Archive for the ‘Motherhood’ Category

Holy Shepherds and a Holy Mother

January 1, 2023

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The shepherds, after encountering the herald angels, went in haste to Bethlehem. They knew they were searching for an animal stable, for the angel had told them their “Messiah and Lord” would be “lying in a manger.” They came to the cave of the Nativity and found St. Joseph, Mother Mary, and her holy child. She had wrapped Jesus’ tiny body in strips of cloth called swaddling clothes and laid him in a feed trough to serve as his first crib. On the first Christmas night, lots of people were in and around the little town of Bethlehem. The Roman census had brought so many visitors that there was no room for the Holy Family at the inn. So of all the people in the area why did the angels announce the big news of the Savior’s birth to the shepherds in particular?

Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law,” about five miles from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. In the law of the Old Covenant, God commanded his people to sacrifice lambs. Every day and especially for the Feast of Passover, lambs were offered on Jerusalem’s holy altar. God’s instructions were clear: the “lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish.” By custom, these lambs came from the fields outside of Bethlehem. And so, the young, male, flawless lambs to be sacrificed in Jerusalem were first presented by these shepherds. Mary had a little lamb; the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, and these shepherds made him known. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth foreshadowed what was to come.

Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, would go on to be slain, sacrificed at Passover. His mother Mary, who had wrapped him in swaddling clothes, would go on to see him wrapped in a linen shroud. One Joseph had arranged the place for his birth, another Joseph would provide the place for his burial. Mary, who had given birth to Jesus in a cave, would deliver his body to a rock-hewn tomb. And Baby Jesus, who was laid in a grain box in a city whose name means “House of Bread,” would offer his own Body as the Bread of Life for the salvation of the world.

Today we celebrate Mary as the mother of God. How is she the mother of God? Is she the mother of God the Father? No. Is she the mother of the Holy Spirit? No. Is she the mother of Jesus? She is. Is Jesus God? Yes, he is. Therefore, Mary is rightfully called the mother of God. Celebrating her as the mother of God at the start of each year helps to preserve and protect the truth about who her Son is. Jesus is fully human, born of a human mother, while at the same time he is also fully divine, begotten by God the Father. On Christmas, Mary gives birth to a single person who is both God and man. Without Mary, we would not know Jesus in the way that we do now.

There is further reason to celebrate Mary: God created her to be Jesus’ mother and to be our mother, too. As the recently departed Pope Benedict XVI said, “Mary has truly become the mother of all believers.” He observed that “if Mary no longer finds a place in many theologies and ecclesiologies, the reason is obvious: they have reduced the faith to an abstraction. And an abstraction does not need a mother.” Our faith is more than a mere concept—it is about relationship as part of a family. “Being Christian,” Pope Benedict wrote, “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” He wrote: “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.

In the future, Pope Benedict is very likely to be canonized a saint and declared a Doctor (that is, a great teacher) of the Church. He is arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. So what would you guess were the last dying words of this brilliant man (according to his private secretary)? They were simply, “Jesus, I love you.” We are blessed and rejoice to have a mother in Mary. And through her we have a Brother, Friend, Lord, and Savior in her Son, Jesus. With this new year, let us rejoice in Jesus Christ, our Mother Mary, and our Catholic Faith, for they produce great saints and salvation from Christmas in Bethlehem to across our world today.

The Mother of Jesus was There

January 16, 2022

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Peleabendran

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, today we celebrate the second Sunday of ordinary time. After the Solemnities of Christmas, Epiphany, and Baptism of the Lord, we enter into an ordinary time. In the beginning of Ordinary Time, I invite you to think about Mother Mary’s role in the life of Jesus.

Every child’s vocation is the parents’ constant prayer, not only after the birth of a son or a daughter but as prophet Jeremiah says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you.” I used to see my father attend Mass every day in my parish. As a family, we prayed the Rosary every evening. My mother used to say three Rosaries each day even though she was illiterate. One day, I asked her, “Do you know the Mysteries of the Rosary?” She replied to me, “No.” I asked her then, what are you saying? She said, “Just an Our Father and Hail Mary.” Her simple prayers helped me to become a priest.

Mothers are timeless teachers in the classroom of life and, alongside fathers, the most influential educators. Mothers teach us to believe in God. Mothers teach us the value of God’s word through their lives. Mothers are one of the first indications of God in our lives.

Moses was one of the major figures in the Old Testament. Although we are not told much about his mother, she played a very important role in his life. The Jews had been in Egypt for 400 years under the rule of the pharaohs. One pharaoh then ordered all male Hebrew babies to be killed. When Moses’ mother gave birth to a healthy son, instead of killing him she took a basket and coated the bottom with tar to make it waterproof. She put her baby in it and set him among the reeds on the bank of the Nile River.

Just imagine the sorrow and agony of that mother, how much she cried when she returned home. Her prayer was answered by God. Pharaoh’ daughter came to bathe in the river and one of her maidservants saw the basket and brought it to her. She adopted the baby as her own (Moses’ mother was even paid to nurse him) and he grew up in the palace. Years later, after many hardships, Moses was used by God as His chosen instrument to free the Hebrew people from slavery and lead them to the edge of the Promised Land. Moses’ mother showed great trust in God’s faithfulness. Her prayers helped Moses to grow in faith and trust and to liberate and lead their people from bondage to the Promised Land.

