Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Michael Parish, Lowell, MA
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 10, 2015
Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48, Ps 98, 1 Jn 4:7-10, Jn 15:9-17
To listen to the audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The Unrecognizable Virtue
During my time as a seminarian and baby priest in Rome, and in frequent visits there since, I have had the great joy to take literally tens of thousands of people to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. Among all there is to see inside Catholicism’s largest and most famous Basilica, it’s impossible not to notice the hundreds of beautiful, huge marble statues. Many of them depict saints, but even more depict the Christian virtues. The virtues are always shown as women — which should make the women here smile and the men jealous! The virtue of justice, for example, is a woman with scales in her hand, giving to each his due; the virtue of faith, a woman with a crucifix; the virtue of contemplation, a woman with a Bible looking up to heaven. I generally quiz the pilgrims about what virtue they think is being depicted, so that they might be able to “read” the message being conveyed just like Christians in previous centuries did so easily. Over the course of the two-hour visit, most get good at making educated guesses. But I am always surprised by how many fail, toward the end of the tour, to get one of the virtues depicted on the tomb of Pope Alexander VII. It should be the easiest of all. It’s a woman with three young children, one in her arms and two around her legs. When I ask what this virtue is meant to depict, many respond, “Patience!” Others say, “Kindness!” Some others say, “Courage.” But few ever get it — even when I would give them the hint, “It begins with an L.” From the time of the Roman empire through the height of the Renaissance, almost everyone understood that a woman with her children was the universal depiction of the virtue of love; yet today, it’s noteworthy that many, including Catholic pilgrims, are not able to see in a depiction of a mother with children this virtue that was so transparent to the Christians when these papal tombs were being constructed.
A Day of Appreciation!
Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day in our country, and as Jesus speaks to us explicitly about love in the Gospel, we need to focus on the real meaning of love and how motherhood is meant to be one the greatest and clearest examples of it.
While every day we should be grateful for our parents, today is the special day in our country when we thank our mothers for all their acts of love, big and small, over the years: their loving us into existence, their caring for us in the womb, their feeding us with their breasts and by their hands, their clothing us, their bathing us, their teaching us how to walk, their teaching us how to read, their teaching us how to love, their bringing us to be baptized, their teaching us how to pray, and so much more. Only God knows the hundreds of thousands of loving sacrifices they have made for us over the years. None of our mothers is perfect; they have all made mistakes big and small as they tried to raise us; but none of us would be here today without them. On this day, we have the opportunity to put into action what one modern saint called the “sweetest commandment of all” and unite that fourth commandment to the third by honoring our mothers, thanking them, and thanking God for them.
Motherhood in God’s Plan
The gift and beauty of motherhood has been part of God’s plan from the beginning. What a great mystery is woman’s participation in the ongoing creative work of God! God could have designed human reproduction in some other way than the way he did, but he wanted to involve his creatures, man and woman, in the greatest of his works: the creation of other human beings who are meant to live forever as their children and as children of God. Woman’s participation in this great gift of bringing new life into existence is much more intimate than man’s. It is in her that a newly conceived life grows. She is the sanctuary of the image and likeness of God. The child is entirely dependent upon the mother and God trusts woman enough to entrust this greatest of all human gifts to her love. No wonder why Eve shouted for joy in the first recorded pregnancy in history with sentiments that have been echoed by moms throughout the generations, “I have given birth to a man with the help of the Lord!” (Gen 4:1).
But God’s plan for human motherhood was even more exalted than this. He wanted motherhood to share not just in creation but in redemption. In the fullness of time, the Father sent his beloved son, the world’s redeemer, to be “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). Jesus himself entered the world he created just as we do, as the tiniest little embryo in Mary’s (immaculate) womb. For nine months, the eternal Word, the Son of God, was entirely dependent on his earthly mother, who carried him within her, whose blood nourished him, whose love prepared for him a welcome place. Mary’s motherhood not only participated in the work of redemption, but started it. Every motherhood is meant to carry on that process of redeeming love. In motherhood, the woman learns how to love like God loves, she learns to love unselfishly as Christ loves, and then she becomes to teacher of everyone else in this school of love. Jesus says in the Gospel, “Love one another as I have loved you” and then adds, “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Mothers readily enter into this mystery, laying down their lives, saying to their children, “This is my body given for you,” a process that begins in pregnancy that then continues in so many ways after birth.
Two weeks ago we celebrated the feast day of St. Gianna Molla, the Italian pediatrician who died as a result of childbirth after her medical colleagues said that if she continued her pregnancy, she was placing her life in danger. She courageously continued it and before going in for surgery instructed the doctors that if there anything came up and they needed to make a choice between saving her life or saving the child’s that they should save the child’s. More recently, there was the story of 28 year old Chiara Corbella, who was diagnosed with cancer early in pregnancy and doctors urged her to abort her son growing within her and begin chemotherapy. She refused, gave birth and then began chemo, but it was too late to save her life. She wrote a letter to her baby boy that he would be able to read when he grew up, saying, “I am going to heaven to take care of Maria and David,” his two older siblings who had died in miscarriage, “but I want you to stay here with Dad. I will pray for you!” What tremendous witnesses Gianna and Chiara are of all those mothers who lay down their lives for their children, who sacrifice promising careers or lots of good worldly pursuits in order to give life to them. What tremendous witnesses they are to all those mothers who if it really came down to it would die a thousand times over to save their children’s lives. Through the prophet Isaiah, God compared his own love to the love of mothers, asking, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?,” something that he thought everyone would recognize as impossible. Then he added, “Even should she forget, I will never forget you!” (Is 49:15). Even Sigmund Freud realized that most children come to believe in the love God has for them by the tender, unconditional, self-giving love their mother showed them as a child. Maternal love is an icon of God’s divine love. The Church, which is called to proclaim the fullness of the truth of the Gospel, which is called not only to announce but to live and help others to love the Lord’s “new” and “greatest commandment” to love others as he has loved us first, has the duty to proclaim the good news about maternal love and value motherhood as much as God does.
