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Sermon / Homily for Mothers' Day

Sermon for Mothers' Day

by Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman,
Presiding Bishop, United Catholic Church


1 Kings 3: 16-28
Proverbs 31: 10-31
John 19: 25-27
John 13: 31-35

Many years ago, when our children were very small, Maggie and I took them on a trip to visit my parents in Laguna Beach, California. We dragged out all the suitcases and began to pack them. In the middle of all this, Maggie comes in with her arms loaded with stuffed animals, one for each of the children. I immediately protested, "There's no room for stuffed animals. We're going to be lucky to get all their clothes in these suitcases. And whatever doesn't fit in the suitcases isn't going. It's hard enough to just get the kids in the car."

I don't remember the details, but when we got to our destination and opened the suitcases, out popped all these stuffed animals. Maggie had worked and worked, packing and repacking until she got in all the clothes the kids really needed ... plus all the stuffed animals. And of course she was right. The children would be sleeping in a strange place, most of them on the floor. They needed those stuffed animals far more than they did more changes of clothes. I had been approaching it very logically and intelligently. But Maggie understood the needs of the children, and met them. I led with my head. She led with her heart. She's a mother, and that's what mothers do.

Today is Mothers' Day, and we celebrate all those innumerable times when we were rescued by the heart of a mother. Happy Mothers' Day to all you mothers here.

Now everyone knows that a good homily has three main points. But alas, Mothers' Day is so rich that I'm afraid there are four main points I must cover. The first is the motherhood of all human mothers, especially our own and those among us. The second is the special motherhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The third is the motherhood of God. And the fourth is the social application of motherhood, peace.

What does motherhood mean?

First, it means sharing in the creative power of God. Conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to a human being is as close as any person can come to the act of creation. That is the beginning of motherhood. But it is far from the end. Motherhood is also nurturing, sacrificing, loving, and ultimately letting go. (The first reading, about the two women before Solomon, each claiming to be a baby's mother, is an extreme example of how sometimes loving can mean letting go. As the real mother found out, sometimes being willing to let go is the only way to hold onto your child.) In these ways, too, mothers reflect the nature, the actions, and the being of God. We are grateful to our mothers. I am grateful to my mother --- and to Deacon Maggie, the mother of our seven wonderful children. And we are grateful to God for giving us our mothers, and for being the source and font of their motherhood.

The second point to be celebrated today is the special motherhood of Mary.

As she says in the Magnificat, "All generations will call me blessed." Why do we call her blessed? Because she was honored with the special privilege of being the mother of Jesus, the Word made flesh, God incarnate. She was given a great gift. But is this why we honor her, for being extremely lucky? Do we honor someone for winning the lottery? Well, maybe we do, but we shouldn't. Do we honor Mary for her virginity? We shouldn't. It was not at all uncommon for girls her age to be virgins. No, what makes Mary worthy of honor is her motherhood -- and not just the biological part. God could have used the womb of any one of thousands of Jewish girls of that day. But motherhood is more than that. God chose her because he knew she would also do the nurturing, the sacrificing, the loving, and the letting go. And in Mary's case, this wasn't easy, especially the letting go.

We also honor Mary because she knew all this would be difficult when she agreed to it. She knew the suspicion and shame her pregnancy would bring upon her. Being an unwed mother wasn't any easier then than it is now. Yet she said yes to God, and became the first Christian. Ordained by God, not man, she was in a very real way the first Christian priest. After all, she changed bread and wine, ordinary food and drink, into the body and blood of Jesus -- in her womb for nine months. Those of us who have followed her in the priesthood bring Jesus into the world in the form of bread and wine. Every one of us, all Christians, royal priesthood, bring Jesus to the world through our example. Mary did it in flesh and blood. And for this, all generations will call her blessed. But we honor her more for the part of her motherhood that only began in that Bethlehem cave.

The third point of my sermon is the motherhood of God.

We have talked about how mothers, including Mary, share in the creative actions of God. We have also noted that the nurturing, sacrificing, loving acts of mothers reflect the nature of God. It follows, therefore, that God's nature includes all the maternal instincts and qualities.

It is also indisputable that God's creative power is complete and undivided. God even gave some animals (like amoeba) the power to reproduce themselves. But in others, like man, God divided his creative power between male and female, so that they would have to come together to reproduce. (By the way, thank you, Lord, for this must agreeable arrangement, this most pleasant plan!) Obviously, God is the source and model of both male and female.

Mothers: be assured, you are made every bit in God's image, and perhaps even more so than us who mirror only the fatherhood of God. God is love, the Gospel says, and you mothers are the highest created implementation of that love. You reflect the motherhood of God.

Finally, it is fitting that on Mothers' Day we reflect on the social application of motherhood -- peace.

Mothers' Day, contrary to popular wisdom, was not invented by the Florists' Association; nor by the telephone company. Mothers' Day was invented by a mother protesting the killing of World War I. She got other mothers to protest, too, and pretty soon Congress got in the act. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson pronounced the second Sunday in May as Mothers' Day, a day dedicated not to honoring mothers, but to honoring their wishes -- that the killing be stopped.

This aspect of Mothers' Day is too often ignored, even by the church. It should not be. It is central to the whole idea of motherhood, including the motherhood of God. You mothers know the pain of seeing your children fighting and hurting each other. Can you imagine the pain of seeing one of your children kill another? Can you imagine seeing your children divide into opposing armies and slaughter each other? That's what war is to God.

