Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Sixth Sunday of Easter Homily: Mother Church

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6 Easter C – May 9, 2010 – Mother’s Day – Mother Church
Today’s Biblical Texts

A few weeks ago former White House speech writer Peggy Noonan wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about how to save the Catholic Church. She said it needs new blood and should let younger generations … rise to positions of authority within a new church. Most especially and most immediately, she wrote, the Vatican needs to elevate women.

Noonan’s bold but not unreasonable proposal makes us wonder what if the decision makers in the Vatican were women? It would certainly be a different church. After all, since the beginning, Mother Church has been governed by men. Sure from time to time there have been extraordinary women who influenced powerful male clerics. However, the administration of Mother Church still to today is patriarchal. Consider that down through the ages each dogma and doctrine affecting the faith and morals of all members of Mother Church has been decided and promulgated by men.

The first reading today features a controversy in the very early church over whether converts to Christianity had to abide by the Mosaic laws of the Jewish faith. The larger question had to do with exactly what laws were Christians expected to follow to be members in the church. Some members were upset by the laws, causing them great trouble. The leaders at that time — Peter, James, John, Paul, Barnabas, Titus — met in Jerusalem where they came up with a compromise. Although new members did not have to follow the old laws there were some rules to abide by. One wonders what might have been different if women had a voice during that first century Apostolic Council?

Fast forward to our own time. Very few women were present at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. As observers, they were not allowed to speak much less vote. There seems to be no record in the history of Mother Church when a woman would have had the chance to cast a vote on matters affecting the life of church members. A good example today is the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious in the USA. One wonders if anyone asked the Sisters if they needed to be investigated. What might have been different if women had a voice during all those Councils and Synods dealing with the life of the Church? What an irony in a Church called Mother.

The church has been referred to as Mother ever since the late first century. St. Clement of Alexandria [1]  loved to call the church a Mother who nourishes her children. St. Cyprian of Carthage [2] wrote the mother church extends her branches over the whole earth in fruitful abundance … by her womb we are born; by her milk we are nourished; by her spirit we are animated. Such beautiful images were used to describe our church as a Mother. Yet, this Motherhood is governed by men.

Like any human institution the Church will be defined by how well it relates to its members and those outside its walls. The charge to treat everyone kindly, equally and with respect, with tender love and care, is found in today’s gospel. The text is part of Jesus’ farewell address at his last supper before he was killed. Sadly, he told his followers he would not be with them much longer but they should not worry. God, Abba, would keep them going because of a mighty and holy Spirit. He then broke the bread and shared the wine asking everyone present not to forget him.

Today we are so pleased to welcome our young brothers and sisters to this supper of communion. They join us at the holy table for the first time. We hope it will not be the last. Now they depend on us, the grown up church, to nurture them in the name of God. Because they are the future of our church they will soon begin to nourish us. That’s how the sacraments work. They are celebrations of the never ending experiences of God in our lives not to be held as secrets or personal possessions but to be shared with others. These young children are here today because their parents and families and catechists shared faith, a gift from God, with them.

The Spirit Jesus promised is alive in Mother Church today if even, at times, she seems silent. She, the Spirit, is an advocate for a new kingdom on earth; she, the Spirit, is a teacher who helps us see things in new ways; she, the Spirit, is a healer who repairs old wounds; she, the Spirit, is a cheerleader inspiring us to succeed in all we do; she, the Spirit, is a lover of humanity without compromise. This Spirit and the Church are vessels brimming with the attributes of Motherhood.

Today, Mother’s Day, is a good time to be grateful for and to remember the Spirit in our lives, those women who gave birth to us, those women who continue to nourish us and those women whose spirit animates us. Perhaps it is also good day to think about Mother Church and how each one of us, women and men, slave and free, gay and straight, married and single, religious and ordained alike, can continue to animate her with our spirit, our voices, our love.

_________________

1. St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) The Instructor of Children [1, 6. 41, 3]

2. St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258): On the Unity of the Catholic Church, Chapter 5

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Sixth Sunday of Easter Homily: Mother Church

  1. Richard, The applause was well deserved today. N… was most excited about your comments and we both felt sorry that we had to leave before saying hello to you. Again, Thank you. Steve

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  2. I thank you from the bottom of my motherly(and grandmotherly) heart for these words. I agree there’s much work to be done to have a Church that truly speaks for all of us. There was another wonderful Op-Ed in the NY Times a few weeks ago that bears a few minutes of reading time. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/opinion/18kristof.html?th&emc=th
    Peace

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  3. Dear Father Vosko, Having wintered in SW Florida where the Bishop recommended not washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday,and keeps women from participating in the preparation of the Eucharist it is so refreshing to know that your voice can be heard and recognized. I am forwarding your homily to some priests there who are trying to bring about welcome change. You have an araura of peace as you show no fear. Congratulations for giving us the
    Christ like direction that is so badly needed in this era.

    Julia

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  4. Dick, your reflections about Mother Church were so apt. Your comments on the impact on women not being in decision making in the Vatican (and the Church in general) is the key. We desperately need the full use of the gifts – men and women – to all ministries ordained and lay in our Church. We have cut ourselves off from womens’ gifts in shaping our Church and we are a distinct minority among main line Christian churches. Thank you very much for your inspiring and uplifting comments. Dave

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  5. Dear Father,
    With peaceful respect, may I ask a question? Where was the punch I’m so used to finding in your homilies? You were so close and then you backed off. From where I stand, Mother Church only listens to half her children; therefore, she nourishes only half her children. Am I missing something here in your words?
    Blessings,
    Kim

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  6. Many people see the exclusion of women from decisions in the Church as an injustice, and it is. But even more than that – excluding women from decision-making cripples the Church and sets it off balance. Your homily captured that well. We as a Church need to “elevate women” not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the institutional Church will never be able to effectively bear the Kingdom of God without fully including the gender that makes up the majority of the faithful (and the world).

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