Fifth Sunday of Easter
My friends in Christ, given the present occasion that it is the month of May (a month that is traditionally held in honor of Mother Mary) and also that this weekend we celebrate all mothers with Mother’s Day, I should like for us to consider Mother Mary. And in particular, we do well, I think, to consider this: her role in our lives in this post-Resurrection world in which we live.
And to begin, we first consider our Scripture text from the Acts of the Apostles. And what we have going on here is the election of the first seven deacons of the Church; our text here comes from Acts chapter six. Already, very early on in the Scripture narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the Apostles are supremely God-centered, mission-oriented, and therefore confident in who they are and what they are about.
But as we know, this was not always the case. In Acts chapters one and two, we see them in the upper room, all huddled together – and only together along with the handful of others who were there...almost as if they are afraid of the outside world, uncertain of how to engage and interact with it, given their nascent faith in the risen Lord...uncertain, perhaps, of how to move on.
Now enter Mother Mary. In Acts chapter one, we find the Apostles in the upper room, and they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with...Mary, the mother of Jesus.”
And so, we discover that Mother Mary had been with them all along. And if we get a sense, in these first two chapters of Acts, that the Apostles perhaps were afraid and uncertain, we also get a sense that Mother Mary was not that. Rather, she was calm and collected...in prayer and at peace.
There is a famous sample of sacred art, completed in the year 1732 by the French artist Jean Restout, and it depicts the first Christian Pentecost (as told in Acts chapter two). The Holy Spirit is descending upon Mother Mary and the Apostles in the mysterious form of tongues as of flame, and the Apostles clearly are afraid. Some of them have their hands raised as if to ward off this terrifying thing that is happening to them. Others are half-turned away from it all like they are ready to flee at a moment’s notice. One of the Apostles actually is turned away fully and making his swift exit – just like Popeye, he can stands no more! One of them is kneeling huddled in terror and his face pressed to the floor, his hands clasped in desperate prayer as if begging God for all of this to end.... Indeed, to look only at the Apostles in this picture is to behold an instance of terrifying chaos.
But residing at the very center of this entire scene is Mother Mary. She is standing full erect, her hands held at her bosom in a display of humble piety, a simple gesture of her recognition of and submission to what is going on here; and on her face, the faintest trace of a smile.... For she is calm and collected. She is in prayer and at peace.
Thus was Mother Mary and the part she played in the lives of the Apostles during those first days of Christianity born and the nascent church. But what does that teach us about her role now in our world today? Thus she was and thus she did for them. Who is she and what does she do for us in our own here-and-now?
Who she is and what she does now is, in very truth, the same as then, and it is this: she is our perfect model. For all things Christianity. For us, today, we shall consider four ways how this is so: her perfect model of prayer; her perfect model of docility, of receptivity; her perfect model of discipleship; and her perfect model of mission.... And in all of this, hopefully we will come more and more to see her as our perfect spiritual mother.
Regarding prayer.... We already saw it in Acts chapter one that she was there with all of the Apostles in the upper room, “devoted...with one accord to prayer.” Now if the Apostles were not quite sure how to pray as they ought, well then, she showed them how. She who, as Saint Augustine says, conceived the Lord in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb certainly then must be a perfect model of prayer. Because if prayer is nothing more complicated than being in conversation with God (or, better still, being in union with God), well, two people in this world cannot possibly be more in physical union with one another than for a child to be inside the mother in her womb. Thus Mother Mary was that much in union with her Son our Lord; thus she shows us how, insofar as we are able (insofar as prayer enables us to experience this), we also can be that much in union with her Son our Lord.
Now, here is just one example of how Mother Mary shows us a practical aspect with regard to prayer. Many people, myself included, can get just so frustrated with prayer because we perceive so many problems all around us, and we heard that tired dictum to take it to prayer, and so we do, but we get no answer. We tell God what the problem is, we beg God to fix it – which by the way, how frequently we presume to tell God how to fix it when we are at prayer!
But notice what she does in Saint John’s Gospel narrative, chapter two (the wedding feast at Cana). They ran out of wine; she notices this and goes directly to her Son, as is right and just. And she says to Him, “Son, they ran out of wine, so what I need You to do is run down to the store and get some more.” No! She does not do that! Instead, what does she do? She says to Him simply and to the point, “They have no wine.” And that is all! No unnecessary elaboration on the problem; no proposed solution does she presume to offer. Indeed, she presumes nothing with regard to what He might do to fix the situation. No. All she does is this: she simply goes to Him, she tells Him what the problem is, and she says and does nothing more. She lays it all at His feet to do with as He wills, and then, she places herself in the spirit of complete trust to utter self-surrender to whatever might end up being God’s will in the matter. And we can do that, too. Do we struggle with patience? So we pray to God, “Lord, I have no patience.” Struggling with lust? “Lord, I have no chastity.” Do we eat too much? “Lord, I have no moderation.” Do you think that you are good enough just the way you are? “Lord, I have no humility.” Ha! Gotcha! In any event, Mother Mary shows us that sometimes, our best prayer...maybe even our only prayer...is simply to state the problem, and then leave it be....
