Today in this part of the world there is the wonderful celebration of Mothers Day. It is the most popular day for the restaurant industry, the flower stores and in the memory departments of most of us. Graduates refer to their schools as their “Alma Mater” which literally means “Nourishing mother”. Religious orders refer to their foundation buildings as “Mother Houses”. Miners hitting a large strike of ore would call that hitting the “Mother Load”. WE refer to this planet as “Mother Earth”. There is something precious, like gold, nourishing, sustaining and stable about the vocation of being a mother.
As we prepare these days to remember our birth-mothers and journey toward the celebration, as well, of the Eucharist, we might reflect on how we relate with the mysterious God often as a Mother; stable, precious, tender, the Source. In most families we learned of God, not through Theology, or catechism, but through a gentle force which picked us up, sat us down, rolled us over, let us go and brought us back. We can pray with the memories of how our mothers brought us to life and played their part in bringing God to life for us as well.
Relationships do change behavior. The early apostles were influenced greatly by their friendship with Jesus. They were religiously faithful to their Jewish traditions, such as circumcision, and other rituals of bodily and communal purification. Chapter seventeen of the Book of Leviticus relates clearly some of these laws which were the Word of God.
What we hear of in today’s First Reading is a developmental situation. The Acts of the Apostles is a book dedicated to the workings of the Holy Spirit in spreading the relationship with Jesus within a growing and non-Jewish community. The question Paul and Barnabas are facing is - what do converts from paganism have to do to be in the, what we would call, the Church. Do the men have to be circumcised? Are the purification rules for women and eating laws binding on the converts?
Some of the Jerusalem head-office have come down to Antioch and were instructing the new-comers that they must observe all the old Jewish rituals of purity. Paul and Barnabas, who were formerly quite religiously Jews, begin to reflect on just how Jesus, during His time with the apostles, dealt with these very same laws and rituals. They decide to have a literally, “Come-to-Jesus” meeting about this issue. What we hear is the letter or decree which is sent to the new communities. It is a long letter meant to restore peace of mind and heart to the newly converted. There are some things which are required which are stated near the end of the letter and which are mentioned in the chapter from Leviticus cited above. It is so helpful to remember that relationships change behaviors, but without the preexisting relationships, the changes are meaningless. Paul and Barnabas kept preaching about the Risen Jesus Who came to free all from mere practice of laws and called all to be brothers and sisters of His and each other.
The Gospel continues the last conference-talk Jesus is giving His disciples in John’s narrative leading to the betrayal of Jesus, His death and His Resurrection. There is a peaceful tenderness about Jesus’ words and still a doomful sense of leaving them, but not totally.
In two weeks we will celebrate the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the world through the Church and before that the Ascending of Jesus from the earth into heaven. This Gospel reading is a preparing for our not experiencing being left abandoned as a Church. This fragile reality, the Church, had its problems from the earliest days when two disciples wanted preferential treatment by being guaranteed top seats when the Kingdom was to arrive. Jesus offers us a peace that the world cannot give. The world gives a temporary stillness when there is perfection or accomplishment. Jesus is the Fullness of Creation and He associates from the beginning with the fragmented and incomplete. His peace comes from the embrace He extends to the disciples and through them to us. His peace is not predicated on our perfection or achievements. His peace flows from His perfect embrace of our imperfect struggles to follow Him in bringing this world to His peace. The world applauds, celebrates and moves on to the next superiffic person or persons. Jesus’ peace is a covenant, a completion of God’s creation.
My own mother gave peace to us not like the world gives. She, by her own self, had her husband, the father of us three, confined to a state hospital for six months to detoxify him from “the drink” as it was known in our Irish community. We have hand-written letters from Dad explaining how things were going to be lots better and a lot sooner if she would let him out. She didn’t! She was giving us and him peace in the many ways of God’s giving peace. It was neither through denial, avoidance, easy solutions nor through anger. She loved him beyond all that and loved us as well. She ordered peace through hope and got a job to sustain that peace, not as the world does.
Three more children later, for all those years later, our mother remained the source, the stable force, the precious stillpoint in a family which more than survived, but flourished and not as the world flourishes.
The Church which is the extension of the person and Mission of Jesus receives its peace from the active stillpoint of the peaceful hands even when it experiences its fragility, fragmentation and disorders. Jesus, give us Your peace.
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