Saturday, May 9, 2015

God's Gift of Motherhood: A Homily for Mother's Day

God's Gift of Motherhood
May 10, 2015

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year B

There’s an old Jewish proverb that states, “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.” It’s an endearing sentiment to be sure – even if not quite theologically accurate – because we find an important and comforting truth hidden within these words: mothers, in a real and unique way, make manifest and visible the presence and love of our hidden God. In our earthly experience, they are the first to offer us complete care in the midst of our complete helplessness: they cradle our weak little bodies in their arms, they ease our crying with their soothing voices, they even feed us with themselves, nursing us with their own milk. They are the first to teach and instruct us: they show us how to walk and talk, they teach us how to play well with others, and they make sure we know how to take care of ourselves. They are the first to admonish us when we fail, but also the first to forgive us. They are the first to lavish a superabundance of attention and warmth upon us: they throw parties for our birthdays, they make our favorite dinners, and they ensure that there’s always more than enough to go around. They are the first to suffer for us: they endure the discomfort of childbearing and the pain of childbirth, they go through all those sleepless nights to make sure that we’re fed and safe, and they agonize when we fall sick or get hurt. They are the first to love us unconditionally, even if it seems that no one else does. In short, mothers are the first people in our lives to show us Who God is – how He acts and how He loves. His tenderness, His compassion, His warmth, His forgiveness, His generosity, His mercy, and His love are evidenced daily in the lives of these special people we call our mothers.

Motherhood is a naturally occurring state…it is written into the nature of women to be able to bear and bring new life into the world, to care for and to nourish it, and to love it intensely. But as natural as motherhood is, it is also beautifully supernatural. To be a mother is to be given a vocation by God Himself. From the moment her child is conceived in her womb, a woman becomes a participant in God’s creative plan…participating with God, and with her husband, in bringing life where there was none. And then this life is entrusted to her by God Himself. This includes caring for all of the temporal and physical and emotional needs of her child, but more importantly for his or her spiritual needs. God charges mothers will the holy task of sanctifying their children, who come from God and are meant to return to God after journeying through this life. In a sense, God whispers into the soul of each woman on whom He bestows the gift of motherhood: show your child how to love Me.

Now as beautiful and holy as motherhood is it is not without its challenges, its difficulties, and its temptations. From the very beginning motherhood has been targeted by the enemy. Knowing that it was God’s plan to create human beings in His own image and likeness through the creative love of Adam and Eve, and knowing that the gift of motherhood would be one of the most powerful manifestations of God’s love on earth, the Devil set out to undermine and to destroy Eve…not just as a woman, not just as a human being, but as a mother. By tempting Eve away from God, the Devil succeeded in casting out the purity and holiness that would have defined Eve’s own motherhood. Because of sin, she would be blinded to God’s beauty, truth, and goodness, and because of this she would be unable to love her children as perfectly as God had originally intended. We are all children of Eve, and the spiritual sickness that she contracted by disobedience to God has spread to all of us. None of us love as perfectly as we ought…and even the best mothers love imperfectly. And we must be very clear about this: just as he tempted Eve, Satan continues to tempt mothers away from their holy task. Tragically, he tempts some mothers to make terrible mistakes from the beginning of their motherhood by aborting the children in their wombs; some mothers he tempts more slowly and subtly…they become emotionally distant or self-centered; some mothers he tempts with sins against marriage, like sex outside of marriage, artificial birth control, and adultery. The Devil tempts each and every mother specifically, because he knows that if she succeeds in carrying out her holy vocation her child will attain eternal life in heaven. Motherhood is under attack and it has been since Eve. But our mothers do not fight this battle alone…God gave them, and He gave all of us, the greatest gift for the restoration of holy motherhood: the gift of His own Mother.

The key to holiness for our mothers rests in the example of the maiden from Nazareth whom God chose to bear His only-begotten Son. In His plan for the salvation of the world, God has made the Blessed Virgin Mary the New Eve, whose complete surrender and obedience to God would restore the purpose of motherhood and make the fulfillment of God’s plan for mothers possible. She shows us, but especially our mothers, what true love is and what it consists of. She shows mothers how to live chastely and purely. She walks with mothers as they agonize and worry about their children, showing them to trust God above all else. She teaches mothers how to be strong, but gentle…how to be meek and humble…how to give up everything for the sake of love. And she crushes the head of the enemy that tempts our mothers and renders him powerless over them. She is the Mother of God, and she is the mother of us all – if we remain close to her, she will lead us to her Son and she will not let us go astray.

