Summary: To the two political views of the fictional "Julia," we must add a third in the spirit of Jesus
Mothers Day 2012
Spirit of the Liturgy
Just in time for Mothers’ Day, we have been presented with three visions of the future for the women of America. We should be thankful for the opportunity to choose from these visions. Two are social and political, the third, the one we just heard, is moral and spiritual, but has serious implications for our social and political lives.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the presidential campaigns unveiled a new website called “the Life of Julia.” Without getting into political detail, I’ll just say that it painted a glowing picture of a mythical youngster named Julia, and the various ways that government programs could assist her at every stage of her life. Within days, a conservative think tank had posted a parallel website, and an alternate vision of how an America with fewer government programs, lower taxes and greater freedom of choice would, in their opinion, make a better life for Julia. Almost immediately the airwaves and blogosphere were full of commentaries and stories on both visions. I suspect nearly all of us have become aware of Julia.
But the third vision, which the Word of God has brought to us today, gives us a view of every human person, male and female, old and young, rich and poor, that will actually make the individual and society richer in the things that are most important–human relationships, freedom from sin, and the growth in the Holy Spirit that ultimately leads to everlasting union with God. In other words, it puts us in contact with Ultimate Goodness, Beauty and Truth through Our Lord Jesus Christ. And, as a bonus, it’s a great present for Mother’s Day.
The first contact that most of us had with the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus talked about and modeled for us was at our mother’s breast. From the first moments of our existence, she gave of her own body so that we might live. From the first flutter from the infant in the womb, she bonded with and loved us. And the moment she saw us, fresh from the birthing, howling in shock at the newness of light and fresh air, she knew that she would be willing to lay down her life so that we might live.
(In passing, I would like to pay special tribute to my birth mother, and all the other birth mothers who have adopted out their children to families better able to take care of them than they could. I have seen the pain of separation they have experienced, enough to understand that their love in loss and in giving is united powerfully with the love Christ showed when He gave His life for us on the cross. Thank you, birth mothers, from the heart of an adopted son.)
The one command that Jesus gave us is to love one another. Love is manifest in self-giving, especially when that self-giving is powerfully resisted by a misguided authority. In the first century, St. Peter and the little community of Christians Christ founded, our Church, were under tremendous pressure to remain a tiny sect of Jews. That pressure came from both outside the Church–from the Pharisees and Sadducees–and inside, from the party known as Judaizers. First, they tried to suppress this upstart sect, even with persecution and murder. Failing that, they tried to keep the Gentiles out of the community. Then, when the Holy Spirit fell on the family of Cornelius just as He had done on the disciples at Pentecost, and Gentiles began to be baptized–whole families of them–the Judaizers tried to make them undergo the Jewish rites, especially circumcision. But God’s mercy and love, shown through the ministry of the Church, extends to all human beings. James Joyce described the Church in three words: “here comes everybody.” It reminds me of that wonderful final chapter of the Book of Proverbs, in which the ideal wife and mother is described as welcoming everyone, as doing good for all in need. Love family, love friends, love strangers, love enemies. Do good for those who hate you. Pray even for those who would force us to do evil. That’s the spirit of Christ and Mary, His Mother, the ones who prayed even for the men who murdered Our Lord, who continually pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
As infants, we experience love as gift. We have to, because we have nothing to give in return. Our family, mothers, fathers, siblings, serve us. If we are most blessed, we learn as we grow that there is a real reward in serving others who can’t help themselves. We also learn that we are never solo players in the symphony of life. We are family people. We really can’t live without family, even when we grow up and can “take care of ourselves.” We celebrate as family; we grieve as family. That’s why both website stories of Julia, from left and right, seem somehow incomplete. They treat this hypothetical woman as a monad, as an individual, rather than as a person surrounded by family. They both eliminate love from her life, the love of others for her, and the love of Julia for her family. The plain fact is this–you can’t replace the family with government, and you can’t replace the family with the free market. There’s no love in either substitute; there can’t be. Once more, mom steps forward as the symbol of the core reality. She takes care of us, not because she has to, not because she is paid to, and not because of the operation of some invisible hand. She is the visible hand in our lives of the God who loved us and who gave His only Son to be the expiation for our sins.