TWENTY–NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B
Psalm 32:4-5, 18-19, 20-22
Good Friday Revisited
Today’s Liturgy of the Word is a flashback to that of Good Friday when we heard both the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Both texts are inexhaustible. Hearing them again today is an opportunity to encounter the mystery beneath the words, the mystery of the suffering Christ, image of the Father.
Saint Thérèse and Her Father
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, reflecting on Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant, related it to the humiliation of her own father’s suffering. When Thérèse was seven years old she had a vision of a man in the garden, dressed like her father, but going about with his head veiled. Only later did she realize that this was a mysterious prophecy of her father’s mental illness. Profoundly affected by her father’s suffering, Thérèse lived it as an opportunity to deepen her understanding of the humiliation of Christ in His Passion. Thérèse made some profound connections: she related her father in his sufferings to the humiliation of Christ in His Passion, and related the humiliation of Christ in His Passion to the Fatherhood of God.
The Holy Face
The violence against the Face of Christ in His Passion was, at the deepest level, an attempt by the Evil One to disfigure the Fatherhood of God. Our Lord says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (Jn 14:9–10). From the beginning, the Evil One has sought to discredit the Fatherhood of God by sowing suspicion and doubt in the hearts of His children. The cruel disfiguration of the Face of Christ with blows, bruises, spittle, and thorns was the Evil One’s mad attempt to vilify the Father.
War on the Family
The Evil One pursues the same agenda today. He seeks by every means to humiliate the father and to disfigure the face of fatherhood in society. John Saward, in his splendid book, The Way of the Lamb, The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, writes: “The modern western world seems to have declared war on the family in all its members. It is destructive of the child, disparaging of the mother, and derisive of the father. Feminism, now complacently installed as the worldly wisdom of the West, tends to regard fathers as oppressive monsters . . . . All that is male, even the masculine pronoun, offends the feminist rulers of this age. Sometimes it seems as if the head of every father is veiled in shame, un père humilié.”
The Father Under Attack
Every attack on the father is an attempt from below to undermine the headship of Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) in Whom, “all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Just as Christ holds all things in the universe together, so too does the father hold all things together in the family. Abandoned by the father, the family disintegrates. Nothing so damages the wholeness of the family as the absence of the father.
After Humanae Vitae
While pursuing the disgrace of the father, the Evil One continues to pursue the degradation of the mother. The widespread rejection in 1968 of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae drove a wedge between conjugal union and openness to the gift of life. As a result, the bride was no longer seen as a woman honouring within herself that most radiant of gifts: potential motherhood. The image of the mother was separated from that of the faithful spouse. By disfiguring the woman — an image of the Church in her dignity of virgin, bride, spouse, and mother — Satan seeks to discredit the Church, the Spouse of Christ and ever–fruitful Mother of the faithful.
Secular society’s refusal of the message of Humanae Vitae paved the way for the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control, casual sexual relations, abortion, and the militant homosexual agenda that, seeking to parody marriage between one man and one woman, replaces conjugal fruitfulness with a self–indulgent sterility. The acceptance of abortion leads, inexorably, to the acceptance of parricide (the killing of parents) and infanticide. The society that kills its children becomes patricidal and matricidal. The society that discredits fatherhood and motherhood becomes sterile and dies.
The Consecrated Life
The poisonous trends of the culture of death have not spared the consecrated life itself. The crisis around Humanae Vitae corresponded exactly to the moment when religious began to speak naïvely of “openness to the world.” The spirit of the world, the flesh, and the devil seeped through the cracks in the cloister and, in the most pernicious and subtle ways, infected religious and monastic life with the prejudices of the age against the father, the mother, and the child.
The Abdication of the Fathers
Rejection of the father began to manifest itself in the contestation of all paternal authority, focusing on that of the Pope. This was just another manifestation of what Von Balthasar so aptly calls Der Antirömische Affekt, “The Anti–Roman Complex.” The very name of Father, in use from the Apostolic Age and honoured in the monastic deserts of Egypt and Palestine, fell into disaffection. Superiors felt the need to be “a brother among brothers,” failing to see that by doing so they were abdicating the very grace of state constitutive of their spiritual authority.
The collapse of the religious or monastic family ensued, just as the collapse of the natural family would follow any father’s abdication of his paternal authority. The most extreme manifestation of this disaffection for the Father is the kind of cultural patricide we see in society today. The same patricide holds sway in the religious community bent on eradicating every vestige of fatherhood in the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality.
The Mother Under Suspicion
Rejection of the mother was, if anything, even more vicious. The years immediately following the Second Vatican Council saw a widespread critique of the consecrated woman as sponsa Verbi — bride of Christ — and a decline in practices of devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. The anti–motherhood propaganda of radical feminism, based on the lie that motherhood limits a woman’s freedom to be herself, combined with the rejection of Humanae Vitae to cast suspicion on every expression of maternal authority and spiritual motherhood.
The failure of some women religious to live the grace of spiritual motherhood wisely and tenderly became an excuse for the extermination of the mother, setting in motion a matricidal revolution. Immature religious women dealing with unresolved emotional conflicts within themselves found in this trend a justification for the expression of an anti–maternal animosity. Superiors were coerced into abdicating their maternal authority or, deceived by the lies of the age, did so willingly, contributing thereby to the disintegration of the spiritual families entrusted to them and to their inexorable descent into sterility.
The anti–maternal lies perpetrated by the culture of death were received uncritically by many religious. The name of Mother, like that of Father, had to be erased at all costs. Meanwhile, Satan laughed in scorn, knowing full well that the extinction of the mother leads to the extinction of life itself and not just to sterility, but ultimately to death.
The Wasteland of the Fatherless and Motherless
A Church without spiritual fathers and mothers will become like a society without fathers and mothers: a barren wasteland populated by an angry people, strewn with the aborted remains of lives that could have been, and defiled by every manner of abuse and by the triple sin of patricide, matricide, and infanticide.
Blessing of a Woman After Childbirth
Three things came together today in my prayer and, consequently, in my preaching to you. The first was the repetition of the very texts we read on Good Friday: an invitation to contemplate the Face of the suffering Christ. The second was the connection made by Saint Thérèse between the humiliation of her father and the humiliation of Christ in whom we see the Father’s Face. The third was the Church’s Blessing of a Woman After Childbirth that we conferred on Kerry just before Mass.
For the Family
The Church is absolutely and blissfully for the family. The Church affirms every father in whom she discerns a reflection of the Fatherhood of God. The Church affirms every mother in whom she rejoices to see the clearest and fairest image of herself in the fullness of her mystery. The Church affirms every little child in whom she sees the blessing of God, the promise of life, the gift of joy. The Blessing of a Woman After Childbirth, by prescribing the reception of the new mother at the door of the church and by conducting her in honour even to the altar, treats her like a queen. The new father, standing at her side, basks in the radiance of the honour paid his wife, the mother of his child.
Toward the Altar
The whole movement of today’s rite of “churching” or blessing was toward the altar: this because the Christian life is just that: movement toward the altar of the Sacrifice of Christ. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
The Inexhaustible Chalice
At the altar, we may, in the secret of our hearts, hear the voice of Christ asking, “Are you able to drink the chalice that I drink?” (Mk 10:38). What is this chalice? It is the chalice of His Precious Blood, the chalice of Life, the chalice of sacrificial love, the inexhaustible chalice that is the source of all fecundity. Drink of it, and you will “have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10), you and the children God has given you (cf. Heb 2:13).