When we look at today’s Gospel, on the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is withdrawing Himself from her authority. Jesus knew what His mission was and whom it was that was leading and guiding Him. The miracle itself served to draw others to follow Jesus.

Mary had the gift of prayer or intercession. She knew that her Son would not refuse her anything good. So, she immediately interceded on behalf of her people. This was Jesus’ first miracle. When Mary and Joseph presented their newborn Son, Jesus, to the priest in the Temple, they consecrated Him to God. Mary acknowledged that God had a plan for her Son and agreed to do everything in her power to cooperate with God’s purpose for him. Likewise, you Christian parents consecrate your children to God in the Sacrament of Baptism and promise to do everything possible to help your children to do what God wants in their lives.

Herod tried to kill Jesus, so Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect their Son. Christian mothers keep your children away from evil forces that could harm them. Mary and Joseph took their Son, Jesus, to the synagogue in Nazareth each week in observance of the Sabbath and took him to the Temple in Jerusalem each year for Passover. Mothers, follow Mary’s example by going to Mass each week and taking your children with you because it is so important to pray with others. When Jesus was crucified, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross and suffered with him. She never abandons her child, particularly when things are at their worst. This sort of enduring love is exemplary for Christian mothers. Children get into trouble; sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes not. Mothers, like Mary, stand with your children throughout life, especially when things go bad.

Yes, my dear parents, be with your children all the time like Mother Mary, so that your children will grow like Jesus: doing good work in society, being faithful to God, and being faithful to you.

“As the Father Loves Me, so I Also Love You”

May 8, 2021

6th Sunday of Easter

Who was the first person on earth to know you in your lifetime? Upon reflection, you realize it was your mother. Your mother knew you long before you knew her. And I would wager that she loved you as herself, even willing perhaps to lay down her life for you with the greatest love.

An unborn baby’s understanding of things, of its mother and of itself, is limited. But the mother surrounds the baby. She is responsible for and behind the child’s entire universe. The little one is totally dependent upon her, and experiences everything in the midst of mom. Though the sound is quiet and somewhat muffled with distracting noises, the listening little child can hear the mother’s voice and feel her pulse. Imagine an unborn baby doubting and asking, “Does Mom really exist? Is there really a mother at all?

It is right that we love our mothers, though we ought not to make them into idols. When Cornelius met St. Peter, the Roman centurion fell at his feet to do him homage, but Peter raised him back to his feet, saying, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” Only one mother in human history has been perfect, but our parents present us with our first living image and icon of God.

The Holy TrinityAs much as a baby receives from his or her mother, the Son of God receives still more so from his Father. How does God the Father give life to his Son? The Son is eternally begotten of the Father; “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” The Father gives his whole being to the Son, and his Son, so loved, receives everything with joy. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” How does God love you and me like the Father loves the Son?

For starters, God loves us first. The Father and Son are coeternal, but the self-gifting of the Father is the source of the Son, who then loves the Father, self-gifting himself in return. Likewise, God loves us and gives himself to us first, before inviting us to do the same. “In this is love,” St. John writes in our second reading, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” And St. Paul tells the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Another way we are loved like the Father loves the Son is in how we receive every good thing from God. Like an unborn child receives from its mother, and the eternal Son receives from the Father, you receive everything from God through Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks of the importance of the Son to the Colossians: “In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible… all things were created through him… He is before all things, and in him everything continues in being.” For us, Jesus Christ is the one through whom all good things come.

Now would it make any sense for an unborn child, who is cherished by its mother, to see his or her mommy as an enemy? Or could God the Father and God the Son ever be rivals? Of course not! And yet we are guarded against Jesus. We hesitate to share our time with him, we hesitate to give our money for him, we hesitate to forsake our habitual sins for him. So I challenge you, I dare you, to trust more in him who loves you.

When Jesus says, “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,” he is not threatening to stop loving us. No—we must keep Christ’s commandments, doing his loving will, to fully receive everything he wants to give us. Jesus, who is first loved by God, who receives everything from God, who does God’s will, who rejoices and remains in God, who loves God and self-gifts himself fruitfully in return to God, desires you and me to experience the same blessedness. “If you keep my commandments,” he says, “you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. … It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

This Sunday, let us love, honor, and pray for the mothers from whom we were born on earth; while we love, honor, and trust all the more the eternal Son through whom we are born again from above.

God’s Divine Plan

December 26, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today I would like us to reflect on what the “Holy Family” really is. I want to begin by dissecting our definition of “family” and try to expand upon that definition to reveal the gift that God has given us. If I were to ask you to define “family” I believe most of us would say it’s a union of people consisting of a father, a mother and children. Now if I were to ask you to define what the “Holy Family” is, I believe most of us would say, “Well, that’s Joseph, Mary and Jesus.” But I think that if we reflect upon this a little bit we would realize there is something missing with our formula for “Holy Family”. How did all this begin? Well like everything its origins begin with the creator, with God. It was through a divine plan for the building of the kingdom, that God put together this relationship we call “family”.

