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THE STRENGTH OF A MOTHER’S LOVE
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – MOTHER’S DAY
May 10, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
Reverend Deacon David Justin Lynch
Wisdom 3:1-9 Psalm 27:1-6 I John 4:7-10 John 15:9-17
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Mother’s Day is a challenge for preachers. Not only is it not a feast in the liturgical calendar, but it raises pastoral issues. Some people have dysfunctional relationships with their mothers. Non-mothers, whether by choice or by chance, feel “left out” of the festivities. Not every woman is called to biological motherhood, and that’s a good thing, because being a good mother requires an extreme level of personal commitment and sacrifice to love a child. Not every woman is psychologically made to do that, and that very fact is what makes mothers special, just as non-mothers are special in their own way in living out the vocations to which they are called. And finally, Mother’s day is tough for many people like me, who no longer have a mother here on earth.
This is a very difficult Sunday for me, not only as a preacher, but as a person. The Epistle and Gospel are about love. That fits with Mother’s Day. But what makes today really hard for me, is that today is the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. At the end of the day on May ten, two thousand ten, I received a phone call telling me she had passed away. To say that was one of the most difficult days of my life would be an understatement.
As a male individual, I cannot imagine, and will never know, what it’s like to be a mother. What I do know, however, is that almost universally, the first love a person knows is that of his or her mother. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, as if to say true discipleship is limitless to the extreme. The willingness of Jesus to die for his friends, the disciples, is like mothers willing to die so that their children might live. Just this week, a mother in Wisconsin took three bullets to shield her children from the violence of a man shooting people at random. In Texas about a year and a half ago, a woman pushed her children out of the path of an oncoming car to save their lives, but lost her own doing it. You might recall the story where King Solomon was asked to decide a dispute between two prostitutes which one was the mother of a particular baby. He proposed cutting the child in two and giving each half. But the child’s true mother said, no, give the other woman the living child. The true mother was willing to give up the privilege of raising her son so that her son might live, albeit with the woman who lied about whether the child was hers.
The love between a mother and her child is so strong that the prophet Isaiah uses it to describe God’s love for humankind. At Chapter 49, verse 15, the prophet says, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” And at Chapter 66, verse 13, we hear, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.” Both of these passages are in the portions of Isaiah that describe God’s relationship with the people of Israel after they returned home from the Babylonian exile. God was reassuring them everything was going to be alright, just as our mothers reassure us when we’ve been through hard times in our lives. The upshot of all this is that a child is precious to her or his mother, who will go to the utmost extremes to protect her child, just as we are precious to God who will do what it takes to protect us.
Last Sunday, the general topic of my homily was that we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in of us. So to with our relationship with our mothers: we begin our lives inside of our mothers where the flesh of our mothers became part of us and remains with us throughout our existence. As Psalm 139 tells us, we are knit together in our mother’s wombs. It is an experience we share with Jesus, who was both human and divine. Jesus got the human part of Himself from His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his divinity from God the Father.
Jesus Himself was, of course, all about love. Jesus shared all of what it means to be human with us, including having a human mother, who was the first person to love him. If He is like us, His Mother taught Him how to love. She was the one who cradled him in Her arms when He first entered the world, nursed Him at her breasts, went with Him to the wedding at Cana, came to his teaching and preaching sessions, stood by Him at the foot of the cross, and finally, held the lifeless Body of Jesus in Her arms after He died. The Blessed Virgin Mary has always been, and always be, a prominent part of my spiritual life. The Hail Mary was the first prayer my mother taught me as an infant child, and praying the Hail Mary was the last form of communication I had with my mother before she slipped into her last coma.
