Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

The Holy Gospel is written in the 6th chapter of Saint John, beginning at the 1st Verse.
Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 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; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet. that should come into the world.


Today, on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, we set aside the violet of the season and put on the color Rose. This gentle shade reminds us that we are more than half way through this great season of penance and preparation. In the United Kingdom, today is also Mothering Sunday. Those who live in Great Britain and Ireland observe this day much in the same way that we observe Mother’s Day later in the year.

But Mothering Sunday did not start out as a feast of roses and chocolates, of Hallmark cards and fancy lunches. The origins of Mothering Sunday are tied directly to this Fourth Sunday in Lent.

On this day, we begin with a happy Introit. The original Latin word is laetare and we translate it rejoice. In the middle of our Lenten fast, the church calls us to rejoice with Jerusalem, the mother city, the city which will be the site of our redemption. Jerusalem, the mother city of the Jews, has served as the model for the Church, which is truly our mother. Tomorrow we will return to the pentitential violet. Next Sunday, we will cover our crosses and statues, we will say goodbye to our festive, Glory be to the Father, we will begin our solemn walk with Jesus to the Cross. But today, while our vestments bear the gentle shade of the rose, let’s reflect for awhile on our mother the Church. Let’s look at the characteristics that mother Church shares with mothers everywhere.

The first characteristic is that mothers give life to their children. In a very real way, none of us would be here today without our mothers. For nine months, she carried us and fed us and, eventually, delivered us from the security of the womb into a bright, unknown world. Just as a mother gives life to her children, so the Church gives life to us through the Sacrament of Baptism. In that Sacrament, where water is poured on the head of an infant, or in some cases an adult, we are cleansed from sin and brought into a new life in Christ. We symbolize that new life by clothing the baptized in a white garment, a garment that shows that we are clean and freshly born. Just as a mother gives life to the child, so the Church gives life through Baptism.

Mothers also make sure that their children are fed and that their physical needs for nourishment are attended to. So it is with the Church. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Church provides the Body and Blood of Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine. This gift of the Eucharist satisfies our basic need for food and it stands as a constant reminder of the compassion of Christ who, seeing the multitudes on the mountain, fed them from just a few loaves and a few fish.

But mothers do far more than tend to the physical needs of their young. In addition, mothers also seek to nurture the spirits and minds of their children. They read them stories, they sing songs, they encourage their children when they are low, and they rejoice and play with them when they are happy. And the Church does this, too. We are nurtured by the spiritual grace that we receive from the Sacraments. Every one of the seven sacraments imparts a special grace, a special character upon all of us that gives us strength to stand up against the temptations of the modern world. In addition, like a good mother, the church tends to our minds and makes sure that we have a trustworthy guide through our lives. This is done primarily through the great gift of God’s holy Word, the Bible, and through the doctrine of the church as it has been set out from the beginning of Christianity. In both body and spirit, the Church provides for us her children with Word and Sacrament.

Finally, mothers will protect their children from harm. And so does the Church. After Jesus fed the multitudes in today’s Gospel, he commanded his disciples to go and gather up the fragments, so that nothing be lost. This is what the church does for us today and all days. The Church stands as a witness that all who are claimed by Christ in Baptism, that all who are fed by Christ in the Eucharist, that all of these are precious to the Church and are to be gathered together in love.

Here’s something interesting: Put a group of new mothers in a room and place their infants in another room that is out of sight of the first but within hearing. Let the moms converse and then have one of the babies start to cry. What do you think you will see? You won’t see the moms look amongst themselves to try to figure out whose child is in tears. Instead, the mother of the crying baby will almost instinctively respond to the sound of her child’s voice and she will go to sooth the baby. So it is with us and the Church. The Church, Christ’s body on earth, tends to you and to me in much the same way as the mother of a crying infant.

As we prepare to celebrate the coming feasts of Passiontide and Holy Week, when our Lord endured unspeakable horrors and unbearable torments, let’s today recall the unwavering love of our mother the Church, who calls us all to new life in Baptism, who feeds our bodies and souls in the Sacraments and in the Word, who desires that none us be lost, and who will provide us with a place of joy and refreshment now and for all time for all who believe.

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