Within the traditional family we have a “father”,  a head or lead person for this relationship. Let’s look at Joseph for some characteristics. Joseph was a humble person; a man who provided for his family; he was a listener to what God was saying to him, he was a listener to the concerns of the other family members. Joseph was trusting of what God had planned for him and his family even though he could not understand the details of the plan. Joseph was loving and cared deeply for Mary and for Jesus and was the primary teacher for his family for the laws of his Jewish faith. He was committed to obeying the laws of God and of his faith and in being the lead person to teach his family those laws.

Also within the traditional family there is a “mother”. a person committed to be the love glue of the family. Let’s look at Mary for some characteristics of this family member. Mary was a great listener. She had a tremendous faith that allowed her to trust in God; this faith allowed her much courage and she not only listened to God but was fearless in going out into uncharted waters. Mary was wise and loving and could read the will and needs of her family. She always put the welfare of her family first over her needs and desires.

Also within the traditional family there are children. Let’s look at Jesus to see what characteristics this family member has. Jesus was also a great listener. He listened to his parents and to his heavenly father. He was a student, a person thirsty to learn about his faith and his roots. Jesus was obedient to the will of his family and to the will of his heavenly father. Jesus was like the other family members, loving and caring about the welfare of his family and the welfare of others.

This relationship we call “family” was a creation of God with the purpose and design to help foster and grow the kingdom of God. So what is missing from our traditional definition of “Holy Family” is a very important member, that member being God, the Father, the creator of this entity. When God is so recognized we are no longer just a family we are now a “holy family” for we recognize that we were brought together through the divine plan of the Father!

Within our culture we see many attacks on the family. We find so called experts who are trying to re-define what a family is. We find a culture trying to re-define the roles of mother, father and children within a family, and even telling us that certain positions are not necessary to have a family. Whenever humans try to alter God’s divine plan there are going to be malfunctions and problems. If we remove for example certain parts of an automobile, we find that it does not run as good. Why, because we are altering what its creator intended. If certain key parts of a car are removed at some point it will no longer function or run. So it is with God’s creation of family. If we try and alter what the creator intended at some point it breaks down and will no longer function. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians today, tells it all, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

As members of the Holy Family of God our spirits are joined so that we can receive the benefits of intimacy both in this life and in the next. That means death becomes non existent. Those of you who have experienced the loss of a loved one know what I am talking about. While body presence may be missing the spirit of Holy family members lives on and time is no longer relevant. Members of God’s Holy Family continue their presence with us even after death. During the Advent Season I pondered this point when I was feeling bad that our Churches could not be filled to capacity because of Covid limitations. But during Mass I realized that our Church’s are still filled to capacity not just on Christmas and Easter but at every Mass because our deceased Holy Family members are still here with us in Spirit filling our Churches with standing room only. You know I am a Student of the Spirit. I’m going to share a quote from a favorite website of mine, Spirit Daily. Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who writes about the moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. She says this about the mystery of the Holy Spirit:

When you’ve learned to attune yourself to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, you will be aware of His presence in you at all times. Sometimes God chooses to sleep in us, and we don’t notice Him moving or working. Other times, we have a distant but keen awareness that God is accompanying us through a difficult decision or terrifying prognosis.

One day we come to a realization that all we do throughout our days are done in and with Him. Even when we do not consciously or formally make an offering to God, the union we share with Him is so obvious that we don’t need to speak but just be. In that being, we discover the place where we end and God begins is a very short thread.

We are told by our Church Leaders that it is believed that during Christmas that God releases the most family members from Purgatory and welcomes them into heaven. I believe that is because of our Prayers and Masses that are offered up for those Souls who have joined us to celebrate Eucharist. So to all of the deceased Holy Family spiritual members with us today we need to say “Merry Christmas” and thanks for joining our Holy Family celebrations.

Naming Jesus — January 1 — Mary the Mother of God

January 7, 2020

“When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Who named Jesus? In one sense, it was his parents; Mary his mother and Joseph his adoptive-father. Yet this name was not their own idea. At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel told Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” And later on, an angel of God, likely Gabriel but perhaps another, told Joseph in a dream: “[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So this name was communicated to Jesus’ parents, and both parents were instructed to name him so, but the idea of this name and the commands to bestow it did not originate with the angels.

The word “angel” comes from the Greek and Latin words for “messenger,” and the angel spirits are messengers of God. The Archangel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth to announce to Mary the plan and will of God. So who named Jesus? First and foremost, God. The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians declares, “[God] bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth”.

And what does the name of Jesus mean? The name “Jesus” (or “Iēsous” in Greek) is “Yeshua” in Hebrew, which means “Yahweh helps,” or “God saves.” The name of Jesus, given him by his Heavenly Father, denotes the message and the mission of the Son, And this message and mission was given him by the Father. Jesus declares, “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak,” and “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” The Father names his Son, and the Son is obedient to his Father’s authority.

