Monday after Pentecost

Mother of the Church

On February 11, 2018, Pope Francis established a memorial to Mary. He honored the Blessed Virgin as Mother of the Church. This was appropriate since Luke 1 recorded the woman as present among the disciples who waited for the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. The evangelist also implied she was numbered among those who received the power of God.

The Pope proclaimed the Church should celebrate the memorial on the day after Pentecost, appropriately enough because she, too, was filled with the evangelizing Spirit.

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15

9 YHWH God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"

10 The man said, "I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

11 God said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

12 The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

13 YHWH God said to the woman, "What have you done?"

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

14 YHWH God said to the serpent,

"Because you have done this,
you are cursed above all livestock,
and above every animal of the field.
You shall go on your belly
and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will bruise your head,
and you will bruise his heel."

20 The man called his wife Eve because she would be the mother of all the living.

What is freedom? For the immature, it's acting out for purely selfish reasons without consequences. For these people, freedom means "me first" and no responsibilities to others or for others.

The narrative of the Fall in Genesis 3 painted freedom in that light. The first people acted out of self-interest. They wanted to experience evil and be "like gods" without any responsibility to God. So, when these people were confronted by God over their egregious act, they did what every child would do when caught in the act: they shifted the blame. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. So God addressed snake first, then Eve (Genesis 3:16) and, finally, Adam who ultimately bore the most responsibility (Genesis 3:17-19).

This passage focused on the curse of the snake. The devious serpent would slither on the dirt as the lowest of animals, eating dust every day of its life. The tempter would live out its existence as the enemy of humanity, subject to injury by men. It would remain the object of hatred forever because it represented the temptation of pure selfishness.

Or Acts 1:1-14

Literal Translation

12 Then (the Apostles) returned to Jerusalem from the mount called "of Olives" which is near Jerusalem, being a way (in length) of (the) Sabbath. 13 When they entered (the city), they went into the upper room where they were staying: Peter and John and James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James (son) of Alpheus and Simon the Zealot and Judas (son) of James. 14 All these were attending constantly in prayer with one mind, (together) with the women and Mary, mother of JESUS, and HIS brothers.

1:12 "being a way (in length) of (the) Sabbath" is a measure of the distance one could walk and not violate the Sabbath.

1:13 The Eleven were listed. Tradition gives different groupings different emphases, but the first four were the two sets of brother and the first to be called: Peter and Andrew, John and James. Notice Luke rearranged the list in a hierarchy of importance; so, John replaced Andrew in the second position.

These few verses from Acts answer the questions of "Who?" and "What?" Who was present after Jesus ascended into heaven? What were they doing? What were they waiting for? These answers were transitional in nature, for this was the waiting time between the Ascension and Pentecost.

Luke listed the Eleven (beginning with the leadership within the group), the unnamed group of women who followed Jesus, and, lastly, the family of Jesus. (It is interesting to note that Luke tried to counterbalance the view of Jesus' family found in Mark's gospel. The mother and family of Jesus in Mark 3:31-35 tried to perform an intervention: take Jesus home and isolate/restore him in private. Thus, they would be spared the possible social embarrassment mentioned in Mark 3:30. But Luke listed the mother and family of Jesus as believers.) All were together in prayer. The force of Greek meant more than sharing prayer. They prayed the same prayer. They anticipated gift and presence of the Spirit. The third person of the Trinity would mark the realization of the end times.

Who? The Apostles, the women, the family of Jesus. What? In prayer, waiting for the Spirit. If we apply those questions to present times, we would join those in heaven and on earth who wait and earnestly pray for the gift of the Spirit.

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Gospel: John 19:25-34 (Literal Translation)

25 (Women) had stood beside the cross of JESUS: HIS mother, the mother of HIS sister, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 JESUS, having seen (HIS) mother and the disciple whom he loved standing alongside, said to HIS mother, "Look! Your son." 27 Next, he said to his disciple, "Look! Your mother." From that hour, the disciple took her into his own (house).

The high point of the Crucifixion in John's gospel was the appearance of Jesus' mother. The woman who was instrumental in the Lord's first sign of glory now stood before him in all his glory. Like many other details in John, the mother of Jesus was a symbol. She represented the "roots" of Jesus: his family and place in society, his traditions and ancestry as a Jew, his humanity. The family of Jesus had certainly ceased to be a powerful factor in the Church after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Since the gospel was written some twenty years after that, John put greater concentration on the "Jewishness" and humanity of Jesus. So, the mother of Jesus was his connection to his religion and his birth. (Luke depicted Mary in the same way at the Annunciation.)

