We all bring memories of our childhood into the later years of our lives. Anyone who grew up Catholic and is of my generation and perhaps even younger will remember the month of May as a time closely associated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus. There were some of the hymns whose musical quality may have been suspect and whose sentiments may have also been a tad sweeter than our taste today. Yet there was the magic of the singing "Bring flowers of rarest." "Tis the month of our mother" and we tried to synchronize the crowning of the statue of Mary with the words “Oh Mary we crown thee”. All these memories capture a special time filled with warmth and affection for Mary.
This month of May was and will for many be associated with the Mother of Jesus. This young maiden who was called by God to play a key role in God’s plan to accomplish our salvation. She was uncertain as to what she was being called to be. She was a woman of faith and trusted in God. She demonstrated that trust when in the midst of her doubts and questions she was able to say “Be it done unto me according to your word”. Because of her trust and her care for Jesus it is possible for us to know the unconditional love with which God holds us as well as forgives us.
In addition to playing such a key role in God’s plan Mary also has left us an example of how we also can live our lives as believers and men and women who trust in God’s Faithfulness. She knew well the emotions of our humanity. She suffered the anxiety of a parent who was worried about the safety of a child when Jesus was lost. Her heart went out to the newlywed couple as they dealt with the possible embarrassment of running out of wine. She took a parent’s pride when she heard so many talk about what Jesus was doing for the poor, the hungry, the blind and the lame. She was amazed when He raised the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow from Naim from the dead. She entered into the happiness of her Son’s friends Mary and Martha when Lazarus was called forth from the grave. She also suffered the worse pain of any parent when her Son died on the cross.Yet through it all Mary trusted God’s faithfulness. She is the example who teaches us how to live and she is the gift that Jesus has given to all of us when He said, “Behold thy mother”
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
As we revisit the early stages of belief in Jesus we realize that all did not run smoothly. What we have in this passage from the Acts is a pattern of how the earlier preacher introduced the message about Jesus. First of all there was great respect and attachment for the Jewish tradition. As a result there was the practice that whenever Paul and Barnabas entered into a new location they would always begin with the Jewish synagogue. It was there that they paid their first visit. Some received them with warmth and acceptance others saw them as they perceived Jesus as a danger to be rejected. So in this passage after they had been rejected they turned to the non-Jews of the area, the Gentiles. It was among these that the greatest acceptance and belief in Jesus also took root and grew.
Again the book of Revelation has images that invite us into a deeper understanding of God and our relationship with God. In this passage read about an event that has already begun but is still yet to be completed. It is the gathering of all that have been forgiven through the shedding of the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God. We have entered into this victory through our Baptism. We will know its completion in Heaven.
One of the very first images that the earlier believers found as helpful in understanding God and Jesus was the image of the relationship between the shepherd and his flock. There are frequent messages of the care and investment of the shepherd with his flock. We see in this relationship the intimacy of God’s relationship and commitment to us.
I think all of us have memories of always being given advice. Of course when we are young as well as insecure we were not all that disposed to listening to advice. I don’t know how common this experience is but I often heard the admonition “How many times do I have to tell you?” That statement usually came after I had failed or ignored previous advice.
All of us have phrase that our parents, our teachers, our coaches drilled into our heads. At the time most of us did not pay that much attention but as the years have passed and we have been able to join our experiences with what had been said to us we have come to be more appreciative of what had been told to us. We realize that perhaps what our parents or teachers or coaches or even bosses or mangers had said contained wisdom.
There are two ingredients that play a part in learning. The first part is in the naming and the second part is in the experience. Allow me to give some illustrations. One of the pieces of wisdom my mother frequently uttered initially seemed to me to make no sense. She often would tell my brothers and myself. “The least said the least mended”. Now when one is an adolescent or even in our early twenties such a statement makes no sense at all. Yet after a number of experiences when we have said something stupid or when we have told someone off in a fit of anger or when we have deceived in order to get out of a difficult situation we come on the awareness that if we had done more thinking than talking we would not have to spend so much time righting the wrong of our mistake. Much later I must admit that I came to the awareness of what “The least said the least mended”. Yet it was only when the naming of the truth and the experience of the truth came together that I was able to say. “Now I know what that means.”
Think of those sayings that were a part of growing up and then realize that we are now saying those same pieces of wisdom to the next generation. Maybe some of these are familiar to us. “If everyone is jumping in the lake does that mean you have to jump in the lake?” “It takes two to make an argument.” “We learn by our mistakes.” This one is a particularly important one to me. “In all of history Jesus was the only person who always responded to life rather than r4eacing to life.”
We hear certain statements that have little meaning to us. We may even reject them as nonsense. Yet when we have some experiences that prove their truth then we are able grow in wisdom.
Sometimes a statement is foreign to us because it comes out of another time or culture. For example we have all heard “Rome was not built in a day.” What do we know about Rome being built? That comes out a long ago historical event. Yet we do know if we are ever going to achieve our goals there will be the element of time. Goals are not achieved over night. Hence the statement “Rome was not built in a day” takes on a meaning for us though it is out of a different couture and time.
One of the frequently used images that are set forth for us to get in touch with God’s relationship with us is that of a shepherd. Really now what do most of us know about shepherds? It is only in the last few years that I have begin to like lamb.
Yet we have the familiar prayer from the Psalms “The Lord is my shepherd. Nothing I shall want”. One of the more famous stories that Jesus told was that of the shepherd who left his entire flock behind so that he could find the lamb that had wandered away. Jesus even used that image to talk about Himself when He referred to himself as the Good Shepherd who would even lay down his life for those who were his.
Our gospel today fleshes out the intensity and the intimacy of that relationship. We are assured that as we wander through our life in a search for meaning and direction we listen and follow the vision of Jesus. That is the way that we discover eternal life, a life that begins with our Baptism and is nourished at the table of the Lord.
Think of the image that is in today’s gospel. Those of you who are parents can conjure up the terrifying situation of someone trying to take your child away. Parents would never let go. Even when children are having a temper tantrum they often will cling to their child till the screaming and the struggle will subside. Then the child will find calm and security in the arms of one who loves them in spite of their resistance. That is the kind of intensity and intimacy that God has for us. There is no snatching us out of his hands. For as it has been said for centuries “We are His people, the sheep of His flock.”
Homily preached at the 11:00
Liturgy Sunday May 6, 2001
Reverend William D. Mannion