Celebrating mothers, Mary in May
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As the Easter season continues, we journey in faith alongside the Risen Savior and his Apostles. The Good News of his victory over sin and death seeps deeper into our hearts. The preaching of his resurrection, of his mercy and forgiveness for our sins, of the cleansing waters of baptism which flowed from his wounded side on the cross, fills us with deeper joy. His divine power as Lord and shepherd calls to us, and we are moved to follow. We are “his people, the sheep of his flock,” because we share in the paschal mystery of his church.
Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord, has her own special place in this salvation. In May in particular, we turn our gaze to her, filled with thanksgiving for her trusting “yes” to God, which allowed so much of God’s plan to take place for us. We honor her and venerate her for her unique vocation, and we ask for her protection and help as we too struggle to say “yes” to God in our lives.
Last week we celebrated Mother’s Day, and it’s no accident that such a day should fall during the month dedicated to Mary, the mother of God and of the church. Each of us, of course, is happy to have a mother, and most of us can barely begin to count the ways our mothers worked and sacrificed for us. As little children, we took our mother’s love for granted, trusting her love and wisdom always to be there for us. Then, perhaps, we rebelled as teenagers, before later, as adults ourselves, coming to understand better what maternal love truly means and appreciating it more fully. A mother is the heart of a family, even when she is not the face of it.
So it is, too, with the church we have received from Christ and the apostles. The church is certainly our mother, in a spiritual sense. She labors to give birth to us in baptism. She feeds us with what St. Paul calls “the milk of the Gospel,” until we are ready for solid food, and of course for the Holy Eucharist. She has so much holy love and wisdom to share with us, while we, often rebellious, think we must, or even can, figure life out for ourselves. She is always ready to receive us back again if we have strayed, however prodigal we may have become. She rejoices in all our successes and mourns with us whenever we fall. She treats us just like a loving mother. We are all her children, in ways almost too deep for words to describe.
This reality is not merely a metaphor, not simply an emotional description of what the church means to us. If it were merely that, we could have the same experience and relationship with other groups of people, and receive from them the same kind of “life-giving” wisdom. But just as it is impossible to be born of two physical mothers, so it is impossible to have another spiritual mother. The school, the neighborhood, various groups, any political or voluntary association – these may be very good communities, worth belonging to and supporting, but none of them can give us what the church gives us. Her love and forgiveness, her nourishing wisdom and tender laws, her guidance and strength are unique and irreplaceable, precisely because she has received them from Christ in order to give them to us.
Our mother remains our mother when we are ungrateful and disobedient. Her love for us is not false, just because we don’t return it. Her wisdom is not false, just because we think it foolish. The signs of meaning and identity that she would have us accept are not empty, just because we look elsewhere.
So, again, the church is this kind of mother, too. Her love for us is God’s love for us, poured out upon the cross and into the church which carries it. It is true love, though we may flee from its cost. Her wisdom, in the Scripture and the sacraments, the magisterium and the tradition, is true wisdom received from God. Its unpopularity today makes it no less true, and the things which contradict it no less false and misleading. Her special signs – our Catholic devotions and traditions like adoration, the rosary, meatless Fridays, or a celibate priesthood – are not empty of meaning, despite the world’s deafness to them, but transforming gifts that shape us like Christ, her perfect bridegroom.
The church always remains our mother. In different ways, but with the same heart and devotion, we owe our spiritual mother the same love and obedience we give our human mother.
Please pray for me, and for our mother, the church, who is so badly misunderstood and mistreated in so much of the world. Pray for those God is calling to be priests and religious, so that they can take up their role in God’s salvation and help our mother, the church, be healthy and holy.
Please pray for mothers, especially those who are young, alone, abused, or afraid, and who might be considering abortion. May the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and your love and encouragement help them find the strength and commitment to be open to life.
I pray with you and for you. Continued Easter blessings!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City