4th Sunday of Easter—Mothers

This weekend’s homily:

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices.” They hung on every word that He said.

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

We’re living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His.

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus.  They can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

 

I have to close by mentioning another voice that we all recognize and that we celebrate today (tomorrow) and that’s our mother.  Jesus set the example for us in the relationship he had from the time He chose her to bear Him in her womb until He hung on the cross and gave her to Saint John and to us.  “Son, behold your mother.”

 

On this Mothers Day we honor our mothers, living and dead and thank God for the gift of them in our lives.  Let us also honor Jesus’ mother by praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

 

 

Happy Mothers Day!

 

5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

Mother’s Day

6th Sunday of Easter

I believe that today’s Gospel is a Cliff Notes summary of everything we need to know to be faithful Christians.  All Jesus’ talks, all His miracles, all His parables, come down to what Jesus tells us today.

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”  Think about that.  We know, through the doctrine of the trinity, that God and Jesus are one and the same; Father and Son.  They share an intimate and infinite love.  Here’s Jesus telling us that His love for us is the same.  God the Father and God the Son love us as much as they love one another, and themselves.

But, and this is important, If we want to remain in His love, we must keep His commandments.  In other words, we can lose His love if we don’t do what He tells us.  Then, rather than give us a laundry list of things we have to do, He says, “THIS is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s it!  All we have to do is love one another.  But you and I both know that some people are more lovable than others.  Sometimes loving one another can be a HUGE challenge.  But this love that Jesus asks us to have for each other means a very specific thing.  In spite of what the 70’s movie said, love DOES NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry.  According to Father Robert Barron, love means willing good for the other person as another person.  In other words, love doesn’t mean hoping that you win the lottery so you can share your winnings with me.  Love means hoping you win the lottery only because I want you to be happy.  Love also means that I’m not jealous of your good fortune.

Today being Mother’s Day, it’s natural to compare God’s love to a mother’s love.  The mother’s love is unconditional, just like God’s love.  But there’s one thing missing.  On a purely physical level, a baby knows that she has an attachment to her mom.  But a baby doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what that means.  Dogs and cats relate to their mothers just like we do.  Love between a mother and her offspring is a natural thing.  The difference between us and the animals is that as that human baby grows physically and emotionally, she begins to appreciate what this special connection means.  But, it’s a slow process.  It has it’s ups and downs.  I have four grandchildren.  Three of them from one set of parents.  Those three are two, four, and five years old.  Love means something very different to each one.  As they grow and mature, their ability to love will grow and mature.  (Until they get to be teenagers, then they’ll likely to hate their parents, but that’s just a phase.  They usually grow out of it.)  Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t really appreciate our mom’s love entirely until they’re gone.

I think we approach God’s love in the same way.  When we’re little we know that God loves us.  How?  Because grownups tell us so.  I went to Grandparents’ Day Friday at my five-year-old granddaughter’s school.  One of the songs they sang was

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy

So very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

Down in my heart”

Five, six, and seven-year-olds know they love Jesus and that He loves them in a very basic, simple way.  As we grow older, we understand more of what that means.  Unfortunately, we also make it more complicated.  Remember, Jesus calls us to have a child-like faith.

Let’s get back to moms for a minute.  Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends.  We see that in Jesus as He died on the cross to save us from our sins.  But mothers lay down their lives for their children every day.  All of you moms can testify that once you gave birth, your life was never the same again.  Some changes were small.  Some were huge.  But nothing is ever the same. 

 

 

There’s a reason why men don’t have babies.  We couldn’t handle it.  A mother’s love lets her do the impossible on a daily basis.

Today as we celebrate our moms, and all those women in our lives who fill the role of mothers, it’s good to reflect on what Jesus tells us today.  A mother’s love is the closest we humans can come to perfect love.  Our mothers’ love teaches us how to love as Jesus loves.

We are our mothers’ flesh and blood the same way we’re Jesus’ flesh and blood.  We’re about to celebrate Jesus’ love for us by receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a real way we celebrate His love and our mothers’ love with every breath we take.  When He said “love one another as I have loved you” He was telling us all we need to know.  “Honor you father AND your mother” is one of the Ten Comandments.

Jesus spoke these words just before He gave up His life for us.  They were some of His last words before the crucifixion.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, “This I command you: love one another.”  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that would be nice for us to do.  It’s His commandment.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

This monologue is the sum total of everything that Jesus taught in His earthly ministry.  This is the message that He wants us to remember.  Never forget that the whole point of His becoming a man was to teach us this one thing.  And, as we celebrate a day dedicated to our mothers, if we want an example of what that love looks like, all we have to do is think about our mothers’ example.  Remember, Jesus’ last act before He gave up His life on the cross was to give us His Mother, the most perfect example of a mother’s love in all human history.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a bittersweet celebration.  I know my wife had a grand day today with our oldest son and his wife, our daughter, and our three grandchildren.  It was a beautiful day to spend in the park.  She also enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day breakfast after mass at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.

We all did our best to make it a nice day for her.  Sadly, her mom passed away exactly one year ago today.  Anything we did today was tempered by the sadness I know she feels for the loss of her mom.  Not only that but my daughter-in-law’s mother has passed away in the last twelve months making this the first Mother’s Day for her where she didn’t have her mom.

My own mom has been gone for sixteen years and though the pain has subsided over the years, I still miss her.

So today we celebrate our moms and grandmas, anyone else who has played the role of a mother in our life, and we remember those who long to be a mother but haven’t yet been blessed with children.  We than those who are still with us and we rejoice for those whom we know are with God.

Just as Jesus will forever be remembered as Mary’s Son, you and I will be forever be associated with the woman who gave us life.  If you don’t believe that our relationship with our mother is special, try to find an insulting Mother’s Day card.  You won’t, even though insulting Father’s Day cards will be in great supply.

To all the mothers who read this and to those who aren’t physically present in our lives,

Thanks, Mom!