Happy Mother’s Day to our moms today! May this day recall to your mind all the wonder and joy that being a mother can be; and may God renew you in His Holy Spirit to rear-up your children in, what Saint Paul calls; “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ep. 6:4). Rearing children is a life-long endeavor. It doesn’t end when they turn 18, get a “real” job, move out, get married or have children of their own; the work should, however, become easier.
My homily today is geared towards mothers, but I hope to have something to say for everyone since all of us have a mother. In our Gospel today, we have Philip asking The Lord to “show him the Father.” Saint John’s recounting of the event is very dramatic – I think we all can hear the anguish, exasperation and fatigue in Jesus’ voice when He says to Philip; “Have I been with you so long, and yet you don’t know me?”
Have you ever been there mom? Anguish, exasperation and fatigue over your children no matter their age or independence?
Ever wonder if the loving instruction you give and show in every meal you plan and cook; the baskets of laundry you sort, wash, sort again and fold; every bed-time story carefully selected and read; every bath; every cuddle; every trip to the doctor; every comforting word and touch; and every “I love you” is impressing on your children that you are their mother?
But what is a mother? While it’s true in the scientific sense that all you must be is an ova donor to be a mother, nobody really buys that that’s all there is to it. Science, and not to disparage it too much, but, as usual, only tells us a small part of the reality of the world around us. The word “mother” is one of the oldest words in the English language. So old, in fact, that it might go back to the Tower of Babel. All modern languages – even languages that have no known historical connections – bear an uncanny similarity when comparing the word for mother – which demonstrates that it goes back to a most ancient mother-tongue. It is a word with an abyss of human history and experience, and is loaded with more meaning than we alone can possibly appreciate. But we can at least appreciate and know who and what our own mother is to us; and in so doing appreciate what mothers have been for all humans from Eve forward. They are nurtures, feeders, shepherdesses, teachers and protectors [shield maidens] of their children. Without a mother (and here I’m not only speaking of our biological mother, but mother in the sense of our primary nurturer) human beings cannot flourish.
Thank you, mothers, for all you do.
And back to our Gospel, I don’t want to pick on Philip, because he probably wasn’t alone in his thinking, I’d guess there were several other disciples who said to themselves; “Yeah, Rabbi, show us the Father – we can’t wait to see Him!” To which Our Lord then gives His exasperated reply.
Do we, as children of someone, ever drive our mother (or even our father) to feel as Our Lord did? Making our parents wonder if all of their sacrifice and labors on behalf of their children is making a difference or at least as big a difference as they wished it to make? Could your parents say of you; “Have I been giving you my best and giving you my all; and yet you still don’t understand that it’s because I love you and want you to have the best I can give?” Have you ever treated your mother worse than you would a complete stranger you casually meet on the street?
Our soul’s greatest hunger is for God. As Saint Augustine once said; “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Conf. 1). As I said, Mother’s Day is quintessentially a celebration of the mother that nurtures us. So, we each search, wittingly or not, in the world around us for a disclosure of that which will nurture us; for a heart that loves us and that can be loved by us – for a place where we can find rest. We get that first taste of rest, comfort, nurture and love from our earthly mother; and through it we develop a natural longing and hunger for more.
That nurture we receive from our earthly mother is mysterious and radical in that it informs – at the root and without our active will – our appetite and discernment for all else that can nurture us. Just so, as the babe can never fully comprehend its mother; it is true that our discrete soul can never fully comprehend our God. But we long for a personal experience – for the nurturing life – for a face that is the face of rest and peace.
Our earthly mother is the impetus that drives us towards our super-earthly Mother, the Church. The Blessed Virgin Mary being the face of that same mother – she has spiritually adopted us and nurtures us in the height, length and breadth of her Divine Son. In Him, we find rest, and we can thank our nurturing mother for putting us on the proper course towards Him.