The Gospels speak of Jesus giving his disciples a new commandment: that they love one another as He has loved. To love as Jesus loved is no easy task. We are all influenced by our own likes or dislikes - our own preferences or prejudices. Easy or not, this is how others will know that we are His followers. The God who is Love has commanded us to love in the same manner.
It is not easy to love. It is not easy to put another's needs before our own. Yet all of us have a person such as this in our own lives, one who exemplifies the meaning of love, one from whom we learned the meaning of love: our mother. As human beings, parenthood is the closest we come to God. God is the strength of a Father, He is the warmth and gentleness of a Mother. We are his children; He, our Parent. From Him, we have Life, we gain Hope and we learn Love.
The command to love as Christ loved sounds like an ideal almost impossible to attain, a quality to be found in exceptional persons of heroic virtue - yet in God's plan of things, we are touched by those around us whose quiet, patient and sometimes turbulent lives speak loudly of God's love.
It is just this kind of extraordinary person who begins to surround us with this God-like love from the first moment of our human life, whose eyes are the first in which we see the reflection of God's love, who translate God's goodness into a voice that soothes and comforts us, and with hands that protect and caress, whose spirit plants the seeds of love in our infant minds and hearts, and whose example of patience and forgiveness make God's love real and tangible and intimately present in our lives.
This weekend, in the United States, we celebrate Mother's Day. We remember, in a very special way our mothers - these extraordinary women who were not only the instruments through whom we have been privileged to share God's gift of life, but who have become for each of us the very first and the most significant expression of God's gift of love. From our mothers, we learn that love is of God. It is she who loved us long before we earned her love, and long after we forgot to thank her for her love. A mother's love is a reflection of God's love. A mother's dedication to her child is a testament to His steadfastness and faithfulness to us.
We learn of God's love from the mother of Jesus as well. Mary was a woman totally dedicated to God and family. She was a simple housewife, who struggled with her husband, to keep their little family together in the midst of hard times. Her daily life was not unlike that of any other woman of her time, or of our time. Yet, she totally immersed herself in her God, and in her Son's ministry. Her strength, her faith and her compassion were important components of Jesus' mission. And it was she who taught Jesus the meaning and the potential of human love. If there was ever an example of the active role of a woman in the ministry, Mary is it.
Jesus was a champion to those on the fringe; considered by some to be a prophet, a rabbi and teacher to others, the Son of God to those who came to know Him well. And He was a very troublesome embarrassment to those in mainstream religion.
His life was one big embrace. Jesus lived to bring hope, and peace, and compassion. He died for those in prison, for the homeless, for the poor, the prostitutes and sinners, the rejected and the despised. He took time to heal those possessed, the leprous, the dying. He loved them as much as he loved all.
And His command to love one another takes on a communal character in our lives as we struggle each day as members of His Church.
We call the church: "Holy Mother Church." The current crisis of scandal has caused many to question and re-think many of the traditional structures of this organization to which we belong. Some see this as the decline of the Church as a model of moral leadership in our troubled world. Still others find it almost impossible to see "Mother Church" as an expression of God's love.
But most us believe that our church will emerge from this crisis as a stronger and more powerful model of God's love.
A friend of mine is pastor of a parish that is still coming to grips with cases of priestly abuse from years past. He has held listening sessions, preached strongly about the crisis, and recently wrote a "pastoral letter" to his parishioners in which he said:
"Our Church is not dying; it is coming to life and the present crisis is nothing but the pains that precede the birth of a new child. We cannot lose hope, but we cannot assume that our effort will not bring further suffering and pain."
A loving mother accepts all her children equally. She allows each of her children to grow and contribute. She does not allow her children to distance themselves from one another. She listens, she comforts, she consoles, she forgives, she reconciles and she respects.
For the Church, dialog in the name of the Risen and Ascended Christ is the path to growth, reconciliation, forgiveness, love and life. Silence and repression stifles - and kills the spirit. We look back to our rich tradition and history to find the models of Mother Church, laid down as a foundation by the Apostles and we see:
- a Church of love, in which all members are equal, in which each person's gifts are respected and used.
- a Church that is mature, which accepts responsibility, openly acknowledges and is accountable for wrongdoing and abuses of power.
- a Church which affirms, supports, encourages and works for reconciliation and justice in the light of the Gospel.
- a Church with a re-evaluated priesthood, so that the priesthood of all the baptized is acclaimed.
- a Church which looks to the future, in which decision making is honestly shared by all: in Council, synod, diocese and parish.
- a Church of Community, rooted in the Life and Actions of Christ - not lost in legalism - which welcomes all unconditionally, rather than causing guilt and fear.
By commanding us to love, Jesus asks us to become instruments of something we didn't fully expect and of something we can never fully understand. We have models to guide us: our own mothers, His mother, Holy Mother Church. But it is up to us to begin the journey.
That's the journey we are taking. That's the work we are to do. That's the kingdom this resurrected and now-ascended Jesus has promised to all of us. And we also have His promise that the Spirit will be making the journey with us.