My mother was the first person who loved me, and she was the first one to teach me how to love other people. Throughout the fifty-eight years, four months, and fourteen days she knew me, her message to me was incessant: care about other people as well as yourself. I can hear her saying, “whatever you do in church is nothing unless you show love to the world around you.” She taught me to show compassion, to care, particularly for the least among us. And she told me, don’t forget to love the beauty of things around you, in nature, and most of all, in the arts, particularly the theatre (she was an actress, after all) and most of all, music. As a child when I was writing my first pieces of music, she was there to sing them with me. And throughout my fifty plus years as a chorister, she was there to support me through my ups and downs when all manner of deranged and evil choir directors dumped all over me. I really did need her support, as my level of musical talent is not at the professional level. My very small achievements as a musician have been with a great deal of effort. All of this is why my mother is a righteous soul in the hand of God. That is why today Beeper sang the lesson from the Book of Wisdom, just as she did at the Requiem Mass for my mother.
When my mother died, I didn’t just lose a mother; I lost a friend. I’ll explain what that means. The words of today’s Gospel were part of that long conversation that Jesus had with His disciples at Passover, on the night before he died. Jesus was speaking to them for deep inside His heart, and as He did so, He invited them into a greater level of intimacy, no longer considering them His servants, but his friends. What does “friend” mean, and how does that relate to love? Unfortunately, the English language is a bit deficient to explain the concept. The Greek text of the New Testament has four words for “love,” ”agape”, “eros”, “storge”, and “philos”. “Agape” means a generalized love for humankind, the kind Jesus wants use to have for each other. “Eros” means romantic love, like between spouses. “Storge” is love between a parent and child. The Greek noun for friend is “philos”, which is closely related to the Greek verb “phileo”, meaning love in the sense of brotherly affection, towards someone close to you. In other languages, the connection between “love” and “friend” is even closer. In Spanish, the word for friend is “amigo”, while the verb to love is “amar” and the noun “love” is “amor.” In French, the word for friend is “ami”, the noun “love” is “amour” and the verb to love is “aimer”. The overall idea is that, among human persons, to be considered one’s friend, is to experience a special kind of a close, loving relationship. In today’s Gospel, Jesus revealed himself as He never did before, expounding on the deepest aspect of His relationship with God the Father. The relationship that Jesus describes here between Him and His disciples points the way towards a different concept of church, away from institutionalized religion and towards small groups like ours, where we are friends with one another. The tendency is, when church becomes an institution, the professionalization of ministry sometimes creates distance between ministers and those to whom they minister.
The relationship between Jesus and his disciples changed in a way similar to the way that of our relationship with our mothers changes as we get beyond the formative years. I am proud to say that for at least the last forty years of our relationship, my mother wasn’t just a mother; she was my friend. Our relationship progressed from “storge” love to include “philos” love. She became my friend as well as my mother. I was able to reveal a great deal to her about the stuff going on in my adult life that I would have had a hard time revealing to anyone else. This was particularly true when I was going through the divorce from my first wife in the early nineteen nineties, and in the tumultuous years that followed when I was seeking a replacement, which was so important to me, as I believe in my heart that God created the sacrament of marriage because God did not want humans to live alone. My mother was really happy when I found my Beeper. She died knowing I was in the good hands of a person who loves me with all her heart, mind, and soul.
If you mother is still alive, treasure her. If she has passed away, remember the good times, and forgive her for the bad ones. Mothers, after all, are human, which by definition, means imperfect. But by reason of the special biological bond our mothers have with us, they loved us just by giving us life. Some fathers simply don’t have the same level of connection with a child as a mother does, simply because in our species, men do not gestate children in their bodies. Biologically, human males are mere sperm donors. Try as we might to be affectionate and loving towards children, we human males are not seahorses whose males do in fact carry their young in their bodies. That is simply a fact of creation as it is.
To close, I’m going to share an anonymous poem with you.
To the one who gave me life I can give nothing but love To the star so full of light to the one sent from up above.
I loved you more than anything I loved you to the end you were my mother first then my very best friend.
To the one who gave me life, I can give nothing but love to the one who genuinely was, sent from heaven above.