But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (First letter of St Peter 2:9)
These are from our Sunday readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter and I think they provide us with a great point of reflection for our week. It is as if Scripture, when read in the context of our daily lives, is timeless. Do we find ourselves singing God’s praises in this time of darkness and calling people into the light?
Once again, I am writing this message on Sunday evening, the end of Mother’s Day. I have just come off a Zoom family gathering. Given that we were unable to be physically present with each other, this is a good way to at least see all of our children and grandchildren and for them to see one another. The younger family members love it and tend to go a bit crazy!!!
Since the restrictions and our working from home, the staff of the diocese are invited to a daily online call to prayer, and on Friday, fifty-five staff ‘gathered’ on-line for a special Mother’s Day prayer. One of the moving parts of this prayer was the sharing of images of some of our mothers, along with words of gratitude for these women of influence. This was very powerful, as it followed the reading from the Book of Proverbs (31:10 – 31), a reading I have used at my mum’s graveside and one that I appreciate:
Ode to a Capable Wife
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Over this weekend, I have been pondering the many words shared about mums on Friday, this reading from Proverbs, and the emerging dialogue about leadership and the role of women in our church as part of our Diocesan Synod and the Plenary Council. I consequently, found myself going back to my childhood and the place of women at that time, and then my own reality of being a wife and mother, particularly during the 1970’s and 1980’s. What a massive paradigm shift in society in such a short period of time. I recall reading and learning how Allen and I could share the parenting of our children and the household chores, while both working. This was not the way for everyone but a beginning of exploring the sharing of what was considered the roles of both the feminine and the masculine. This was not the role modelling we had been provided in either of our families.
Here are some of the attributes and impacts that I read, on Friday, about the mums of some of our staff members:
Nourish, resilience, strong, teacher, loving, courageous, gentle, life-giver, available, caring, kind, faith-filled, Christian, leader, educator, respect, hard-working, ever-present, generous, matriarch……
And this is what Mary-Anne de Luca, our Mission and Outreach Officer, wrote about women in her life as part of a story on mnnews.today:
As I reflect upon this, I know for sure that my mother and her sisters, my aunties, are the reason why I believe in God. They created an environment where faith and life were inseparable. They taught me to praise God in the good times and run to Jesus in the hard times. It appears simple but the gift of faith in God, the Father the Son and Holy Spirit, is truly the greatest blessing of my life. I thank God for the gift of my mother and for surrounding me with beautiful mothers that point me towards the kingdom of God.
This got me thinking about Mary, the month of May and her place in divine history. God chose her, an ordinary woman, to give birth to God’s presence, Jesus in our world. While in the Cathedral on Sunday, Mother’s Day, I looked up I saw the image of Mary in one of our windows, the image of her and Joseph with the child Jesus. Here she is, a young woman, called by God, freely saying yes and then giving birth and caring for this child, teaching him and guiding him. I then looked across at the cross in the Cathedral to see her at the foot of the cross on which hung her son. The joys and sorrows of being a woman and a mum struck me. She was also the first disciple and it appears there were several women disciples who followed Jesus. (I was at the Cathedral because I was asked to proclaim the Word at our live-streamed Mass.)
The Holy Spirit continues to call women forth in every age. This is one such age. And like my time of changed parenting roles and societal growth and expectations, this is a time for changed roles to emerge in our church for both women and men. I am convinced we need each other to reveal the full image of our loving God. Like previous ages in history, a change of such magnitude will be uncomfortable, challenging, bumpy, and perplexing, but also exciting and full of promise.
Proverbs was written between 600 and 500 BCE. Much of what is written in Proverbs is attributed to King Solomon and it provides us with instructions for how to live a life pleasing to God, and one that is more peaceful for all of humanity. At that time in history, wisdom literature was also recorded in other cultures. It seems to me that people have struggled, and continue to grapple, with the existential questions that life throws up. I am sure this is happening for us during this pandemic.
My hope is for us not to be afraid to listen to the Spirit and discern what that voice is revealing to us. Like it was for Allen and me - we did not have a ‘footprint’ to follow, but I have no doubt we were guided, and in turn, gifted our children with a ‘footprint’ for them to follow and make their own.
I finish this message with the Prayer of Pope Francis for the Month of May as one to be prayed, but also to be reflected upon:
“We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God”.
In the present tragic situation, when the whole world is prey to suffering and anxiety, we fly to you, Mother of God and our Mother, and seek refuge under your protection. Virgin Mary, turn your merciful eyes towards us amid this coronavirus pandemic.
Comfort those who are distraught and mourn their loved ones who have died, and at times are buried in a way that grieves them deeply. Be close to those who are concerned for their loved ones who are sick and who, in order to prevent the spread of the disease, cannot be close to them. Fill with hope those who are troubled by the uncertainty of the future and the consequences for the economy and employment.
Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us to God, the Father of mercies, that this great suffering may end and that hope and peace may dawn anew. Plead with your divine Son, as you did at Cana, so that the families of the sick and the victims be comforted, and their hearts be opened to confidence and trust.
Protect those doctors, nurses, health workers and volunteers who are on the frontline of this emergency, and who are risking their lives to save others. Support their heroic effort and grant them strength, generosity, and continued health.
Be close to those who assist the sick night and day, and to priests who, in their pastoral concern and fidelity to the Gospel, are trying to help and support everyone.
Blessed Virgin, illumine the minds of men and women engaged in scientific research, that they may find effective solutions to overcome this virus.
Support national leaders, that with wisdom, solicitude, and generosity they may come to the aid of those lacking the basic necessities of life and may devise social and economic solutions inspired by farsightedness and solidarity.
Mary Most Holy, stir our consciences, so that the enormous funds invested in developing and stockpiling arms will instead be spent on promoting effective research on how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need. Make us strong in faith, persevering in service, constant in prayer.
Mary, Consolation of the afflicted, embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so that life can serenely resume its normal course.
To you, who shine on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope, do we entrust ourselves, O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary.
Let’s keep learning and sharing the lessons of our part in making history. We are but a speck and yet we were created for a purpose!!