The Great Cardinal Mindszenty, who rigorously defended the faith during the Communist occupation of Hungary, recognized that the sanctification of mothers is one of the greatest acts of Christ’s redemption. I’d like to share with you his hauntingly beautiful words: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. . . What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother?”

God gave us mothers so that we could learn how to love and how to be loved. He gave us His own mother so that all mothers, and through them all of us, could be sanctified and restored to holiness. Today, we give Him thanks for the gift of all mothers. We pray for our mothers and we ask that God strengthen them in His mercy and in His love. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Connectedness and Belonging: A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

"I am the are the branches"
May 3, 2015

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year B

Were you ever the kid on the playground that was picked last for a game of dodge ball? Or maybe the teenager in science class no one wanted to partner-up with for a project? Were you ever the young family that moved to a new home and found yourself not “fitting in” with the existing neighborhood click? Or maybe even the new priest in a parish with a culture and a way of life vastly different from your own experience? Were you ever the woman abandoned by your husband? Or maybe the man whose wife had an affair? Were you ever the person picked on for being overweight, ugly, unintelligent, or in any way different? While we may not have had all of these experiences ourselves, I think it’s fair to say that we have all shared in the common experience that underlies them: the feeling of being left out, left behind, and discarded…the feeling of being abandoned, rejected, and unwanted. The devastation of “not-belonging” can begin very early in life and can follow us all the way to the end. We want to be wanted…we desire to be desired…we long to belong. Recognizing that we are created in God’s image and likeness, and ruminating on His decree that “it is not good for man to be alone,” we can begin to understand where this comes from. As the poet John Donne eloquently states, “no man is an island.” We were not made for isolation or to be lone wolves. We were made to be with each other, to support each other, and to love each other. We were made to belong.

This may be how we were created, and it may be what we all truly long for, but we know all too well that this is not how we behave. Because of our sinful nature and the lasting effects of sin in the world and in our own hearts, we go to great lengths to separate ourselves. Sometimes we separate ourselves at the expense of someone else: by exalting ourselves in pride and putting others down, by squandering material and even spiritual goods for ourselves without considering those in need, or by becoming click-ish, arrogant, and self-centered. Other times we separate ourselves at own expense: by isolating ourselves, by building up emotional walls around our hearts, and by convincing ourselves that we are worthless and have nothing to offer anyone. Sin is the great separator – it blinds us to who we really are and what we really want, ultimately pitting us against God and against each other. Sin is the cause of our loneliness, of our feelings of abandonment, and of our experience of not belonging.

But in the midst of all this muck, we hear a voice that says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” These are the words of our Lord to the disciples in today’s gospel. They are meant to evoke the image of a beautiful, strong grape vine with many and vast branches. But far from simply being a metaphor, I think that these words are a prescription for the illness of separation that we have been talking about. The sense of belonging that we desire is not something that is going to come about by mere human efforts – there is not a humanistic ‘we are the world’ or ‘let’s all hug and get along’ solution for our separateness. We tore ourselves apart through sin, and only Christ can put us back together. He entered into our world, into the dirt of humanity, and He planted Himself, becoming the single vine that would unite and give life to all of the separated, barren, fruitless branches. He grafted and fused these lifeless branches to Himself, bringing unity where there was discord, love where there was hatred, and life where there was death.

This parable of the vine and the branches shows us that the answer to our desire for connectedness and belonging rests solely in Christ. We can make ourselves prettier and more attractive, we can change our personalities to fit in with the ‘cool kids,’ we can compromise our values and change who we are so that others will like us, we can find any number of ways to fit in, but the only way we will ever truly belong is when we allow ourselves to belong to Christ. He is the source of our belonging from the beginning; He is the One who eradicates what separates us; and He is the new vine Who unites us back to Himself and back to each other.

If you’re feeling lonely, rejected, or unwanted, don’t turn to the things of this world to fill you up, and don’t turn in on yourself and retreat into isolation…turn, rather, to Christ. Let Him connect you to His vine. Let Him breathe new life into you through His Sacraments. Let Him help you to see that you have been grafted into His Church through your baptism, that you are a member of His Body, and because of this you have the potential to bear great fruit. You are wanted, you are desired, and you do belong…not to a click, not to some collective human community, but to the Body of Christ. Live in this truth as a branch connected to the true vine, and you will belong forever.