Naming someone or something is to author its name, and authorship denotes authority over that person or thing. In the story of Creation, God creates and names the Day and the Night; the Sky, the Earth, and the Sea. Then the Lord forms man from the ground and settles him in the garden, with a mission to cultivate, protect, and care for it. Then God forms the animals from the ground, bringing each to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. Since none of these would be a suitable partner for the man the Lord formed another from the man’s rib, perhaps the bone closest to the core of man’s being, God’s last and ultimate creature. When the Lord brought her to the man, he rejoiced: “This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken,” and the man gave his wife the name “Eve.” God blessed them and said to them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.

The man has sovereignty and dominion over the creatures he named. Parents, likewise, have authority over their children. As we heard last Sunday from the Book of Sirach, on the Feast of the Holy Family, “God sets a father in honor over his children; [and] a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” Both Joseph and Mary name Jesus on this eighth day after his birth and they exercise authority over the Child-God. “[Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” All legitimate authority (in a family, a workplace, a government, or the Church) is to be exercised in accord with God’s will. And when authority is exercised in this way, we can expect the household, business, nation, or Church to thrive—provided that legitimate, godly authority is likewise obeyed in accord with God’s will. ‘Jesus went down with Joseph and Mary, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.’

Who have you been entrusted with authority over? For whom has God given you a mission to cultivate, protect, and care for as their Christ-like servant-leader? Recognize your mission, and exercise your authority in accord with God’s will as a blessing for others. And realize that those with spiritual authority over others (as you may have in your household) can literally bless them. Usually when we say “God bless you,” (that is, when we say this to a peer) we are not really blessing them ourselves but desiring, hoping, wishing, praying that God might bless them. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater.” When we have spiritual authority for someone we can personally speak blessings upon them.

Words can not only encourage, but they also seem to have metaphysical power. Our first reading recounts how Aaron and his sons as priests of Israel were given authority to bless God’s people. The Old Testament patriarchs blessed their children and we see their words fulfilled. God creates and Jesus works miracles through spoken words; God said “let there be light” and there was light. Jesus said to the paralytic your sins are forgiven; stand up, pick up your mat, and go home, and the man was healed inside and out. Your words of blessing, in accord with God’s authority, can have great power, too.

[After preaching this homily last night, a parishioner shared with me that she and her husband learned about blessing and claiming dominion your household from friends a decade ago. They notice a difference in their family in their years of marriage before and after. For example, when she begins to fell minor health issues coming on, she asks for her husband’s blessing, and reports that she can “feel the power of his prayers.”]

So husbands, bless your wives and children, mothers bless your children, and bless your grandchildren, too. And on this first day of the year, ask God our Father and Holy Mary, the Mother of God and our spiritual mother too, to bless you and yours in this new year ahead.

Mary, the Mother of All Christians

April 26, 2018

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that the Monday after Pentecost Sunday shall henceforth be celebrated as a new feast day: the Memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Its worldwide inaugural celebration will be on May 21st this year. The Holy Catholic Church has defined four dogmas about Mary: that she is ever-virginal and the Mother of God, that she was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into Heaven. What Pope Francis has decreed is not on the level of defining a fifth Marian dogma, but he is highlighting a precious truth about Our Lady for us to treasure and valuable for us to share with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Mary is both poetically and actively the Mother of the Church. St. Augustine says of her, “She is clearly the Mother of His members; that is, of ourselves, because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christians, members of the Head, might be born in the Church.” And as Blessed Pope Paul VI professes in his Credo of the People of God: “we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in Heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” How many Christians are unaware that they have a spiritual Mother who loves them?

That Mary is the Mother of all Christians is evident from Scripture. At the Cross, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This scene was not included in John’s Gospel to satisfy some idle curiosity about Mary’s living arrangements in her later years. Understanding this scene according to its spiritual significance, every Christian is ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ Every Christian is entrusted to Mary as her child and she is given to each one of them as their mother.

Further proof of this is found in the Book of Revelation. There we see a huge dragon (explicitly called “the Devil and Satan”) attempt to destroy “a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod,” along with his mother who wears “a crown of twelve stars.” This is Jesus the Messianic King and his Queen Mother, Mary. Note what happens after the “ancient serpent” fails to conquer this man and woman: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Who are Mary’s children? They are Christians — “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Christ’s Church is meant to be gathered around Mother Mary. Before his Ascension, Jesus told the first Christians to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And so, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” beside Mary his Mother and the reconstituted Twelve Apostles in the room where the First Eucharist was celebrated. It was through Mary that the Holy Spirit had first begun to bring mankind into communion with Jesus Christ. So likewise (the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes) “she was present with the Twelve, who with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, at the dawn of the end time which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church.”

This is why the Monday after Pentecost is a very fitting day for us to celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church and why all Christians should come together as her spiritual children. Let Catholics be rejoice and Christians be reunited as one!

Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us!

Mary, the World’s First Love

August 19, 2016

The Blessed Virgin Mary at Prayer    “When Whistler painted the picture of his mother, did he not have the image of her in his mind before he ever gathered his colors on his palette? If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived—one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise? When Whistler was complimented on the portrait of his mother, he said, “You know how it is; one tries to make one’s Mummy just as nice as he can.” When God became Man, He too, I believe, would make His Mother as nice as He could—and that would make her a perfect Mother.

