by Father James Rodriguez
THERE IS A figure, a person who saturates the Scriptures that we read during the Easter season. While she permeates every word, and embodies the grace therein, she is silent and mostly invisible.
Over the last six weeks, we have read and heard proclaimed the amazing explosion of grace that took place at the Church’s very beginnings, and Our Lady was there through it all. Surely she encouraged Peter, whose bombast has now become eloquence, and John, whose mother she became at the foot of the Cross.
Image of the Church
Truly, she became both mother and image of the Church we so love, so much so that what we say about one, we can usually say of the other. This mother of ours calls us to be devoted and holy sons and daughters. Today’s readings echo this ancient insight precisely.
In today’s first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear a continuation of what has become a theme 10 chapters in: the unity of word and work. Witnessing the miracles done in the name of Jesus, Cornelius praises Peter, who exercises Marian humility and reminds anyone who would listen that like her, he is “also a human being.”
This may seem obvious to us modern readers who have witnessed the tendency of some scholars to “demythologize” sacred Scripture, and explain away what the firsthand witnesses knew as miraculous. This approach not only contradicts Scripture itself, but also affects the very tenor of the Word read, proclaimed and heard throughout history.
It plants seeds of suspicion that grow into violent weeds of doubt. The Good News becomes a mere embellishment, a far cry from the Word for which the Apostles died. We have to stand against this tendency with the one to whom the angel said, “All things are possible with God.”
Peter stands with her, and with us who stumble along the path to holiness. Like all the saints and Mary, their Queen and ours, he sees us as he saw the Gentiles, “people who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have.” May we, like them, be true to this Spirit, and may we do so forever.
Mind and Heart
If Peter represents the mind of the Church, John represents her heart. We hear from him twice today, in the second reading and the Gospel. In each, he uses the word “love” at least eight times. One can imagine this word, the truest and best there is, frequently coming up in his unpublished preaching and prayer, as it is a word that came to define his entire life.
Remember, he is the one who ran to the empty tomb out of love for God. Arriving first, he deferred to Peter, out of love for his brother. John knew well the source of this love, for he reclined on His very breast. He heard with his own ears the beating of the Sacred Heart that has served as the drum to which all saints march.
It was John who took Mary as a mother in obedience to Love Incarnate, and in turn, he shows us by his words and work that the call of Jesus transcends doubt and casts out all fear. What we read is no mere mythology. It is the Word of God, living and effective, born of the Virgin Mother, whose love has constantly nurtured the Church born from His side on Good Friday.
A Response to Love
It is in this love that we can truly understand Christian obedience. Far from the mindless submission some have taken it to mean, this obedience is a response to the love that existed before the foundations of the universe. It was this love that took flesh from Mary, that offered that same flesh for our salvation. It was that flesh that rose again and has fed His family for 2,000 years.
It is that family that has given to the world the best art, architecture, health care, education and charitable works in human history. These works, inspired and sustained by the Word made flesh exist in seminal form in the Blessed Mother, quietly praying at her family home in Nazareth. She prayed for you and for me, and continues to do so now as the Queen of Angels, who is also the humble daughter of the Most High, the Author of all true Love.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Mary demonstrates the next greatest love: that of a mother consenting to her Son’s sacrifice. In particular, her trusting silence speaks for the mothers of priests, service members, police officers, firefighters, and all who offer their lives for the sake of others.
May we pray for them all, and never forget their sacrifice, which is in itself the love that alone can heal the world.
Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4
I John 4: 7-10
John 15: 9-17
Father Rodriguez ministers full-time with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, and lives in residence at Blessed Sacrament parish in Jackson Heights.