A Mother's Day Message
May 11, 2018
These are the thoughts running through my mind as we arrive at this Ascension Sunday, which is also Mother’s Day.
On April 9, Pope Francis released a new exhortation, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” which echoes something the Second Vatican Council stated clearly. “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium). About this new document Pope Francis says, “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.” We are meant to be holy, called to be practical saints. To that end, Happy Mother’s Day! Mothers know something about sainthood.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 10, 16-year-old Kyle Plush headed out from his classes, in a private school much like Priory, to grab his tennis gear from his Honda Odyssey, parked in a narrow lot much like ours. But as he knelt on the third row bench seat and reached over the back row to take his bag from the cargo area, the fold-flat seat tipped backward, pinning him upside-down against the inside of the rear hatch. He could hardly breathe. He managed to make two 911 calls (thanks to Siri), but the first responders did not find him. In the last call, he told the operator, “I probably don’t have much time left. Tell my mom I love her if I die.” He did die. It’s tough being a mother, especially of a teenager, when there are invariably many conflicts.
One can only imagine how his mother felt when she heard the recording of his voice speaking those last words.
At our celebration of Confirmation on April 17, Archbishop Carlson said in his homily that there are some spiritual truths we all need to internalize. First is, if you want to be happy, you have to play the emptying game, not the filling game. To be a mother is to be right in the action of the emptying game. Jesus Christ was all about the emptying game, called kenosis, in which we will find our happiness. The second truth… don’t settle for spiritual mediocrity. And both those truths relate directly to Pope Francis’ exhortation.
Pope Francis is speaking to us as the head of Holy Mother Church in this world, and he is worth listening to. He warns us against two subtle enemies of holiness, and thus of our eternal happiness.
One enemy is a new Gnosticism, which is “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings… Throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect… When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road…”
The other enemy is a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian mindset. Those who adhere to it, “even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style. When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will… Saint Augustine taught, God commands you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot, and indeed to pray to him humbly. The result is a self-centered and elitist complacency, bereft of true love… This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programs of self-help and personal fulfillment.”
Pope Francis goes on to say, “The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel… We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force… Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities…
“Spiritual corruption is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.’”
Well, that’s a lot to think about on Mother’s Day. But this is a warning from Mother Church to her children (us) who are in danger in this world. What good and loving mother would not do that? And what good and loving children would not listen and think about the warning?
But Pope Francis does more than just give a warning. Next week, I’ll accentuate the positive in his exhortation. Until then, let your mother know you love her. The comfortable seats we sit on could turn over at any moment. You never know when God will call you, or her, home to be with Him.