She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers — she is the world’s first love.”

—Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895–1979 A.D.)
in The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God

An Ascension & Mother’s Day Homily

May 8, 2016

The Belly of a Woman with Child

Today, two great celebrations providentially align: the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven and Mother’s Day. After his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days teaching, instructing, and preparing his disciples for their new life ahead. The number 40 often appears in the Bible in relation to times of preparation.  Noah spent 40 days and nights on the ark as the waters of the flood were renewing the world. Moses and the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the desert before God’s people entered the Promised Land. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights praying and fasting in the desert. And after his death on the cross, Jesus’ body spent (by tradition) 40 hours in the tomb awaiting the resurrection. The number 40 also has a place in your life story as well. Each of you remained 40 weeks, more or less, within your mother’s womb being prepared for a new life. I ask you to reflect on that time.

Attached to your mother’s vine you grew into the mature fruit of her womb. You were nourished and grew within her. You were never far from her heart or mind. You existed within her, connected to her at the center of your being.  (Your belly button marks the spot where you were once attached to her.) She fed you with her very self. She provided for all your needs. Apart from her you could do nothing. You remained in her and you found your rest within her.

In the womb, at those earliest stages of life, our minds did not comprehend very much, but what if you could have understood then everything that your mother was doing for you? Surely you would have directed your thoughts to her often.  And, from time to time, you would have turned to her with the eyes of your heart to bask in her love for you.

What if, imagining further, that you could have spoken with your mom when you were in her womb? Wouldn’t you have taken the opportunity to speak with her every day? Wouldn’t you have thanked her with a deep gratitude and let her know how much you love her? I suppose a baby could ignore its mother in such as situation and continue to live on, at least biologically, but the child would be deprived without this first and special relationship with mom.

As you and your mother would continue to talk throughout the days and months of pregnancy she would eventually present you with a most-frightening prospect. She might put it this way, “My child, soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of your life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before. Once you are born, you will meet me in a new way.

You might say, “I’m scared! I don’t want to go—not now, not ever!” But she would reassure you, “I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be back again where you are now. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right here with you. So don’t be afraid, it’s going to be O.K.

Our life in our mother’s womb is like our life in Jesus Christ. You are attached to Him as to a vine. You are nourished and grow within Him. You are never far from His heart or mind. You exist within Him; you live and move and have your being in Him, connected to Him at the center of your being. He feeds you with His very self in the Eucharist. He provides for all your needs. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. You remain in Him and can find your rest in Him.

Knowing and believing this, shouldn’t we direct our thoughts to Him often? Shouldn’t we, from time to time, turn to Him with the eyes of our hearts to bask in His love for us. We have the ability to talk with Jesus Christ whenever we want in prayer. We should take the opportunity to speak with Him every day, thanking Him out of deep gratitude and telling Him how much we love Him. A person who ignores Him will still continue to live, at biologically, but they will not be fully alive without this primary and special relationship with Christ. We must to pray every day if we want to remain in Him and bear much fruit.

We don’t want to die and that’s perfectly natural. But Jesus says to us, “Soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of your life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before. Once you die, you will meet me in a new way. I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be back again where you are now. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right there with you. So don’t be afraid, it’s going to be O.K.

Was Jesus afraid when he ascended into heaven? In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his died Jesus was anxious and distressed at the sufferings before Him. But at the Ascension, as he rose high above the ground, I do not think He was afraid at all. He was beyond all fear and He was going home. The anecdotal evidence of near death experiences indicates that for friends of God the journey beyond this life is peaceful and joyful. A friend of mine once went into cardiac arrest and had a vision like that of going home. When they defibrillated her heart in the Emergency Room and brought her back to into this world she felt quite angry and tore off the wires they had stuck on her skin because she so much wanted to go back to where she had just been.

As our mothers would have told us before we were born from womb into world, and as Jesus tells us before our birth from this life to next, we do not need to be afraid. Instead let us live in gratitude and peace. Today, let us thank God for the life, love, and tender care we have received from our mothers and through Jesus Christ. May God bless our mothers and may Jesus Christ be praised.

The Emmaus Travelers — 3rd Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 7, 2011

Let’s start off with a riddle… Once, a father and his son were driving along in the country together when they got into a terrible car crash. They were both seriously injured and ambulances rushed them to two different hospitals. But when the boy was brought into the Emergency Room, the surgeon on duty saw him and declared, “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” How can this be…? The trick of the riddle is that we tend to assume that surgeons will be male. The answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

There is a similar trick of the mind at work when we hear the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus; we always assume that they were two men. It’s not wonder, since virtually every painting of the encounter on the road to Emmaus will show Jesus with two men. For example, look at the relief on the front of our altar. Many people assume that this is a depiction of the Last Supper (but that there are only two apostles shown because we had to crop it down to size.) Actually, this scene is from after His Passion—you can see crosses on the hill in the distance and there are wound marks in Jesus’ hands. What we have here is to two men at the house in Emmaus, shocked to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

The artistic depictions always show two men [the picture on the right being the only possible exception I could find], however the original Greek does not call them “two men,” or even “two disciples.” It only says there were “two of them” and that one of them was a man named Cleopas. As to the name and gender of the other traveler, the gospel text is silent. Perhaps the second person’s identity is left as a mystery so as to invite any of us to imagine ourselves in their place in this story. This may be the extent of what we can know for certain, but there is an interesting clue from another Gospel that suggests more detail.