Regarding docility (to God’s will) and receptivity (of God’s grace).... We already considered that sample of sacred art that I mentioned earlier. Do try to find that picture, and take a look, even pray with it. The contrast between how the Apostles reacted to the tongues of fire and the peaceful response of Mother Mary truly is extraordinary...striking. Look at Mother Mary especially, how her hands are held, how her body is poised, how she smiles. She is rejoicing in the will of God, though
mysterious and, at first glance, maybe even frightening. The Holy Spirit came upon her many years before, at the Annunciation, when she conceived and bore God the Son, the Word-Made-Flesh, in her immaculate womb; now, many years hence, the Holy Spirit comes upon her again, there at that first Christian Pentecost, when once more she would pronounce her faithful fiat: “Be it done unto me.” And she is perfectly docile to her Son’s holy will (that the Holy Spirit come upon them all so that they can be made ready for mission) and she is perfectly receptive of her Son’s grace that once again fills her heart completely so that just as she proclaimed in her Magnificat when she traveled to the hill country in haste to visit Elizabeth, she now proclaims once more: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”
Regarding discipleship.... I must admit that there are about a thousand things that I could say about Mother Mary as the perfect disciple of Jesus Christ, but this homily has gone quite long already, so we consider just one aspect of discipleship that she portrays to perfection at the Annunciation.
Many people (again, myself included) worry that to ask God questions is to doubt God, and to doubt God is a sin, and to sin means to fall away from being a disciple of Jesus Christ...thus, we are not disciples if we dare presume to ask God anything. “No questions! Just pray, pay, and obey!”
But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Provided, of course, that we genuinely do want to know what God has to say about some certain matter, and provided that we are ready to hear God’s answer no matter how much we may not expect it or even like it when it comes, then of course we can ask God questions! After all, she did! The Archangel Gabriel told her that God would like for her to become the Mother of God, and how does she respond? “Okay! Whatever you say, no questions from me – everything is awesome!” No! Of course that was not her response! In fact, she responded with a question: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Her faith, certainly, is beyond reproach – there is no doubt about that, for sure! But her understanding: that was lacking. Her faith was seeking understanding. Well, just as Saint Anselm teaches us, our faith seeks understanding, and that is just the way of it, and certainly God wills it and welcomes it. We are not to remain in perpetual blindness! The Lord wants us to know Him! Who He is and what is His will! And so, of course we can ask God questions and still remain faithful disciples...provided, again, that we genuinely do want an answer and sincerely are docile to and receptive of the Lord’s most holy will.
And finally, regarding mission.... After the Annunciation, Mother Mary up and leaves town and “traveled to the hill country in haste...and greeted Elizabeth.” And notice that she made such a long and difficult journey in haste. The connotation seems to be that she left immediately...and she was in a hurry. That is because right after she received the Word of God (which she did: Jesus the Word-Made-Flesh now conceived in her immaculate womb)...right after this, she was firmly intent on putting her faith immediately into action; she visited and tended to somebody who was in need: her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with Saint John the Baptist.
Now, when we receive Him Who is the Word of God, the Word-Made-Flesh, we ought to do likewise: go at once and put our faith immediately into action. “Go forth; the Mass is ended.”
And all of this hopefully now becomes for us a most beautiful portrait of Mother Mary as our perfect spiritual mother; but not some wishy-washy, milquetoast, doormat of a cartoon mother, but rather our Queen Mother...or, if you prefer: our “Mama Bear.” Because she is docile to God, there is no question about that...but where the anti-God, the devil, is at work, she is not docile. Rather, she is a warrior; she is a champion; she is our ferocious Mama Bear, and Mama Bear is having precisely none of that devil-business! She fights for us constantly, prays for us and intercedes for us constantly; and so it is that she is our perfect spiritual mother...a perfect model for all mothers (for this weekend’s celebration of Mother’s Day)...a perfect model really for all of us.... May it be, then, that we look up to her for all good things so that, through her, we may be drawn more closely to her Son...Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.
on Sunday, May 10 at 10:52AM