At the wedding feast in Cana, the roots of Jesus (i.e., his mother) pushed him into a moment of revelation. That began the public ministry of Jesus in John. Now, Jesus was revealed for all to see. At Cana, he objected that his hour had not yet come. Now, it had come. There was no need for his mother to speak.

His mother stood with his beloved disciple. Jesus' roots stood with the movement that would carry on his work. The two needed each other. But his own countrymen rejected the Nazarene movement in their midst. The Jewish believers had been excommunicated and sent out like the homeless. They needed a new home. Just as much as the Gentile neophytes needed their Jewish brethren for context and tradition. In a few words of love, he gave the old and the new to each other. His mother did have a home with the beloved disciple.

28 After these (events), JESUS, already having known that everything (God sent HIM to do) had been completed, that the Scripture would be fulfilled, said "I thirst." 29 A container full of cheap wine was lying (there). A sponge full of the cheap wine on a hyssop (stick) they brought to his mouth. 30 When he took the cheap wine, JESUS said, "It is ended!" And, having bowed (HIS) head, HE gave (HIS) Spirit.

19:28, 30 "everything had been completed" (19:28) and "It is ended!" (19:30) The verb for "completed" and "ended" was the same. John used the verb from the Greek word "telos" to show Jesus was in control of the situation.

19:28 "I thirst" is from Psalm 69:22 ("...for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink")

19:29 "cheap wine" was a vinegary, deluded wine favored by the common people (including soldiers).

"hyssop" This was a small, bushy plant in Palestine. This plant was not strong enough hold a sponge full of wine. Hence the addition of "stick." Even so, this addition does not solve the problem of the small plant.

This scene upset the symmetry of the parallel structure in the Crucifixion scene. It included a reference to Scripture but not the activities of the soldiers. So, it did not belong to Scene 4. But, because it stuck out, it was necessary. In these few verses, Jesus declared his life and ministry at an end.

The verb to "complete" or "finish" was mentioned twice. Jesus was in control. He was the one to give over his Spirit. But, between these two verbs that expressed finality, he gave an image that reflected on Scripture. "I thirst" came from Psalm 69:22. Psalm 69 was like Psalm 22. Both were songs of lament and desperation, despite the declarations of faith. Both depicted the singer as one with troubles. Both looked to God for deliverance. The verbs of end that surrounded Jesus request pointed to a image of the Suffering Servant, the one who does God's will even to death.

The verbs require some context, however. When he said "it is finished," what was Jesus referring to? The scene of his mother and the beloved disciple. His last act was to bring the old and the new together, to bridge the divide between the Jew and the Gentile. In one sense, Jesus established the Johannine community in that moment. His work was complete with the foundation of his community. He could depart. His followers and his Spirit would continued the work.

31 Since it was Preparation (Day), in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross(es) during the Sabbath, for it was the great day of that Sabbath, the Jewish (leaders) asked Pilate that (the soldiers) could break their legs and remove them (once JESUS and the thieves had died). 32 So, the soldiers came and they broke the legs of the first (one), then the other of the (thieves) having been crucified with HIM. 33 But, having come to JESUS, as they saw HIM already having died, they did not break HIS legs, 34 but one of the soldiers pierced a spear into his side, and immediately blood and water came out.

19:31 "during the Sabbath, for it was the great day of that Sabbath" While this phrase might sound redundant, the Passover was celebrated as a Sabbath day. The "great Sabbath" occurred when such a holiday as Passover fell on the Sabbath. Whether John referred to such an event is a matter of speculation.

Unlike the scene where the soldiers and the Scripture passages came from a common tradition, this scene was distinctly John's. Leaving the bodies of the executed on display offended the religious sensibilities of the populace. So, the leaders asked Pilate to speed their deaths. In response, Pilate sent out his soldiers to complete the task. This lead to another image full of symbolism.

When the soldiers plunged the spear into the side of Jesus, there was three results: water and blood, the eyewitness, and the fulfillment of Scripture. Water and blood had sacramental overtones: water for Baptism and blood for Eucharist. These poured out of his body (almost as gifts); the scene seemed to portray the source of the rituals.

In Luke's gospel, the Spirit filled Mary at the conception of the Christ. It also rushed upon her at Pentecost. In John's Crucifixion scene, Jesus gave her to the disciple he loved as "his Mother." This disciple represented all of us for we are the Lord's beloved. So, the Spirit-filled woman who gave birth to the Messiah, witnessed his death, cared for the beloved disciples and received the evangelizing power of God is rightfully called "Mother of the Church."

How have you honored Mary as Mother of the Church?