Pastoral Message – May 14, 2023

Pastoral Message – May 14, 2023

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Happy Mother’s Day! Whether you are a new mother, a mother for many years, an expectant mother, or simply a son or daughter of a mother, you certainly understand the essential truths that define motherhood. I would suggest that those truths include being selfless, compassionate, understanding, patient, kind and loving. A mother motivates, encourages, disciplines, instructs, and listens. Perhaps the most impressive quality of an “ideal” mother (for instance, our Blessed Mother) is that she expects absolutely nothing for herself in return. Similarly, Jesus loves us unconditionally – regardless of what we think, say or do.

Like God, a mother is love. In fact, an ideal mother is “love in action.” I love this phrase, because it reminds me of the ideal Jesuit – “contemplative in action.” In other words, neither love nor contemplation of God is a passive or stationary undertaking. Both require a great deal of intentional effort. While most mothers and children are unable to achieve the perfect relationship, each mother and each child strives, with the best possible intentions, to achieve that ideal standard.

Neither Jesus nor our mothers require anything from us. Yet, our love for them should inspire us to obey them. As Jesus points out above, if we truly love Him we will keep His commandments. Just as our deep love for our mothers will inspire us to be intentional in our obedient response to their intentional love.

A mother’s intentional love of her child is reflected in her actions throughout each day and throughout the child’s life. It is manifested each time she intentionally gets up in the middle of the night to tend to and comfort her newborn baby; or when she intentionally gives up her lunch to her son when he drops his on the ground; or when she intentionally rushes to her daughter’s school when her daughter needs her. Being a loving mother (like being a Catholic Christian) is not an accident. It is intentional.

Peter tells us that we must also be intentional when we encounter the world around us: “Christians must be ready to give an answer for their hope – for why they believe what they believe.” Why would Christians be asked to give a defense of their faith? Because a Christian’s behavior and example should stand out as different from the world. When we follow the commandments, our example shines like a light in this dark world. Our reflection of God’s Word sanctifies us (sets us apart) because it reveals a way of life that is diametrically opposed to the standards of those who live in the world around us.

This is why Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will follow His commandments. This same structure applies to a mother and child. Young people generally crave structure in their lives. They often want something solid, something real out of those that are supposed to guide them like their faith leaders and their parents. If things seem too vague or ordinary, they typically respond poorly. Research shows that kids whose parents teach them the meaning of discipline and responsibility typically learn how to function in the world quicker than those kids who have parents that provide little structure and few constraints. Often, kids who had parents who always defended their actions and allowed them do pretty much anything they wanted, tended to exhibit visible problems with emotional and psychological development. They were lacking something vital to their development: order, meaning and purpose.

While it is generally commendable that mothers (and fathers as well) are quick to defend their children, it is equally disturbing that most of us are not as quick to offer a defense for our faith. We defend our children even though we recognize that, from time to time, our children may be “spinning” the story to their advantage or may be completely at fault. Yet, we are reluctant to tell others about our faith in Jesus for fear that we will be mocked or otherwise embarrassed. Imagine that! We will defend our children (who may not be the most reliable sources of information), but we refuse to defend our faith in Jesus (who is, in fact, the Truth).

Providing a “defense” or giving an “answer” for our faith (our hope) is based on a Greek word “apologia” which conveys the idea of “defending” something as a lawyer would defend her case in court. That same Greek gives us the word “apologetics” which is “the discipline of defending” the Christian faith. Peter encourages all Christians to be prepared to give an answer or defense when someone asks us the reason for our faith and for the hope that we have. However, as noted above, our actions – in accord with the commandments – can often be our strongest apologetic argument.

Of course, whether we are defending our children or our faith, we may not always be successful in persuading those who challenge us. We can offer sound reasons, but we cannot force someone to believe those reasons. We can refute the poor arguments, but still not persuade the other person. We may be able to silence the critic, but only God can open his heart. The point is that, whether in parenting or in apologetics, we are only asked to do our best: to be both caring and firm; to be both confident and loving; to be both persistent and compassionate.

Once again, Happy Mother’s Day!

Fr. Mike

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