The Opposition to the Gospel of Motherhood in the Divine Plan
This is an urgent task today because, as I mentioned before, most people no longer recognize in the image of a mother and her children the virtue of love at all, not to mention that most fail to see in a mother’s love the greatest human analogy of divine love. There are various reasons why this is the case, but the fundamental one is because of the damage done by a radical feminist ideology that, in claiming to advance the good of women, is actually and brutally harming women because it treats her motherhood not as the great blessing it is but as a curse. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because Jesus promises us that in our living and preaching of the Gospel, there will also be opposition; in our sharing the truth that sets us free, the truth about God, about the human person, about how we grow in God’s image and likeness, the “father of lies” would always be present in the world seeking to enslave rather than liberate, to sow lies rather than the truth, to lead us to distrust God rather than entrust our lives to him. This happens, too, with regard to the Gospel of Motherhood in God’s Divine Plan.
In my work for the Holy See at the United Nations, I see this type of false feminism on full display, where certain nations of the world think that the dignity of women will be advanced by giving women the choice to suppress or choose against their maternal dignity. Some nations claim that the only way to advance the cause of women is to give them full “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” by which they mean full (and most often free) access to contraception and abortion. It’s important for us to pause on Mother’s Day, get past all the euphemisms, and with the light of the Gospel respond to these claims; They are claiming that the cause of women cannot be advanced unless mothers — and once a woman is pregnant, she is already a mother — should have the legal right, for any reason whatsoever, over all nine months of pregnancy, to allow the life of the child in the womb to be destroyed. Rather than helping women to learn how to say, in love, “This is my body, given for you!,” some are claiming that women cannot be happy until they are able to say, in selfishness, “My body. My choice.” And with regard to contraception, some nations are saying that unless women have universal access to birth control, they will never find personal fulfillment. Some of the more financially developed nations are pushing on the poorer countries in the world birth control and “comprehensive sexual education” to teach youngsters how to use it. But what is the use of birth control saying? It’s trying to say to both men and women that their good, their happiness, their dignity is tied to being able to engage in sexual activity divorced from the paternal meaning of their masculinity or the maternal meanings of their femininity, that a man’s capacity to give life and a woman’s to receive life are, basically, illnesses that need to be technologically suppressed rather than respected. And the one who suffers most from this ideology is woman, because contraception makes possible sex without commitment, and gives a green light to men who want to use women rather than commit and reverence themselves to them in love for the rest of their lives. We can never give into the anti-Gospel of women, this real war on women, that wants to treat motherhood as a disease and children as cancers to be prevented and then eliminated through various interventions similar to how chemotherapy and surgery kills tumors. No, what we celebrate today is something totally different!
Promoting, Rather than Stifling, the Feminine Geniu
True respect for woman starts with accepting, indeed reverencing, her according to all aspects of her humanity. It involves creating the conditions for her to live freely and fully, without discrimination, according to what Pope John Paul II famously called the “feminine genius.” This expression highlights woman’s special wisdom in caring for the intrinsic dignity of everyone, in nurturing life and love and in developing others’ gifts, in living out the maternal meaning of her femininity. When women are given the opportunity to thrive in full appreciation for all their talents and potential, the whole of society benefits. We need to move beyond a culture in which the unique value and dignity of motherhood is insufficiently defended, appreciated and advanced, leaving women culturally and legally in a position to choose between their intellectual and professional development and their personal growth as wives and mothers, and when their often invisible and often heroic service is even disparaged as an antiquated and unwholesome model of feminine life. Humanity owes its survival to the choice women make not just to welcome children but raise them to be virtuous and authentically human. The future passes by way of the family. This means that the future of humanity is dependent on mothers’ making the family strong, something that in turn hinges on society’s and the Church’s strengthening women for this service in making their homes schools of humanity and socialization.
Today as we thank God for the gift of our mothers, both living and deceased, we ask him for the grace to strengthen our appreciation for the gift of motherhood and make us all courageous apostles in defending and proclaiming this Gospel in the midst of a culture in which many others don’t see it. As we prepare to receive the full outpouring of the Love of the One who said, “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends,” as we prepare to receive his Body and Blood given for us, we ask him for the grace in receiving this love to become so transformed by it that we will imitate him and so many mothers in learning how to love others the same total, self-sacrificial, most beautiful and saving way.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.”
While Peter was still speaking these things,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
should have been poured out on the Gentiles also,
for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter responded,
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Reading 2 1 JN 4:7-10
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Alleluia JN 14:23
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him and we will come to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 15:9-17
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, 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.
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.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”