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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mystery of Suffering Love

Today, the Universal Church celebrates the 3rd Sunday of Easter.  In the United States, May 8th, the second Sunday of the month, also holds a special significance, as it is Mother's Day.  In England, I believe that (and I invite my UK readers to correct me on this), that Mother's Day is celebrated during Laetare Sunday, calling to mind a medieval custom where the laborers were allowed to go home during that time to visit their mothers.  

A prelate friend of mine noted that Mother's Day is a secular holiday.  There is valid concerns when we try to insert a secular holiday into the Church's liturgy.  However, having said that, he explained that the vocation of motherhood and the Church, and yes, even Christ's sacrifice, are intrinsically united.

In St. John's Gospel account, Jesus always refers to "His hour".  In the Jewish culture, "the hour" was not about someone's death; it referred to the appointed time for an expectant mother to give birth.  It is actually rather interesting that, at the Cana wedding feast, when Jesus tells His mother that "His hour" had not come yet, Mary still tells the waiters to "do whatever He tells you."  Mary, who gave Him life at "her hour", was now ushering her Son into his. 

But, there is also another "hour" to which Jesus refers. It is the hour of His supreme sacrifice, His Passion, Death and Resurrection.  He likens this "hour" to a woman in labor pangs.  When a woman is in labor, the pains and depth of suffering are great; yet, inspite of the agony, there is also joy, the joy that comes in bringing new life into the world.  Adam did not experience any pain when Eve was brought forth from his side.  God caused a deep sleep on Adam.  He felt nothing.  However, the new Adam, Jesus, experience the full brunt of the agony and the pain.  Pope Benedict XVI observes that from Christ's open side, as He hung on the Cross, at the moment when blood and water gushed forth, the Church, like Eve, came into existence.  But, Jesus was not alone when His hour came; once again, Mary was there, too, joining interiorly in His sufferings, uniting her broken heart to his.

In that walk to Emmaus, Jesus explains to Cleopas and the other disciple that suffering constituted an essential component in the Messiah's work.  I am actually surprised that Cleopas had so many questions, as the Gospels record his own wife, Mary, as being there at the cross as well, joining the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene.  Perhaps he found his wife's account too incredulous. 

I am not a mother; I do not think that, at this point, I will ever be one.  However, having had a close bond with my own mother, who has since gone on to her reward (but, for whom I still pray, nonetheless), I know that suffering is a major component in the vocation of motherhood.  My mother made many sacrifices for me.  She also made many sacrifices as she was growing up, helping to take care of her siblings.  She always placed the needs of her brothers and sisters ahead of her own.  After she and my father married and I came along, my mother made do without many things so that I could go to Catholic school.  She kept the household together while my dad served as the sole breadwinner.  It was not easy, but we pulled through.  My paternal grandmother was also a woman of sacrifice, givnig up many things, as a single parent, to give my father a Catholic school education.

Towards the end of their lives, my mother and my grandmother suffered and suffered greatly.  My mother went through grueling chemotherapy treatments to combat ovarian cancer.   My grandmother died from complications that resulted from a fall.  Yet, each of them continued to pray and to offer up their sufferings to God.  

As I sat in my Jeep in front of my mom's grave (after straightening out her flowers--she would have yelled at me for being out in the South Texas 108-degree heat), I thought about the homily my prelate friend preached.  I am not worthy to be my mother's daughter because I have not suffered as much as she did, but, I thank God every day that he gave her to me as a gift, even if it was for only 26 years.  I am also grateful for his giving me the gift of a very loving paternal grandmother whom I had for nearly 40 years.  I pray that the Lord took their suffering love into account and has since welcomed both of them into the peace of His kingdom.

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