“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is John 15:9–17:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”
I’d like to start this reflection by wishing a happy and blessed Mothers Day to all Hot Air readers today. I’m fortunate to be able to send those wishes in my own family in multiple directions; later today, we’ll have a chance to have a late brunch with our wonderful daughter-in-law, our son, and our granddaughters to celebrate the first gift of love that almost all of us experience. Even before we know how to recognize love, we experience it in the arms of our mothers (and our fathers). It’s the closest most of us will know in the corporeal world of self-sacrificial and self-emptying love.
The Holy Family provides us a wonderful model for this love. The Gospels give us a closer look at Mary than they do of Joseph, but both received a calling from the Lord to shepherd the Good Shepherd at the expense of their own expectations of life. The Annunciation to Mary gets most of the attention, but Joseph received an annunciation of his own (Matthew 1:20-25), and yet another vision for his calling to keep safe the Savior (Matthew 2:19-22). The original betrothal plans of Mary and Joseph and the plans for living quietly in Nazareth as normal members of the small community were dashed, and instead the two had been set on a frightening path, one that could easily have gotten them killed in any number of ways under normal conditions.
Yet they both trusted God, and they loved their son. Joseph taught Jesus his trade as fathers did, making sure He would have the skills to provide for Himself when it became necessary. He took Jesus to the temple at 12 to provide for his religious education, although Jesus demonstrated immediately that neither of His parents would have much concern in that area. Mary spent her life devoted to her son, cradling Him at birth and at death in that tragic parallel provided in the Gospels.
Mary provides us a particular example of this self-emptying love that serves as a model for us in approaching holiness. Mary aligns herself to the will of God perfectly, accepting the hardships and suffering that follows, in order to pave the way for salvation. Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 2:25-35) remains with Mary her whole life, including how “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”
For most of us, that kind of warning would have us pulling back, reserving our attachment, protecting ourselves in advance from the heartbreak and tragedy that portends. Not Mary, though; she fully embraces both God’s mission and her own son in love and service. Mary accompanies Jesus through His mission, which she must know will end in His death, and in fact provides the spark for its beginning at the wedding feast of Cana. She embraces the sorrow and the mystery, trusting in the Lord that His plan will bring bountiful blessings. She has laid down her own life, or her conception of it as a young girl, as a sacrifice for the Lord and later for her Son.
As Mary loves Jesus, so too does God love us all. In this Gospel, Jesus underscores this teaching. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus will shortly do just that; this Gospel takes place on Holy Thursday, a day before He gives His life not just for the friends around him, but for all those who share in His sacrifice by “keep[ing] my commandments.” The Apostles will later do the same; most of them ended up as martyrs, including Peter and Paul, who were executed in Rome but began the conversion of the empire with their sacrifice.
John reminds us in his first epistle that this model begins with God:
In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
In this is love. Why has God made this marvelous sacrifice for us? Because He wants us as His children, but by our choice — that we adopt Him as our Father, as Jesus says, rather than the other way around. We had lost our way, and God sent Jesus to light the way back. That is the act of a loving parent, one who has lost children wandering far from home and wants desperately to find them and bring them back again.
This brings us back to Mary and Joseph one last time. Jesus was lost once, too — or more accurately, Mary and Joseph had lost Jesus in the confusion of travel in and out of Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52). They drop everything and return to Jerusalem to search for three days, no easy feat for a carpenter and his wife living on modest income far away from the city. Jesus, of course, is eventually found in the Father’s house, to their chagrin, but Jesus obediently leaves with them when they return.
As desperate as Mary and Joseph were to find their son, so too is the Lord to find as many of His lost children as possible. He calls us through self-emptying, self-sacrificial love to return, and the family is the model of that love and sacrifice, the echo of it here in this life. Mothers and fathers have a mission to demonstrate that kind love, however imperfectly, in order for us to get a glimpse of the kind of love God has for us all. Take today to thank the mothers in your life for fulfilling the Lord’s mission, because just as was true for Mary, it never ends — and is always a blessing.
The front page image is “Nativitá,” by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), on display at Monte Cassino, Italy. From my own photo collection.