Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother Church on Mother's Day

In my homily this morning, I said a lil' summin like this:

Once again, the Holy Spirit has come through, giving us readings that cause us to look beyond today's secular holiday honoring our natural mothers to taking a look at our supernatural mother. No, I'm not talking about the Blessed Mother this time (though that would have been just as poignant a road to go down today). Today we're going to take the other fork in the road, and look at our mother, the Church.

Like natural mothers who give birth to their children, the Church gives supernatural life to her children through Baptism. From conception moms feed their children, first through their own bodies and later on through nursing, and eventually making our lunches for school or even our favorite foods when we're older. So Mother Church feeds us with the Bread of Life (talk about healthy eating!!!). In addition, moms tend to give some pretty good advice on a variety of topics over the course of our lives, and so Mother Church feeds us great advice through the words of Scripture as well as through her teachings. Moms are also the ones we turn to with our bruises, and so Mother Church is here to clean our wounds through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and tell us everything is going to be alright. Occasionally, moms are the ones to say "no", or get out the wooden spoon, and so the Church must, at times, discipline her children for their own good. Moms dealt with our "terrible twos" and our rebellious teen years. They knew how to take it and still love us when we said "I hate you!". They stayed up with us when we were sick. They put our achievements on the refrigerator with a magnet for all to see and said, "I'm proud of you." So Mother Church is right there with us in our great moments as well as those moments we write off as "teenage stupidity", or, "lapses of common sense."

The readings at Mass today give us a glimpse of the early Church. In the first reading, a question has come up amongst Christians in Antioch. Paul & Barnabas have come back to Antioch from their missionary tour through Cyprus to Asia Minor and given them the unthinkable news that not only Jews but non-Jews were coming to embrace Jesus Christ and his teachings. But some Christians in Antioch (perhaps Pharisses, previously) made the argument that before these gentiles could be "official" Christians, they first has to become Jews. This causes a kerfuffle. So what do the Antioch Christians do? They already know that their question should be passed along to the "main office" of the Church, at this time headquartered in Jerusalem. We're told the "institutional" Church convened a Council, deliberated on the question, made a ruling under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and sent the decision as an Apostolic Letter to the Church in Antioch. This could easily describe a situation today, but is, in fact, an event only perhaps a decade or two after the Resurrection! For those who love to say, "I'm spiritual, but I'm not into organized religion", or, "I read in a book that the Catholic Church structure was created in the middle ages", should've paid close attention today. The hierarchical structure of the Church existed from its earliest days to teach and to enlighten.

In the second reading today, we shift from the Church on earth to the Church in Heaven. In Revelation, John gives us a glimpse of something we already knew: Everything in Heaven is perfect: the New Jerusalem is radiant and shines like a precious stone, the walls are high and protective. On earth, things are imperfect. We have questions (which sometimes lead to arguments). We're even dependent on nature for such basic things as light. In Heaven, God will supply everything we need (even light itself). This is our final goal. This is what awaits us.

What's the connection between the Church in heaven and the Church on earth? Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus announces that, while he's still on earth with them for a little while longer, he's on his way to join his Father in Heaven. He tells them not to "let their hearts be troubled or afraid". While he may be unseen to us on earth, it doesn't mean he's not present. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers the Sacraments and enlightens the Bishops (our Apostles of today) under the direction of the Pope (Peter), our Church continues to "mother us".

Let me end with the one whom Young Fogeys are wrongly stereotyped to dislike, Pope Blessed John XXIII (I know, that sounds wrong, but if we say, "Pope St. Pius X", then the phrasing is correct). I mean, c'mon, how can you say "no" to a face like that? Anyway, he begins his 1961 encyclical, Mater et Magistra, with:

1. Mother and Teacher of all nations—such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation. She is "the pillar and ground of the truth." (1.Tim 3:15) To her was entrusted by her holy Founder the twofold task of giving life to her children and of teaching them and guiding them—both as individuals and as nations—with maternal care. Great is their dignity, a dignity which she has always guarded most zealously and held in the highest esteem.

2. Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven. It lays claim to the whole man, body and soul, intellect and will, inducing him to raise his mind above the changing conditions of this earthly existence and reach upwards for the eternal life of heaven, where one day he will find his unfailing happiness and peace.

Yes, it's Mother's Day, so be a good son or daughter and tell the Church you love her (and for some of you explain why you haven't called in so long?).

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