Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 10:25-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15: 9-17
9 May 2021
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers. On Friday night I went to a florist buying flowers for a young mum who had just undergone serious surgery. The florist shop was filled to the gills. I observed, “It looks as though you are in for a big weekend.” The florist’s eyes lit up. She responded, “We certainly hope so.” I detected that it was not just the prospect of added profits that contributed to her delight. A florist shop on the eve of Mother’s Day in the year after so many COVID lockdowns and with vaccinations on offer is a place of hope. The flowers speak of love and gratitude. The diversity of flowers bespeaks the diversity of mothers, each with their own beauty and resilience.
Most of us count ourselves blessed with our mothers. We would not have been, without them. We would have been lost without them. We would not be who we are, nor have achieved what we have, without them. Today is a day simply to say, “Thank you”.
We know that the world is not perfect. Not all mothers are perfect. But in a broken world, we give thanks for our mothers who have held that world together for us, especially at the most precarious of times. Pope Francis has said, ‘In today’s fragmented world, where we risk losing our bearings, a Mother’s embrace is essential. How much dispersion and solitude there is all around us! The world is completely connected, yet seems increasingly disjointed.’
When John Henry Newman celebrated his 21st birthday, he had not done well in his exams at Oxford despite showing great academic potential, and he seemed depressed. He was anxious, applying for a fellowship at Oriel College, which he was to obtain a couple of months after his 21st. On the birthday when all was still doom and gloom with nothing resolved, his mother wrote:
“I thank God, it is a day of rejoicing to us all; to your Father and me, that it is given us a Son who has uniformly persevered in improving the talents given him, and in forming his character both morally and religiously to virtue. And now that we have no more the dear child, we may boast instead, a companion, counsellor and friend. To your dear brothers and sisters it has given a second father, to whom they are much indebted for the improvement and cultivation of their minds; and, proud and happy am I to say, you are worthy of each other ……These and innumerable other blessings we have all of us to be grateful for, and I rely with humble but perfect confidence in that Almighty Power who has hitherto preserved you, that He will diffuse His blessings on your future years .”
How often it is that our mothers are the ones who speak of and demonstrate the grace in our lives, the ones who display and evince the grace in our lives. When Newman responded to his mother, he wrote, ‘When I turn and look at myself, I feel quite ashamed of the praise [your letter] contains, so numerous and so great are the deficiencies which even I can see.’ It’s not as if mothers do not perceive these shortcomings. They know them all too well. They forgive, and they hope. After Newman had attained his position at Oriel College, his mother wrote, “If I did not know your sentiments as well as I do, I should now tremble for you, but the same Power who supported you under disappointment, will, I trust, guide you now you may be said to have attained the summit of your wishes.”(4]
This is my second Mother’s Day without my mother. The fair Patricia died 19 months ago, aged 91, a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother many times over. Mum had been orphaned when she was seven. Her mother died when she was five, and her father two years later. She and her two younger brothers were spread to the four winds. As a parent, Mum gave her children everything she never had.
At Mum’s funeral, one of my sisters Anne, herself a mother, and now a grandmother several times over, reflected: ‘The great legacy Mum leaves is her 7 well educated children with good lives. This didn’t happen by accident. All parents work hard but Mum worked tirelessly and yet made time to read, relax and play. What Mum loved most was just to be with those she loved, who will always love, honour and remember her.’
The Irish poet Doris Sigerson wrote this after her own mother’s death:
I want to talk to thee of many things
Or sit in silence when the robin sings
His little song, when comes the winter bleak
I want to sit beside thee, cheek to cheek.
I want to hear thy voice my name repeat
To fill my heart with echoes ever sweet
I want to hear thy love come calling me
I want to seek and find but thee, but thee.
I want to talk to thee of little things
So fond, so frail, so foolish that one clings
To keep them ours – who could but understand
A joy in speaking them, thus hand in hand.
Beside the fire; our joys, our hope, our fears,
Our secret laughter, or unhidden tears;
Each day old dreams come back with beating wings,
I want to speak of these forgotten things.
I want to feel thy arms around me pressed,
To hide my weeping eyes upon thy breast;
I want thy strength to hold and comfort me
For all the grief I had in losing thee.
Not every mother’s life is blessed. And no mother’s whole life is blessed. No family is perfect, and mothers are inevitably caught in the centre of the mess. For many mothers, life brings great burdens and tragedy. Today we particularly remember those mothers who do it tough, particularly those who have endured the loss of a miscarriage, those who carry the burden of caring for a child with acute disabilities, and those who have known abuse and violence in the home. And we remember those who though not mothers have done much good mothering to nurture up-and-coming generations.
In today’s gospel from John, Jesus speaks of love – recalling the two images from recent Sundays – the good shepherd and the vine. A person can have no greater love than to lay down her life for her friends. We need think only of the sacrifices made by so many mothers for their children. I chose you and commissioned you ‘to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last’. We thank God this day for those mothers who have given us life and opportunity commissioning us to branch out and to bear fruit, the fruit of the vine that will give new life for generations to come.
 Pope Francis, Homily, 1 January 2019, at http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20190101_omelia-giornatamondiale-pace.html
 Letter of Mrs Newman to John Henry Newman, 21 February 1822, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Volume 1, Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 122,
 Letter of John Henry Newman to Mrs Newman, 6 March 1822, Ibid, p. 123
 Letter of Mrs Newman to John Henry Newman, 6 May 1822, Ibid, p. 140
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the P M Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).