This is the second Sunday in the lovely month of May, when life is blooming and brimming. A bunch of us prayed the rosary yesterday walking near the blossoming mustard flowers—they are five feet tall! TAC in the spring is the time to turn to Our Lady, the New Eve, truly the mother of all the living. Tuesday is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima; 33 years ago on Tuesday St. John Paul was shot in St. Peter’s Square. “One hand fired the gun and another hand guided the bullet,” he said. He went to Fatima a year later to lay that bullet in the crown of Our Lady’s statue, his mother in heaven who saved his life on earth.
A mother’s voice
A few years ago I was giving a retreat to the Missionaries of charity in Brazil and decided to disobey the superior. She had said not to go near the favela, the slum, at the bottom of a certain steep hill. But I so wanted to climb that hill and get a good look over the city, so I did it anyway. On the way down, a young man started yelling and then fired a pistol at me. The bullet didn’t hit me, and I ran. Back at the convent, I told Sr. Vera Maria. “Our Lady saved you,” she exclaimed. “Many people disappear into the favelas, but Our Lady saved you.” I felt abashed, and promised not to disobey her again.
My mother’s voice was the first thing I ever heard. She would sing to me while I was in her womb, she told me. As a boy I would hear her singing in the kitchen below my room, and I would recognize that voice from some deep well within me. There were six kids in my family, and Mom would read to us every night (sometime Dad read too). We would drift off to sleep hearing our mother’s voice telling the story of some saint or a chapter from the Bible.
Good Shepherd Sunday
We call this Sunday, the Fourth after Easter, “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel is always taken from John 10. Today Jesus describes the voice of the good shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice,” he says. “They follow him, because they recognize his voice,” and he brings them “abundant life”—like the abundance of springtime mustard blossoms above our College.
The Church speaks with the voice of Christ, which is the voice of a mother who loves her children. We all recognize it. Even those who say they hate the Church know that the voice with which she speaks is from God and is true. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, describes how to give a homily on Sunday mornings: “The Church is a mother, and she preaches [as] a mother speaks to her child…. This setting, both maternal and ecclesial, in which the dialogue between the Lord and his people takes place, should be encouraged by the closeness of the preacher, the warmth of his tone of voice, the unpretentiousness of his manner of speaking, the joy of his gestures.” It is the way Christ spoke to the rich young man in Matthew 19: “Jesus looked at him with love and told him: if you wish to be perfect, give all your possessions to the poor and then follow me.” Jesus knew it would be hard for his young friend to hear what he had to say, so he first looked at him with great love. Holy Mother Church speaks as her Master speaks: not avoiding truths that must be said, but speaking them with understanding love, suffering for and with those to whom she speaks.
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Fifty-one years ago, the Holy See designated Good shepherd Sunday as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The voice of the shepherd calls young men and women through our Mother, the Church. Pope Pius X wrote that “every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it passes through the heart of a mother.” In my last parish, women would sometimes complain that we had too few priests. “Have more babies,” I would tell them. Priests don’t come from celibate men; they come from mothers. We won’t get many vocations from the 1.2 children the average American woman is giving to the Church.
At age 19, young Jorge Bergoglio wanted to study medicine. His mother prepared a special room for him by cleaning out a cluttered room on the family’s terrace. One day, the future Pope’s mother entered the room to clean it. She found not medical books but theology books. “Jorge,” she said: “come here. You told me that you were going to study medicine.” “Si, Mamà,” he replied. “Why did you lie to me?” She said. “Mamà, I did not lie to you; I am going to study the medicine of the soul.” His mother wept when she realized that he would become a priest. She knew he would have to leave their village, and perhaps she even knew that he would have to go very far away, to Rome, someday. Do you read to your children at night? Do you pray the rosary with them? Nothing but a mother’s love will make their vocation real to them.
Thank you, dear mothers, for having children. We know that it is the noblest human activity, and often the hardest, to bear and educate new lives. Thank you, dear mothers, for speaking the truth in love to your children, that they will grow up to know God, love him, and serve him in the Church in the vocation God has chosen for them. Where are future priests and nuns going to come from? Where is the priest who will be standing in my place twenty years from now? I will tell you where that priest is. He is having dinner with you this evening. You will a read saint’s story to him tonight, and pray a decade of the rosary with him and his brothers, and tuck him in tonight. God wishes them to be saints, by hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd through you. We love you for giving us life, and for giving us the Author of Life through his own mother, Our Lord Jesus Christ.