In Gospel of John, it says that “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas….” (John 19:25) So we have a Clopas and Cleopas both associated with Jesus. Perhaps these similar names are merely a coincidence, but perhaps Clopas and Cleopas are variations of the same person’s name. If Clopas and Cleopas are one in the same person, then the other traveler on the road was probably his wife, Mary. This Mary was most likely either Jesus’ aunt and the sister of St. Joseph, or one of the cousins of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What we do know for certain is that this Mary stood with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.

Admittedly, it is speculation to say the other traveler was Cleopas’ wife, but if it was, then this Resurrection episode has a much greater poetry. In the Garden of Eden, a husband and wife ate from a tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” They felt ashamed and afraid. But in the house at Emmaus, a husband and wife ate the Eucharist, the fruit of the tree of the cross. “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” They felt joyful and unafraid. In Eden, God moved about the garden with the man and the woman. After the resurrection, Jesus walks with us, both men and women, along our road.

But whether that second traveler on the road was a woman or not, it would be a remain mistake to think that only men were important in the early Church. That would be at least as mistaken as thinking that every surgeon is a male. Jesus Christ chose some men to be the Church’s leaders, and much is said about them in the Scriptures, but He chose to spread the good news about Himself through the witness of women as well.

Though we sing of the “Faith of Our Fathers,” the faith of our mothers has been just as important, if not more, through time. Today,  it is oftentimes mom who takes the forefront in fostering faith in the family, in leading her children to Christ and His Church; through bedtime prayers and Bible stories, by bringing them to Mass and to CCD, in seeing to it that they receive the graces of the sacraments. If you feel like you’re alone in witnessing to the faith in your family, I commend you, and Jesus is proud of you.

There is another trick of the mind when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day we remember our mothers, who gave us birth and nurtured us, who raised us and put up with us, but we tend to forget about the greatest gift, the gift of our faith. At the Easter vigil the Exultet asks: “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our redeemer?” Indeed, what good would life be to us if after our births we had not also been brought to Christ through the witness of holy women. Who were these holy women in your life? At this Mother’s Day Mass, let us remember and pray not only for our mothers in the natural order, but for each of our spiritual mothers as well.

The Giving Tree — Tuesday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

March 1, 2011

Do you remember The Giving Tree, that very green childrens book by Shel Silverstein? It’s a story about a boy and the tree that loved him. When he is a boy, the tree gives him her leaves to play with and her apples to eat. However, when the boy becomes a young man he comes asking for money, so that he can buy things and have fun. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, she gives him her apples for him to sell. Time passes, and he comes back, this time asking for a house. The tree lets him cut off her branches so that he may build one. Later, much later, the boy returns again, but he is now a much older and sadder man.”I want a boat that will take me far away from here,” he says. “Can you give me a boat?” The tree offers her trunk and he takes it. He fashions a boat, and sails far away. After a long time, the boy returns, now a very tried and very old man. The tree is now just an old stump. He has taken everything, but she still gives. The story closes with these words: “‘Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

Now if The Giving Tree has always been one of your favorite books, that’s ok. If it has a special place in your heart, don’t let me or anybody take that from you. But, as for me, this book has always bothered the heck out of me. Even when I was a kid, the story filled me with indignation. Do you know what I’m taking about?

It’s the boy! The selfish, ungrateful boy, who never gives anything back. He receives everything the tree has to give and he never says, “Thank you.” He takes everything she has to give, uses all of it up on himself, and he never says, “I’m sorry.” This book would have been so much better if he just said “thank you” at the end. Does this kid’s behavior in the story of The Giving Tree bother you like it bothers me? If so, then you and I should make sure that we’re not doing the same in our own lives.

So who would be the “giving tree” we take for granted in our lives? Our moms and dads come first to mind. They’ve given us life, food, shelter, clothing, and love our entire lives. What have we given back to them? They probably don’t need your material support right now, but they would appreciate signs of your love. (It’s probably no coincidence that Shel Silverstein dedicated The Giving Tree to his own mom.) But there is another “Giving Tree” we can take for granted, who is even greater and more generous than our parents. I speak of God, and of Jesus Christ, “from whom all good things come.” What should we do for our parents and for God? We should honor them with our words. We should obey them in our actions. We should be grateful for everything and show it.

For God, we do this by way of sacrifices. (This Eucharist is a thanksgiving sacrifice. The name itself means thanksgiving in Greek.) Yet our sacrifice is not merely what happens here at church, but the offering of our whole lives. Those who make no sacrifices for God in their daily lives bring nothing to His altar. What do we have to offer Him today? What will we have to offer him tomorrow?

Jesus Christ is The Giving Tree. At this sacrifice, let us say to Him, “I’m sorry, for misusing your gifts.” Let us say, “Thank you, for your generosity to us.” And let us say, “I love you,” because that will make Him happy.

