FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR A
There is something about the Covid-19 pandemic that, ironically, puts me in mind of the spread of the Christian Faith in its earliest stages. From a relatively small beginning on Pentecost, the Christian Gospel spread exponentially. Devout Jews, even among the priestly caste, evidently joined the infant Church in large numbers. Then Gentile adherents of Judaism accepted the Good News; and a missionary initiative, spearheaded by St. Paul, spread the Christian Faith all around the Mediterranean Basin. Reading the Acts of the Apostles is like reading the daily reports on the status of the Coronavirus.
Of course, all of this spread of the Gospel was due to the influence of the Holy Spirit; but human factors were at work as well. And the liturgy for this Fifth Sunday of Easter describes at least a half-dozen qualities that were keys to the rapid expansion of Christianity. Happily, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day today, we can recognize the same qualities in maternal care.
The passage from the Acts of the Apostles shows how the earliest circle of apostles and disciples in Jerusalem exercised flexibility and imagination. When a serious need arose, they did not resort to the phrase that dominates too much of parish life today: “But we’ve always done it THIS way” With a bit of imagination, the Twelve envision a new ministry – one that is very much a part of ecclesial life still today – the diaconate. They do not inflexibly insist that they, the Twelve, alone have ministerial authority. They are flexible enough to see that they can call others and share with them what we have come to know as the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
What mother can get along without the same sort of imagination and flexibility, especially during this time of social isolation? And imagination and flexibility in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic has seen its all but elimination in News Zealand and Australia among other nations.
St. Peter writes a letter in which he recommends availability and docility to new Christians. “Like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” The response of new converts to come to Jesus and allow him to mold them into a community of faith has been at the heart of every significant renewal movement in the Church, including the rise of the mendicant orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, the Counterreformation, the Second Vatican Council. And the charismatic leaders of those occasions of growth have all, as did St. Paul and St. Peter, demanded a docility to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Every mother knows the necessity of being available to her children if they are to grow in nature and age and grace. And as for docility, I don’t know how my mother would have survived without her much-thumbed copy of Dr. Spock’s book. Today every grandmother is consulted with docility the way Dr. Spock used to be. And if we are going to defeat the coronavirus it will only be because countless health care workers and other helpers make themselves available and that our leaders stay docile to bonafide medical experts and researchers.
In the Gospel today Jesus urges on his table companions the qualities of discernment and serenity. “If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” The Church spread so fast in the Apostolic era and every era after that because people have looked at faithful Christians and seen Christ, himself, and in him the Father. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” The serenity of believers even under persecution or opposition has proven to be immensely attractive to outsiders. Christian serenity is contagious and infectious, like the coronavirus.
A mother must be a constant, unflagging discerner, especially today. “Is that cough a routine cough or does it presage coronavirus?” And to youngsters made especially anxious by the pandemic and isolation, a mother must be a ready source of soothing, radiating serenity.
On this peculiar Mothers’ Day, we pray that researchers will discern both effective treatments and the vaccine that we desperately need. Then, when the pandemic is finally in the past, we can celebrate once again with serenity.
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