The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In these days when much of the world is focused on the relation between a mother and her preborn child, the liturgy shows us that sometimes God himself wishes to come across as mother. In the reading from Isaiah, God said that “as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”. No one can comfort like a mother, because no one had such an intimate relationship with us even before we were born, and continued to nourish us after our birth. The spiritual life is like that: it is a life of intimate relationship with God, who continues to nourish us with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Just as a child, for the first nine months after conception, is at peace because it is totally surrounded by its mother and continually draws life from her, so we are totally surrounded by God, who continually gives real life to the depths of our soul. So long as a child remains in the womb, a mother cannot stop giving life and fostering growth; nor can God withhold any love from us. In God’s eyes, every human being is a wanted child, because it was God who created every soul and guides our every step, overshadowing us at all times and in all places with the loving care of a mother.
Even our weaknesses and spiritual miseries, our obstacles and difficulties, cannot prevent our union with God or the peace that it brings. On the contrary, God uses them as a means to bring about the realization of the divine plan for us, which is the plan of Someone – the only One – who loves us infinitely. Even God’s dearly beloved Son was no stranger to human suffering. He underwent the cross with all of its shame in order to become the first-born of all creation, the first-born of many brothers and sisters.
In the same way, St Paul in the second reading speaks of the marks on his body as being those of Jesus. Apparently, they were like the wounds that Jesus suffered on the cross. But they cannot disturb his peace or separate him from God. “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule”, he says, who belong to a new creation, “the Israel of God”. Like Jesus and Paul, we too have been marked by our own life experiences. But if we allow God to act as mother, we will discover that there is peace all around us, providing the climate in which we can assimilate our experiences and grow into a new creation, a brother or sister of Jesus.
In the Gospel, Jesus appoints seventy-two others to sow the seed of his Word, the seed of life in God. The conditions have to be favorable if the seed is to grow, and so whatever house they enter, their first words are to be, “Peace to this household”. And “if a peaceful person lives there”, God like a mother will nurture the person’s growth into a new creature who has been born again of God.
Now every life story is different, but let us take the example of a person who has received the seed of a monastic vocation. It is Christ who plants the seed inside the walls of a monastery, which are like the walls of a God-sized womb. They enclose a protected environment, a sacred space, in which God nurtures the growth of those who are in the process of being born again. Inside, there are divisions into many cells, because the monastery is a place of multiple births.
And although every monastic vocation is different, all go through the same clearly defined stages of spiritual development, from postulancy to the novitiate to the juniorate to the professed, which is a stage of continuous formation until we are ready to be born into eternal life. During this time we eat and drink what is offered to us at Mass, the Body and Blood of Christ, circulating in us just as it did in Christ; for the kingdom of God is as near to us here as a mother is to her preborn child. At our death, we leave the womb of the monastery and are born into a glorious light. God remains like a mother, takes us up into everlasting arms, and rejoices that our names are written in heaven.
Let us then come to this altar and “eat and drink what is offered to us”: food for our souls for those who are doing their growing close to the heart of God. “As we receive from this altar the sacred Body and Blood” of God’s Son, let us be filled with that peace which the world outside cannot give. Nourished by this food, may we grow spiritually stronger day by day, so that when our time comes, God may receive us into our everlasting home.