The Eager Provider — Thursday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 7, 2010

Today we celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary and we hear a parable about a man who would rather not be bothered.  Let us compare this man to Mary.

He considers his visitor his friend, but she claims us as her children.

He feels too tired to help, but she never sleeps.

He hesitates to provide, but she is eager to give.

If mothers who are imperfect know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect mother in Heaven intercede to give us good things whenever we ask her in the Rosary. It is a prayer which she receives from us as a sweet bouquet of roses.

We’re in a Hurry — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 18, 2010

The other day I was thinking about this homily when I heard the words of some modern poets on my radio. They said:

I’m in a hurry to get things done,
Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die,
But, I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

This goes to show that we still have a Martha problem today. The group Alabama said that they didn’t know why we get in a hurry, even though we’re not having fun, but I think I know the answer. The reason is that our loves and good desires are mixed with fears. If we would take that fear away, we would find peace.

Martha loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him well, but she had fears mixed in. She was the one who invited Him to the house and He probably had His apostles and other disciples with Him. She was busy serving them all, perhaps making the biggest meal she had ever made, and she was full of worries. “What if I’m a poor host and Jesus is disappointed with me? What if there’s not enough food for everyone to eat?”

We are often the same way. We fear that our lives are on the edge of disaster if our own plans and efforts should fail. We worry about bad things happening to ourselves and the people we love. We are anxiety about how Jesus feels about us.

Martha had a great desire to do good, but Martha’s fear tempted her to do harm. Her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words. (The Greek word for disciple actually means “one who sits at the feet of.”) Martha tries to take Jesus’ disciple away from Him.

Similiar thing can happen in our live on account of fear mixed with love. A husband and father can obsess about his work, out of a love for his family and a desire to provide, but his family can be left feeling like they come second in his life. A wife and mother can be so concerned that her loved ones will be safe and happy that she tries to control everything, making her family less happy because of it. Martha’s problem and ours is not that we work–work is a part of life–but in how we go about it.

Jesus says to Martha, and to us, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” What is this one thing we need? We need the peace of Christ. What is the peace of Christ? It is several things.

It is the awareness that God is near and guiding us. In the first reading, three heavenly visitors approach outside of Abraham’s tent. Now, the Holy Spirit dwells within our tents, Jesus is at our side, and we have a Father above. We are never left on our own.

With the peace of Christ we recognize that whatever may happen to us or those we love, it is for our good. As St. Paul observes in the second reading, even his sufferings are a cause for rejoicing for they advance the salvation of the whole Church with Christ.

With the peace of Christ we recognize that misery is not just around the corner, nor is happiness out of reach. Happiness is at head, in the knowledge that Jesus loves us, likes us, cares about us, and cares for us. Living in the peace of Christ means there is no reason for us to be unhappy.

Let us continue to do works of love for God, ourselves, and others, but let us do them always in the peace of Christ.

Mother’s Day Homily

May 9, 2010

This Sunday our country celebrates our mothers—and rightly so. For the care and love which our mothers have given us is beyond price or measure. Of course, our earthly parents are not perfect. Sometimes they’re quite far from perfect. But any love we’ve known from them is a likeness of the love God has for us.  A religious icon is made of mere wood and paint, but it can be a window to heavenly realities.  In the same way, we can see through our parents’ love a glimpse to God Himself.

Most of us have more memories about our mothers than we could possibly count, but today I would like to take you back to a time and place about which you have no clear memories—to the time in your mother’s womb.

In the Bible, the number forty denotes times of waiting and preparation: For instance, Noah spent 40 days and nights in the ark. The Hebrews wandered with Moses for 40 years in the desert. Before His ministry, Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness, and after His death, He rested 40 hours in the tomb. Similarly, you remained 40 weeks, more or less, within your mother’s womb, being prepared for a new life.

Attached to your mother’s vine you grew into the mature fruit of her womb. You were nourished and matured within her. You were never far from her heart or mind. You existed in within her, connected to her at the center of your being. She fed you with her very self. She provided for all your needs. Apart from her, you could do nothing. You remained in her and found rest within her.

In the womb, at the earliest stages of our lives, our minds did not comprehend very much, but what if you could have understood everything that your mother was doing for you at the time? Surely you would have directed your thoughts to her often.  And certainly, from time to time, you would have turned to her with the eyes of your heart to bask in her love for you.

What if you could have talked with your mom from the womb? Would you not have taken the opportunity to speak with her every day? Would you not have thanked her daily out of a deep gratitude? Would you not have let her know each day how much you love her? Whoever would refuse or neglect to express such love and thanks would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but they would not be fully alive without this relationship with their mother.

As you and your mother would continue to talk, as the days and months of pregnancy passed by, she would eventually present you with a most-frightening prospect: She might put it this way, “My child, soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of your life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before.”

You might say, “I’m scared! I don’t want to go—not now, not ever!” But she would answer, “I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be again as you are now. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right here with you. Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be O.K.”

