The Love of a Mother
Sunday May 13, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 14:21-27) Reading II (Rev 21:1-5a)
Gospel (St. John 13:31-33a, 34-35)
Today our nation takes an opportunity to celebrate our mothers. We put aside a day for Mother's Day. Mother's Day actually did not begin in America, but it began almost a couple of millennia ago. It began by people coming back to the church where they were baptized. They recognized that the Church was their mother at the baptismal font. So the idea was that they would celebrate a day when they would all go back to their mother church. All the converts would be there together, the ones from over the years, and they would all be together in the place where they were baptized. They would celebrate their faith and life that they had learned and received in that church.
It did not take a whole lot of time for people to say, "If we are going to be able to celebrate the supernatural life that we have through Holy Mother Church, then it is also fitting that on this day we should visit our mothers (our natural mothers) from whom we have natural life." That is the way Mother's Day began. First of all, by recognizing the life given to us by God in Baptism. Then from there to say, "We wouldn't have the life of Baptism if we didn't have natural life, and that we received from our mothers."
Today we take the opportunity to think about motherhood on both of those levels. For a mother, I think this is all very natural. When we look at the readings today, we see some different elements that any mother would recognize. For instance, when Paul and Barnabas would go into the churches they would have to encourage the people. They would have to know it is only through many hardships that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. How a mother knows that, even from the time of birth when she thinks of not only what she has to endure but of what a baby has to endure in childbirth, and then going through all the struggles of when they are little - whether it is all the problems of teething, or the difficulties when a baby gets sick, or whatever it may be, all of the little aches and pains and hurts that a little baby goes through as they learn to walk and they fall down and they bang their heads and they do all the other little things. Then, of course, there are the teenage years which are very distressing, not only for the kids but for the moms as well. They endure that for their children. They encourage them and they try to build them up. So it is indeed through many hardships that we grow. We learn wisdom on the natural level but we also grow in love with God. We learn wisdom on the supernatural level by enduring the hardships of life and offering them in union with Jesus Christ. It is in that that we put love into practice.
There would be no putting love into practice if we did not have a means to be able to learn it in the first place, and that comes from our mothers. That is the commandment that Jesus gave us: We are to love one another as He had loved us. Where do we learn that except from our mothers? More than any place, for most people, they learn love from a mom. All of us, every single one of us, learned love at its beginning by dwelling for nine months listening to the beautiful sound of a heartbeat, the beating heart of our own mother. That was the sound that permeated our life more than any other for nine full months. Every single second of our existence for nine months, we heard constantly that rhythmic beat. If a mom brings all of her babies to the doctor and they all put the stethoscope on, they hear the baby's heart and they can hear the mom's heart. One person told me how beautiful it is to listen because where the doctors would say a mother's heart sounds like lub-dub, lub-dub, but from a child's point of view they would say it sounds like love-you, love-you. That is what we grow up with. That is how we begin our life: with that constant reminder of love that a mother gives to her children. She conceives that child in love. She bears the child in love. She raises the child in love.
Just step back and consider again what a mother does, pouring herself out entirely for that baby. She has to do things for a child that normally none of us would like to do. Yet, how a mother rejoices even in that. We know that we don't always rejoice in some of those things even as moms, but for the most part, a mom accepts with peace and with joy in her heart even some of those things which are so unpleasant. She is full of love even when a child is sick and makes a mess all over. On a natural level, we would walk away from that. But out of love for a child, a mother enters right into that, not only to clean up the mess, but more than anything to be able to care for her child. Once again, in that we see a mother pouring herself out, loving her children even when it is not easy, even when it is not pleasant, because a mother's heart knows only that love.
We think about the moms who have so generously brought into this world many lives. They look at those children and realize with every single conception that their hearts (and their ability to love) expands every single time. When that first baby is born, a mother is so in love with that little baby she cannot imagine that there can be a greater love because of the love she has for her husband and the love she has for this child. Six and eight and ten and twelve babies later, she realizes the love that was there for the first one was only a foreshadowing of the love that has now grown. It has grown through all of the aches and the pains and the hardships of all of these other little ones she has brought into the world. Her heart that was exploding with love on the day that first one was conceived, and the day that first one was born, is now expanded far beyond whatever that mother could have imagined on the day of the first birth. We see again the most extraordinary element of God's creation: the heart of a mother.
We think of the miracle of that little baby that is born of our mothers. We need to look even a step prior to that and look at the heart that desired beyond all else to conceive a child, to love a child; that is our mother. How grateful each one of us must be to our mothers for the life that we have. We see how a mother, as her children continue to grow to the point where they have their own babies, is able to repeat with Jesus (or is able to understand those words of Our Lord in a new way), "Behold, I make all things new."
Think of what a great-grandmother must experience in her old age when she looks at this tiny little baby that is not the child of her own child, but the grandchild of her own child. She looks at God renewing humanity as she, in her old age, looks to a new birth unto eternal life. She sees a new birth as life continues in this world and rejoices because she recognizes that her motherhood is not for herself, but her motherhood is for someone else. The unselfish love of a mother is the closest thing in this world to the love of God. She gives herself for the sake of a child and that is what we see in the motherhood of the Church as well.
In the Book of Revelation (the second reading), we hear about the Church coming down from heaven, the new Jerusalem as a bride adorned for her husband. That bride in union with her husband brings forth new life. The new life the Church gives to us is not for the sake of the Church, but is for the sake of her children and for the sake of God. So that as Jesus would be able to say as Judas walked away from the Last Supper, "Now is the Son of God glorified, and God is glorified in Him, and God will glorify Him." That is exactly what has happened to each one of us on the day that the Church exercised her motherhood at the baptismal font. God glorified each one of us and He has said to each one of us, "My dwelling is with men."
He has come to us and He resides in our hearts, our hearts that were prepared to receive the gift of God (Who is Love), of the indwelling of the Trinity. Our hearts, even as tiny little babies had only known love and were prepared to receive Love when He would come to us on the day of our Baptism. Our own mothers brought us to the baptismal font in, once again, that selfless kind of love, where they offered us to God. In their hearts they are saying, "This baby of mine is now a child of God. This child that God has allowed me to conceive and bring into this world, I now give back to God. This child will be born anew at the baptismal font and will share not only the natural life, made in my own image and likeness along with my husband, but now is renewed into the very likeness of God in Whose image this child was made in the first place."
A mother shares in the creative work of God providing with her husband the material for the body. God infuses into us, in the womb of our mother, our soul. The two, God and our mother, are sharing in creation. They are renewing the face of the earth, providing for new growth, a new generation of people who are created to glorify God, who are made to be saints and who are made to love. All of this is due to the love of a woman who is our mother.
Today as we meditate upon this mystery of life we consider our first mother, Eve. We consider our spiritual mother, the Blessed Lady. We consider the Church, Mater and Magister (Mother and Teacher). And we consider the most beautiful woman in our lives, our own mother, the one who gave us life, the one who taught us to love. She is the one who gave us to love Him, so that even in the newness of life all things would be new once again. Our mothers, out of love for us, wanted to give us not only natural life but they wanted to share with us eternal life. They have taught us to love so that we would be saints. They have brought us to the baptismal font so that we can get to Heaven. They teach us by word and by example what it means to follow the commandment of love. As they have done in this world, and as Our Lord has already done for us (as He promises in John's Gospel), I think that we can say the same for our mothers and our grandmothers who have gone before us: They go before us to prepare a place for us so that where they are, we also may be. Thanks be to God for moms. They are the ones who teach us the love of God in human form.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.