Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.
In the Western Christian liturgical tradition, the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent has five more names. That one—the Fourth Sunday in Lent—as well as Laetare Sunday (because the first words of the Mass used to be “Laetare Jerusalem”, meaning “Rejoice, Jerusalem”); Rose Sunday, both because Popes used to bless a gold ornament in the shape of a rose and because rose-colored vestments are permitted on this day; mid-Lent Sunday, because it falls halfway between the beginning of Lent and Easter Sunday; Refreshment Sunday, because those keeping the Lenten fasting practice were encouraged to take a break, such as by eating sweet or rich foods; and finally, this day is called Mothering Sunday, which is the origin of our Mother’s Day. A lovely tradition of Mothering Sunday still widely observed is the Simnel Cake, a delicious cake blessed during the Mass and enjoyed during coffee hour. There are in fact more names for this day, which attests to its popularity among the laity; but I think six names are enough to mention at this point.
I have a particular fondness for the association of this day as Mothering Sunday. God commands us, of course, to honor our mother, as well as our father. The particular bonds of deep affection a mother has for her child are something no mother needs explained to them, and no father best question.
And the same applies toward our spiritual and baptismal Mother, who is Blessed Mary. Can there be any doubt that Mary loves the Church with profound affection? The Church is made up of those people we are baptized into the Body of Jesus—baptized the Body of her Son. A Son whose nature and parentage were revealed to Mary, announced to Mary, by the archangel Gabriel; a Son who when still very young was proclaimed to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel”, that a sword would pierce through Mary’s soul also, an image that led Mary to the foot of the Cross.
And it was at the foot of the Cross that Mary heard the words of Jesus, in fact the third of the seven Last Words of Jesus, spoken also to John the Beloved Disciple. The words were: “Mother, behold your son”; and “Behold, your mother.” Let us try to hear this third word in the voice of Jesus, nailed to the Cross—spoken by our Lord Jesus with tremendous love, clarity, and strength. This is a family moment toward which we must have our highest reverence and respect. Every moment around which a family is gathered at the dying of a member of their family deserves profound reverence and respect; even moreso when the person dying is the Son of the Most High who took our nature for the salvation of all people past, present and future.
Can we doubt that Mary obeyed her Son and Lord to the fullest, seeing in Him at this moment in a new depth, her soul pierced by profound grief? Seeing the beloved disciple John even as her son—to love, to pray for, to teach, even at times to admonish—to give the beloved disciple all the love she would give Jesus Himself. To love the beloved disciple for the Jesus that he already was, being baptized, and still more for the Jesus that the beloved disciple would become.
And to the Beloved Disciple, Jesus also says words of affection: “Behold, your mother.” Can we doubt for a moment that John obeyed Jesus to the fullest, seeing both the divinity of Jesus but also the sanctity and holiness of Mary? Can we doubt that John would have been experiencing emotions similar to what the words of that familiar prayer must point to: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Being deprived of his Lord, John would find solace, consolation, and sustenance in knowing that through his relationship with Mary, John would always find Jesus. Through his relationship with Mary, John would always walk as a child of light.
And so what does this teach us about forgiveness? It teaches that in our understandable, even righteous, anger toward those that hurt us and wounded us, let us think of Jesus hanging on the Cross. Let us realize that in our suffering, we too have a family which is the Church. Let us, then, in our suffering and hurt, be imitators of God, as beloved children. Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Let us remember that He did this by giving His Mother Mary to the Beloved Disciple, and indeed to all disciples. In our suffering, let us behold Mary, for Jesus has given His Mother to us to be our Mother also. He has incorporated us into this unspeakably reverent family moment at the foot of the Cross so that we can be, and become ever-more, full members of this divine Family where suffering and loss become joy and abundant gain. What grace God has given us to witness and share in this gentle, quiet and tender moment between Mother, Son, and Disciple. May we always be awake by the grace of God to this mystery. Amen.
Cover image “Crucifixion of Jesus” by Dionisius is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.