This morning we reflect on this time in the womb because our life in our mothers is like our life in Christ. As it was with our mothers, so it is, in our life with Christ. You are attached to Him as to a vine you mature as a child of God. You are nourished and grow within Him. You are never far from His heart or mind. You exist within Him, connected to Him at the center of your being. He feeds you with His very self. He provides for all your needs. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. You remain in Him and find rest in Him.

Knowing and believing this, shouldn’t we direct our thoughts to Him often? Shouldn’t we, from time to time, turn to Him with the eyes of our hearts to bask in His love for us. We have the ability to talk with Jesus Christ, in prayer, whenever we wish. Who would not take the opportunity to speak with Him every day? Who would not thank Him daily out of deepest gratitude? And who would not let Him know each day how much we love Him? Whoever would refuse or neglect to speak with Him, would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but they will not be fully alive without this relationship with Christ. We need to pray every day if we want to remain in Him and bear much fruit.

We don’t want to die and that’s perfectly natural. But Jesus says to us, “Soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before. I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be as you are now again. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right there with you. Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be O.K.”

Today, let us thank God for the life, love, and tender care we have received from our mothers and through Jesus Christ. God bless our mothers and praised be Jesus Christ.

Luke’s Source — January 1 — Mary the Mother of God

January 1, 2010

Have you ever wondered how it is that Luke the Gospel writer knows the stuff he’s telling us? For instance, he wasn’t present at the Annunciation to take down notes.  Only Mary and the Archangel Gabriel were there. And in today’s Gospel, after the shepherds visit, it says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Now how does Luke know what Mary was thinking? Who could know something like that besides Mary herself?

Now I suppose the Holy Spirit could have directly infused the knowledge of these things into him, but that’s probably not what has happened here. Luke probably learned of these details in the most natural and human way; by being told about them, first or second-hand, by people who knew. Luke begins his Gospel by saying that his narrative of events is composed from what “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed … down to us.”

But there is only one person who could have been the original source for many of Luke’s details, and that is Mary herself. In fact, some call the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Luke “the Memoirs of Mary.” Perhaps Luke heard of these details from Mary’s very own lips and took them all to heart.  Then later, knowing these things by heart, committed them to writing.

And so we do know something today of what was going on inside of Mary in those early days, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And some years later, upon finding Jesus in the temple, Luke reports that Mary and Joseph did not understand what their boy when said to them, but “his mother kept all these things in her heart.” In this there is a lesson for us to discover through Mary, a lesson that is particularly applicable for us this New Year’s [Eve/Day].

In her life, Mary knew some important aspects of God the Father’s plan, but there was always a great deal about which she did not know. She knew that her Son was messiah, savior, and Lord, but his future, and hers, remained largely a mystery. Perhaps Mary wondered, as we often wonder when faced with evils and obstacles, “How can this be, Lord?  How will your promises be fulfilled despite this?”  Yet through it all, Mary firmly trusted that the Lord was with her, and we should do the same.

What does the new year ahead hold for each of us? Like Mary, we do not know, yet Mary shows us that we do not have to know.  We do not have to fully know our future to be able to do great things for God and to be richly blessed by Him. We do not need to know our future for the Almighty to do great things for us.

In the year ahead, may the Lord bless you and keep you, as He did the Virgin Mary.

May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, as He did for Mary through Jesus’ infant face.

And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, a peace like that which Mary always kept with her Son, Jesus the Christ.

September 15 – Our Lady of Sorrows

September 16, 2009

Imagine if you had to start a whole new life. I don’t mean just changing schools, or moving away from home, or even entering the federal witness protection program. Imagine if you had to start a whole new life from the very beginning, as a tiny little embryo. And imagine that this reincarnation of yours required you to choose a new mother for yourself, from among all the women in all the world. What qualities would you look for in choosing a new mom?

You would want her to be beautiful, not only on the outside, but on the inside too, for what we desire most of all from our mothers, is a great and beautiful love.

You would want her to be wise and full of goodness, someone who could introduce you to the world and show you how to live in it well.

You would want her to be the perfection of femininity, so you girls could see how to grow into excellent women, and to show you boys what to look for in an excellent wife someday.

You would want a mother with patience, and tenderness, and compassion, who would be at your side if you were sick or in pain, and who would comfort you just by her presence.

As fantastic as this sounds, Jesus faced a scenario a lot like this one. He had to choose from among all the women in all the history of all the world, the one woman who would become His mother. For his incarnation, Jesus chose Mary to be His own mother.

She was beautiful, inside and out. She introduced Him to life in our world. She loved Jesus with a great and beautiful love. And when Jesus looked at Mary, he saw the likeness of His future bride, because Mary is the icon of the Church perfected. She stood at His cross with compassionate strength and her presence helped Him amidst his suffering.

Mary was so great a mother, that Jesus wanted to share her with us. He wanted her to be our mother, too. Jesus looked down from the cross, on her and the beloved disciple, and said, “Woman, behold, your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother.” You and I are the beloved disciple. Jesus gives us Mary to be a mother for us. He created her perfectly, to be His own mother and our mother, too.

From that hour, at the cross, the beloved disciple took Mary into the heart of his life. From this hour, at this Eucharist, take Mary deeper into the heart of your life; because she loves you more than you know.