Motherhood, an Awesome Gift from God
May 11, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 4:8-12) Reading II (1 John 3:1-2)
Gospel (St. John 10:11-18)
Today our country takes out a day to honor moms, a most fitting thing to be able to do as these are the incredible women that God has chosen for each one of us to give us life. A mother’s task, as we all know, is to conceive, to bear, to nourish, and to educate her children. It is the single most important and dignified task on the natural level in this world. What God has entrusted to a mother is nothing less than the souls of the children that He has given to her. With a mother’s care and with a mother’s heart she carries her children with her, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It does not matter how old she is, it does not matter how old they are, she never ceases being a mother. Even when you see mothers who are in their nineties and their children are in their seventies, it is pretty clear that this is still mother and child. And that mother continues to be a mother not only in this life but in the next as well. Which is why, of course, we pray for our mothers who are deceased, but also to know that if our mothers have gone the right direction after death, they continue to pray for us. Rather than stopping their maternal care, in fact it increases when they get to Heaven because their love increases as they look at God and they know perfectly even as they are known, as we heard in the second reading today. Consequently, our mothers who are in Heaven know us even better now than they did when they were in this world. They love us more perfectly, which is an astounding thought when we consider the love of a mother.
This concept of Mother’s Day actually began many, many centuries ago. It began when the Christian people would recognize that they wanted to go back and celebrate the place where they were baptized. At the Easter Vigil, the new converts would be brought into the church and they would be baptized. They would come into the church at night dressed in white robes after having been baptized by the bishop, and all the people would stand and sing as the new converts would come forth. As this would naturally stir one’s sentiments, the people would think about the place where they themselves were baptized. So the tradition grew up that on one particular Sunday out of the year people would go back to the place where they themselves were baptized, to their mother church. There, with all of the others who were received into the faith and baptized at that particular parish church, they would all gather together, children of the same mother, children born at the same baptismal font.
And it did not take long before people would recognize that if they would gather to honor the same mother on the spiritual level, the same place where they were reborn, that it also made perfect sense to continue on to honor the woman who bore them in the natural and physical order as well. Soon it became a matter of not only visiting their mother church, but on that same day they would honor their own mothers. That continues in this day. We do not recognize, generally, the religious element of this, but thankfully, at least even in our pagan country, we continue to recognize the dignity of mothers.
This is something that each and every one of us does recognize in our relationship with our own mother, and yet it is something which we need to protect because motherhood is under severe attack. When we have determined in our society that the most important task is relegated to the act of having at the most two children because it would be a violation somehow for a woman to bear more than that, we have destroyed the nature of what motherhood is really about. A woman is designed for life, abundance of life, and that is what Our Lord desires. Every single woman shares in the task of being a mother. Even if she does not conceive and bear in the physical order, the love that God places into the heart of a woman bears fruit in the spiritual order through prayer, through sacrifice, through the love which is demonstrated most perfectly in the heart of every single woman, especially we all recognize it in the hearts of our own mothers. It is that love, the love of a mother, which brings more children to the Lord.
Saint Paul tells us that all fatherhood has its origin in God. We saw in the second reading today from the First Letter of Saint John the love that the Father has bestowed upon us in letting us be called His children. All of us recognize, of course, that there is no fatherhood unless there is first a motherhood. Men, in and of themselves, would be completely barren unless it was for the generosity and the life-giving nature of a woman. So if God is going to be Father for each one of us, there needs to be a mother. And just as each one of us has a mother on the natural and physical order, each one of us also has a mother on the spiritual and supernatural order – it is this beautiful Lady who is right here [Father Altier is pointing to a statue of Our Blessed Mother Mary]. And if all fatherhood has its origin in God, then all motherhood has its origin in Our Blessed Lady, the one who conceived us in her heart on the day the angel asked if she would be the Mother of God, because in conceiving Christ she conceived all who would be members of Christ. It was at the foot of the Cross, where her heart was pierced by the sword spoken of and prophesied by Simeon, that she gave birth to each one of us in a spiritual way. It is for this reason that Our Lord on the Cross would be able to look at His own Mother and give each one of us to her as He said, “Behold your son.” Then He looked at His beloved disciple – that is, you and me, those beloved of Christ – and said to each one of us, “Behold your mother.”
Each one of us has learned from our own mothers what it is to be loved, to be taught, to be nourished and cherished. Saint Peter in the first reading tells us that there is no other name other than Jesus Christ given to humanity by which we are to be saved. And I suspect, for the vast majority of us, the first place we heard of that beautiful name of Jesus was on the knee of our mother as she taught us how to pray. She taught us about Jesus; she taught us how to love Jesus. As every child knows, the safest place to be is in the arms of his mother, the place where he is going to be able to be completely relaxed, the place where he can place his head upon the heart where for the first nine months of his life he lived immediately beneath, to be able to hear the heart of his mother, to know the comfort and the love of the mother while being upon her shoulder. So too do we recognize the same thing in our Blessed Mother.
Children know that when things are frightening, when times become difficult, they run immediately to their mother. In the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Jesus is shown with his sandal dangling by the strap to be able to demonstrate that as the two angels, Michael and Gabriel, presented to Jesus the implements of His torture, He ran to His mother and jumped into her arms to be protected. He is our Shepherd; He is the One Who leads the sheep. He leads us to the place where the sheep can be at peace, where they are going to be fed and nourished, where they are going to have life. He leads His sheep to the same place that He Himself went – right to His mother – so that she can lead us, as a mother does, right to our heavenly Father. This is critically important because these lessons that each one of us learned early on in our lives in the love of our mothers for each one of us needs now to be put into practice in a very particular way because over these next months things are going to get very frightening. But Jesus has given this time to His mother, and He has entrusted each one of us to His mother. Like Him, we must run to her and we must jump into her maternal arms, find our comfort on her Immaculate Heart – indeed, in her Immaculate Heart – and there know that we are safe, that we have nothing to fear as long as we are with our Mother.
Each one of us, every single day (not just today), must be so grateful to our mothers for the heroic act, the heroic love that they have demonstrated in bearing us. Indeed, I suspect for most of us, if we look back to our early years of childhood and being teenagers, our mothers had to practice truly heroic love just to tolerate most of us. So how grateful we need to be to our moms for everything they have done and everything they continue to do. And how grateful we also need to be then to Our Lord, to our heavenly Father, for giving us a heavenly Mother to love us in an heroic manner, to love us so much that in order to give us life she would unite herself to the death of her Son so that each one of us could have life. All motherhood comes from her because she is the new Eve, the mother of all the living, of all of those who are alive in Christ.
And so on this day we give special thanks to each and every mother, to our own mothers on the natural order who brought us into this world and who taught us the most important lessons of life. We are grateful to our Mother, the Church, where we were born at the baptismal font. We are grateful to all of those astounding women who exercise their spiritual maternity in union with Our Lady in prayer, in sacrifice and suffering, to bring many more children to Christ. And we are grateful to our heavenly Mother who leads us to Jesus, who teaches us about Our Lord, who protects us, who guides us, who nourishes us, who prays for us, the one who will bring us to eternal life and teaches to us the only Name given to us by which we are to be saved, the Name of her Son, Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for moms, and thanks to every mom who has co-operated with God in the work of creation and created the most incredible thing: a human person with a soul which is eternal to give glory to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.