The Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Epistle. Galatians 4. 21.
The Gospel. St. John 6. 1.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
And Jesus took the loaves ; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down
By way of beginning, let me start by wishing everyone here a happy Mothers Day! And before some of you think that I’ve gone slightly daft, let me assure you of one thing; I do indeed mean to wish everyone a happy Mothers Day, and not just the mothers and women in attendance. Whether or not I have gone slightly daft, I’ll leave to your individual opinions.
I mean to include everyone in my greeting because this day, Mothering Sunday, has significance for all of us; a significance that is nearly lost in this world today. Sadly, as with many of our most Holy Days, Mothering Sunday has been taken over by secular society, and watered down in its meaning to the point that, as with most secular preoccupations, it focuses on us, the human individual, as opposed to focusing on God.
Now some of you may recognize that I am referring to what we call “Mothers Day”, which is “celebrated” in America in the second week of May, but is also still held on this particular day in England. Please know that I do not intend to demean that day in any way. Honoring our human mothers is a worthy devotion, just as honoring our Blessed Mother is likewise worthy. But Mothers Day in “modern society” has become what may be called a “Hallmark holiday”; a marketing opportunity, an occasion for retailers to sell gifts and mementos that we may pass along to mom, to show her how much we love her. But this was never the original meaning of Mothering Sunday; At least, not the complete meaning. Let’s try to look at that complete meaning.
We begin with yet another name for this day; Laetare Sunday. This name is taken from the Introit for the Mass; “Rejoice (Laetare) ye with Jerusalem”. Today is also known as “Mid-Lent” Sunday, and it is on this day that special signs of joy are permitted in order to encourage us as we continue on through this season of penitence. We are permitted to have flowers on the altar: We use rose color vestments in honor of the Mystic Rose, our Blessed Mother, and recalling the blessed rose that in ancient tradition the pope would send to the various Catholic monarchs around the world. In the middle of this penitential season, we are given signs that are emblematic of the joys of this life, though they are restrained by the solemnity of what is to come.
We see that same restrained joy reflected in the entirety of today’s Introit, which is taken from the 66th chapter of Isaiah; “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem: and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: that ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations”. What does the prophet speak to, but to mothering? What does the prophet speak to, but to Holy Mother Church?
Next, and somewhat out of order, I bring you back to today’s Gospel; the feeding of the five thousand. Indeed, at one point in time, this Sunday was also known as “the Sunday of the Five Loaves”. In this Gospel, we hear of Our Lord’s miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes; a foreshadowing, if you will, of the Holy Eucharist. But even here we are given a sense of the responsibilities that Christ passed on to that same Holy Mother Church.
We remember the story all to well; Jesus is preaching to over five thousand people, and as evening approaches, it occurs to his disciples that not only do they not have enough to adequately feed this multitude, but they are also far removed from any place where food may be procured. They do have but five barley loaves, and two small fish, but they will not be anywhere near enough. And in any event, they have not the resources to buy sufficient food to satisfy such a crowd.
Of course, Jesus resolves this little problem. But he does so in a way that is very interesting. First, as St. John tells us, Jesus took the bread and he gave thanks, then he gave it to his disciples to distribute among the people. In other words, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, part of the Eternal Godhead, God Incarnate, GAVE TO HIS DISCIPLES, that bread that would never run out, that would never end.
Now let’s bring this down to its most basic level; The most primal duty of a father is to provide that which is necessary for his family to survive, and even to thrive. The duty of the mother is to take that which is provided by the father and, through her nurturing and love, to distribute to her children such sustenance as they require to grow and flourish.
God, the Almighty Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, provides all that is necessary for our spiritual survival. And through his Bishops and Priests, who have been commissioned to love and nurture all that has been entrusted to their care, His children are given the nourishment that they need to carry on in their daily lives. What does this example speak to, but to Holy Mother Church?
Now, we are drawn back to the Epistle for today. In this lesson, St. Paul speaks of two women, both of whom had born children by the Patriarch Abraham; Sarah, and Hagar. And here again we see an example of motherhood, but one that is born of God’s will, and not of mans.
You will recall the story; Sarah was very advanced in years, and had as yet born no son to inherit Abrahams legacy. So, in keeping with the norms of society for that day, that a man must have a male heir, Sarah directs that her servant girl, Hagar, should undertake to bear Abraham a son. And this she does, bringing into this world a boy named Ishmael. But there is something inherently wrong with this situation; because Sarah’s motivation was to satisfy the wants and desires of secular man and their expectations for the production of an heir, rather than God’s Will.
And so, when God intervened and granted Abraham a son by Sarah, it produced something of a conflict; how could the son of this servant girl be an heir along with the rightful son of Abraham’s wife?
Of course, he couldn’t. Through no fault of his own, Ishmael was a thing born of carnal desires, of human desires. However the son born of God’s promise, Isaac, is born free of any notion of legalistic societal expectation. He is born to a man to whom it has been promised that his descendants will be too abundant to number. He is born to a woman who had given up any hope of bearing a child. He is born not of a servant, but of a free woman; a child free of the narrow and legalistic confines of mans ideas and perceptions, and Blessed by the Grace of God.
Here again we see, though somewhat differently, the example of motherhood. Remember, that it is the duty of the father to provide that which is necessary for his family to survive. Remember too that it is the duty of the mother to take that which the father has provided and to nourish her children with it.
It was not possible for Abraham and Sarah, the human beings, to have a child. But at the Will of the Father of us all, God Almighty, Sarah was able to receive Abraham’s seed, and to produce a son, even after she had seemingly lost hope. And the result of God’s Will, the result of a Father providing that which is necessary, is a new creation free from the wiles of the world. What does this example speak to, but to Holy Mother Church?
By tradition Mothering Sunday was a day where young people were given time off from work to return home to visit their parents. It was also a day where these same people were called to return to their home parish, to their Mother Church. And, just as it is now with our more “secularized” holiday of Mothers Day, Mothering Sunday also brought the requirement of the giving of gifts.
But this gift-giving was not supposed to be a one-sided affair. Rather, both the children and the parents were expected to present gifts to each other. This exchange was intended to strengthen and renew the bonds of family love. This sentiment is at the heart of Mothering Sunday, and it is why it has such significance for everyone.
We have been blessed in that most of us need not take time off from work or travel arduous distances in order to come home to our Holy Mother Church. But it is at this time, on Mothering Sunday, that we must remember that it is Our Heavenly Father who has provided all that we need to grow and to thrive. He has given this gift to His bride, our Holy Mother Church, to love and to nurture and to distribute to her children, to us. This she does, freely dispensing the great gift of Grace to all those who worthily receive it.
But let us also remember that it is through the exchange of gifts that the bonds of family love are strengthened and renewed. We must likewise bring our own gifts, humble and unworthy as they may be, to present them to our parents; To God Our Father and to Our Holy Mother Church. Our gifts of thanks. Our gifts of praise. Our gifts of love. Our selves, our souls, and our bodies.
Through this exchange of gifts, we are brought closer to our Heavenly parents. We are reminded that it is only through the Will of God the Father that this spiritual bonding is possible, and further that it frees us from the evils of the world around us. We are moved to thank God that He has seen fit to delegate to His Holy Church the responsibility to love and nurture the Faith and to dispense His Grace. And through this exchange our love for our Holy Mother Church is increased, and we are inspired to join with the prophet and proclaim “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem: and be glad with her, all ye that love her”. Happy Mothers Day!