Sunday, May 13, 2001
This may be an unusual way to start this article but I find myself fascinated by the behavior of animals.
I remember when I had the great opportunity to visit Alaska. We were riding a bus through Denali National Park. Along the side of the road there was a lone person with a camera fixed on a nest on the side of a cliff. The photographer had been there for two weeks awaiting the hatching of the eggs of a golden eagle. The time was drawing near when the eaglet was to make its appearance.
There was no getting close to the nest. The parents were very protective of the soon to be born. The photographer would capture the entry of the eagle into the wonder of nature. From the feeding of the newborn to the negotiating of the wind the parents would be forever present.
This past week I observed a mother duck walking her ducklings through a park. She had her eyes both on her young as well as me. There was no way she was going to let me get near her young.
There is the instinct that nature puts into parents which both nourishes and protects their young through the most vulnerable of times. I remember my Mother cradling my younger brother as she fed him during the first months of life. Usually after he had been fed she lullabyed him to sleep with her soft singing as well as the assuring beat of her heart where he rested peacefully.
Mothers have a way of picking up on our unspoken thoughts as well as our private fears. Without our saying a word mothers read our hearts. Even when we have done something that we are sure has gone unnoticed mothers have a way of knowing. We indignantly inquire, “How did you know?” I remember my Mother used to answer such an inquiry with the enigmatic “A little bird told me”. Only later did I realize that mothers in addition to taking care and protecting us are also much smarter than we are.
Mothers can understand their sons who say very little. They also are there when their daughters need to share some “girl talk”.
Mothers share our joys and our achievements. They see in us qualities that escape everyone, even ourselves. Our greatest happiness often is found in their joy and happiness. Our greatest sadness is when they are no longer around to share our lives. Yet they are always with us. In our birth, while we are growing and learning and even when they have gone on there is a part of them that is always watching over us.
To all who are Mothers of our parish we wish a Happy Mother’s Day. To those who are no longer with us we also extend our love and our gratitude.
Reverend William D. Mannion
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
The second half of the Acts of the Apostles gives us a great deal of information about the preaching and missionary efforts of Paul, the convert who spread the message about Jesus. It seems there were three distinct periods when Paul went about the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean Sea preaching first in the synagogues and then to the Gentiles. The first trip that Paul made was with Barnabas. They left from Antioch in Syria. What we hear in today’s passage probably took two or three years. They returned to Antioch, their home base to relate what God has done through their preaching.
The city of Jerusalem has a symbolic importance for many believers. It is sacred city for Jews, Christians and Moslems. The Jews remember it as the place of the Temple God’s dwelling place among them. For Christians it was where Jesus died and was raised. For Moslems it is sacred because of the Mosque where Abraham was supposed to have faced the crisis of slaying his son Isaac. The image of the New Jerusalem represents not the geographical city in the Holy Land but the gathering of those who have been given new life through the resurrection of Jesus. We live a life not rooted here on earth but a spiritual life that comes from the Father through our belief in Jesus.
How we live the life of the Spirit is in our imitation of the life of Jesus. His love for others is to be the pattern of our care for one another. We are identified by the reflection of God’s life in us. It is seen in our love for one another.
I remember one time I was a listener in a conversation. This person was going on non-stop telling what he knew and what he thought. I was tiring of his monologue when he made this statement. “The great American virtue that we all subscribe to is fairness”. As he kept on talking I lingered with that statement. The more I thought about it and have observed over the years I have come to realize that fairness really is in our bones and our psyches.
As children we have already developed a keen sense of fairness. How many arguments have taken place in the back seat of a car or van when one child will cry out “she is sitting on my side”. Or “Don’t look out my window. Look out your own window.” In school if some child is treated more benignly that child is pegged as ”teacher’s pet”. The worst mistake a teacher can make is to have a favorite. A teacher will never get away with it because the children in the classroom will immediately identify the unfairness of it all.
Even when it come to facing some issue that we would just as soon not face we have been known to say “ I really should not do that. It just is not fair.” We have all known what it is to get out a bed early on a day off to help a neighbor or someone in the family to move or get ready for a party. We do this because in the past they did for us. It is our sense of fairness. When we hear that someone we know has suffered a loss because of death and we have not been in touch with them for years we go out of our way to go to the wake or funeral because years ago they came to us when we had lost someone. It is our built in virtue of being fair. We want to respect them as they had respected us.
I have often thought that most of us would glide into heaven if what was asked of us was to be fair. Yet we hear in the Gospel a step beyond being fair. We are invited into an imitation of the way God lives. We find the example in the life of Jesus who set aside who He was so that He could be with us. He became one like us so that we could have life because of Him.
I know all of us are conscious that today is Mother’s Day. We have in the human experience of a Mother’s love indeed of a parent’s love the willingness to set aside one’s self do that another might have life.
When a mother gets up in the middle of the night to clean up the mess that a child who is sick has caused it is not because she thinks someday that child will do it for her. A parent’s love does not think of self but only what the child needs.
When a Mother endures the harshness of some thoughtless words or criticism there is the pain and the hurt but the reason the pain and the hurt is so deep is because the love for the child is even deeper. If anyone else were to make the same statement it would not hurt as much because of the love that parents have for their chidden.
We see in the relationship of parents for their children and the other life giving relationships the difference between fairness and the kind of love that Jesus calls us to have for one another.
More often than not anytime when we have been forgiven it is not because we deserve to be forgiven or that we really have made up for the harm we have done. Often we are unable to make up for the damage our selfishness or our meanness has caused. What makes it possible for others to forgive us is their love not because they are being fair or just. As a matter of fact there have been times we cannot believe that someone has forgiven us. We think in truth that we do not deserve to be forgiven. That is true we don’t deserve. It is not a question of fairness but a reflection of the kind of love that God has for us. Jesus put aside himself so that we might have life. Mothers, indeed all parents, continually put aside themselves so that their children might have life. That kind of love tells us what it means to be the Lord’s disciple.
There is this story about Jim. He lived a trouble life from his earliest years. There were a number of schools that he was kicked out of. He had trouble with the law. The police frequently called his parents in the middle of the night to come to the station to get their son. Jim did not finish high school. He began to disappear for days then weeks. When he was gone was the only time the family had peace. There were five siblings who were well familiar with the heartache he caused their parents and family.
One Christmas morning when the family was gathered in the kitchen for Christmas breakfast. The phone rang. The mother answered it. There was silence throughout the family. They all heard her say “Merry Christmas, Jim”. They continued to listen silently protesting as they heard her say “Yes Jim we are having dinner at five. Your Father and I will always welcome you home”. After she hung up the phone everyone chimed in with his or her objections that Jim was going to ruin another Christmas. The mother simply said, "What could I do? He belongs to us.” It was not a case of fairness or justice but it was an example of the Lord’s commandment that we have love for one another as God has love for us.
Homily preached at 5:00 Saturday and 9:30 Sunday liturgies, May12/13, 2001
Reverend William D. Mannion