that sometimes the disciples were idiots! That first Easter was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that a man would fail to believe a woman who was telling him a truth that he really needed to hear. And it was not the first nor the last time that a son or daughter would have to grapple with what their mother taught them about the path of life.

For the teaching is one thing; but hearing it, understanding it, accepting it, and living it out day by day—that’s something else. And so nearly every grown son and daughter finds themselves at some point rather like two disciples on the road to Emmaus: downcast from things that have happened; alone, and wandering. Having learned something from Jesus; yet not knowing what to make of all the things they have experienced; or what to make of what their mothers have taught them about him.

And Jesus himself came and walked right beside them. They did not recognize him; but he had not abandoned them. They were downcast, with their hopes crushed; but he had conquered death itself. Into their confusion, he spoke a calm wisdom and insight that made their hearts burn within them. As they listened, they couldn’t get enough. They didn’t want him to leave! He seemed so familiar. They urged him, “Stay with us.” And he did. And in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Brothers and sisters, do you find yourself like those two disciples, on your road through life?

  • Perhaps it has been a long and strange road; and it seems all the stranger on a day like Mother’s Day, when you remember the past, and compare it to the present—and it all seems so very different!
  • Perhaps, like those disciples, you have not believed your mothers, when they taught you about Christ. No matter how much you loved them, their message astounded you and seemed like nonsense.
  • Or perhaps you have followed faithfully the path of life your mothers showed you.

But Christ has always been there beside you, though you did not recognize him. He has never abandoned you. He is with you now. And Christ has conquered death. He has conquered everything that you struggle with. He has conquered all these things in the lives of millions of others throughout history and around the world. Already he has ransomed you with his own precious blood. And now, as always, he offers to fill you with his joy; to do his mighty deeds and wonders in your life; if you will let him; if you will put your faith and hope in God.

Today your mother will surely love the gifts you have prepared for her: the nice card, the meal, the phone call. But consider the gift that will give your mother the most happiness: the gift of seeing true joy in your life. Of seeing that you have come to know and love the Lord that she first introduced you to, so long ago.

Can a mother forget her infant?—we read in the Prophet Isaiah [49:15]. Can she be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you, says the Lord.

Whatever you have been, wherever you have walked, know that you have never been unloved. [Drawn from the song by Michael W. Smith]

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