It is not enough to set aside a day to honor mothers. We must devote ourselves to ridding our social institutions of the violence and killing which have caused so many mothers so much pain and grief. We must try to imbue our institutions, including the church, with the ideals and attitudes of motherhood. We must strive for a society which reflects the nurturing, the sacrificing, and the loving of mothers. For then they will also reflect the nurturing, the sacrificing, and the loving of God, the mother of us all.

Finally, I wish to come back to my first point, honoring our own mothers and the mothers of our children for who they are and for what they do. In that vein, I'd like to tell you a true story about a mother. This story is told by Nan Pinkston, a nurse in a cancer ward, and herself a mother. This is how she remembers it:

I remember the day she was admitted to the ward. As I reviewed her admission papers, I was surprised to see that she was 32 and being admitted for chemotherapy to treat breast cancer that had been diagnosed two weeks earlier. I entered the room and introduced myself. Rebekah, her eyes sparkling with love and her ponytail bouncing, introduced me to her husband, Warren, and her daughters, Ruthie, age six, and Hannah, age four. Cradled in her crossed legs wiggled her third daughter, Molly, age two.

While I filled out forms, Rebekah directed the unpacking of her suitcase — a comforter made by her grandmother, a poster of cheer from her church circle, and a family portrait for her bedside table, along with her worn Bible. Warren gathered the girls to go to the airport to pick up Grandmother.

"I need to place a needle in your arm to give you the chemotherapy," I explained.

"I'll do anything to get well for my husband and girls. I can handle throwing up, losing my hair, and being tired, but I'm absolutely terrified of needles." Rebekah's voice shook and her eyes brimmed with tears.

"You can cry, but please don't move. On the count of three ..."

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Rebekah said loudly as the needle slid smoothly into the vein. With the successful completion of the intravenous, Rebekah asked, "What is your favorite Bible verse?"

"John 11:35," I answered. "Jesus wept."

"Oh! That's a sad verse," she replied, a bit somberly.

"It brings me comfort, knowing that Jesus is sad when bad things happen to his people. It demonstrates to me a human side of him that I need to know when I care for sick people. I know he can and will heal the sick, but returning to health can entail sad times, so I know he is there to support me in the sad times so that I can support patients."

"I'll have to give that some thought," replied Rebekah.

For the next 18 months, I saw Rebekah on a regular basis to receive chemotherapy and radiation. A chest X-ray showed the cancer had spread and there were no further medical weapons to use against the cancer. How could I support her in this new challenge?

I entered Rebekah's room and found it cluttered with paper, tapes, and a tape recorder. "Nan, I'm making tapes for my daughters, to know what I feel, think, and advise on important occasions. I don't want them to forget me. Do you have any suggestions?"

I looked over her list — first day of school, becoming sweet 16, first date, first kiss, confirmation, etc. She let me listen to the tapes, which were moving and filled with motherly advice, encouragement, and love. Rebekah taped each day from her notes as she grew weaker and weaker.

Rebekah explained to her young daughters that she was making special tapes that their dad would keep for them to listen to later. She explained that she was going to live with God and help him get a home ready for them when they were very old.

We all knew the end was approaching. I was surprised when I got a frantic phone call at home from a nurse who said that Rebekah was pleading — begging that I come with a blank tape. Making a mental checklist of all the tapes she had made, I could not imagine what topic could have possible been forgotten.

Entering Rebekah's room, I noticed she was having severe shortness of breath and was very anxious, gasping, "Nan, do you have the tape?"

"Take a deep breath. Of course I have the tape," I replied.

As I set up the tape recorder, she explained, "This is my most important tape." I held the microphone close to her mouth and she began, "Ruthie, Hannah, and Molly, some day your daddy will bring a new mommy home. I want you to make her feel very special, and how proud you will make me feel if you are kind, patient, and encouraging to her as she learns to take care of each of you. Help her set the table. Please bring her dandelions to put in the special vase — most important, hug her often. Please do not be sad for long. ‘Jesus cried.' He knows how sad you are and he knows you will be happy again. I love you so much, Hannah, Ruthie, and Molly. Big hugs, your first mommy."

I turned off the tape player. "Thank you. I can sleep now."

I adjusted the pillow under her head and rolled a pillow to her back and exited quietly.

Rebekah died two days later.

I mailed the tape to their dad four years later when Warren and the girls prepared to welcome their new wife and mommy.

Since time began, there have been maybe six billion mothers. This was the story of just one of them. In this case, as with Mary the mother of Jesus, the hardest part was probably the letting go. Other times, it's something else. Every story of motherhood is different. Each one is valuable. I'm sure each of you has your own. Today is a day for remembering those stories.

Mothers, we honor you this day and every day. We thank you, and we thank God for giving you to us and for endowing you with the spirit of giving, caring, nurturing, loving, and (when necessary) letting go.

Let us pray.

God our Mother and Father, rid our hearts and minds of all feelings and attitudes which do not reflect your loving kindness. Bless all mothers. Reward them for their sacrifice and their faithfulness to your image. Give them the strength to endure the pain that often accompanies the task of mothering.

And Lord, have mercy on us males who have so often been the cause of their suffering. Help us abandon violence and more faithfully reflect the wonderful maleness and fatherhood in you that we too often fail to imitate.

We thank you for our mothers and for that part of you we have received through them. Finally, we pray that you will never let us forget the stories which remind us how much our mothers and wives have given us.

We ask this, emboldened by your Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

See Also:

More Sermons for Mothers' Day

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