May 10, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
The fifth Sunday of Easter this year coincides with Mother’s Day in our nation. I would like to begin by remembering all our mothers who are here with us today, either physically present or present through the Communion of Saints, and also alive in our hearts and memories. Mothers particularly have the ability and the vocation to remind their children of their responsibilities to keep things simple, and most especially to remind their children that they belong to them as sons and daughters and to each other as brothers and sisters.
On January 29, 2014, I received such a reminder from my own mother. As many of you might recall, on that day I was ordained and installed as your bishop with thousands of us gathered and assembled as the local Church of Fort Worth in communion with the universal Church in a liturgy celebrated at the Fort Worth Convention Center. We came to the part of the liturgy near its conclusion where the new bishop is to walk through the gathered assembly offering his blessing as a successor of the Apostles entrusted to the local Church as her bishop. As I began to do that I first went to my own parents, my mother was in a wheelchair because she had been impaired by a brain tumor, she was at a point in her life when she had moments of clarity of mind and other moments when she did not. We had prayed that God would bless her with clarity on that special day. As I bent over to give her a kiss on the cheek, she pulled me in a little closer and said to me, “Don’t let this go to your head.”
When the Church teaches, she teaches as a Mother. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.55 Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” And in another place the Catechism articulates, “The Church guards the memory of Christ’s words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the Apostles’ confession of faith. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith.”
The Church introduces us to the understanding and the life of faith. This is true for the Church today as it was true for the Church that we see described and assembled in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Church gathered together with the Apostles in communion with each other and guided by the Holy Spirit recognizes that the all of the widows and orphans — those who are socially vulnerable and poor, those divided by language and culture, Greek speaking and Aramaic-speaking — each and all belong to the Church as Her children. The Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, appoint deacons — including the first martyr, Saint Stephen — for the ministry of care and belonging as brothers and sisters born as children of the Church through Baptism and its gift of the faith. The Apostles did so not to abandon their responsibility to the widows and orphans, but rather to draw them closer into their care.
The Gospel makes clear for us today that, viewed without faith, the crucifixion of Jesus becomes a boulder which blocks us from following Him. Faith enables us to see Him as He really is, not a boulder, but the stone rejected by the leaders and powerful of His day, who has become the cornerstone. It is the ministry and life of deacons to gather the widows and orphans who are poor, marginalized, and rejected as stones by the builders of society; it’s the ministry of deacons to assemble them through charity and justice as stones belonging to the Temple not made of human hands and held together by the cornerstone who is Christ. In that sense, the Church as our Mother employs the ministry of deacons to gather and assemble Her children that otherwise would go rejected by the builders of society.
Faith—through the centuries the Church has constantly confessed this one faith, received from the one Lord, transmitted by one Baptism, and grounded in the conviction that all people have only one God and Father. No one comes to faith alone nor by his or her own power. He or she must be born through Baptism and as belonging to the Church, our Mother. This is a very important point that is necessary for our salvation; it is a point which the Church, our Mother, reminds each and all of us called to evangelize within our society. There is much in contemporary society that places an undue premium upon individual self-reliance and material acquisition. We can be led astray by this and allow what Christ has done for us “to go to our head” by living as if our faith is only a private experience that happens to be coincidental to the private experiences of other individuals. This is contrary to the revealed truth that we can only receive the gift of Catholic faith by our being born through Baptism and in communion with Christ and each other as sons and daughters of the Church, our Mother. There is no private faith. There is no private authoritative revelation. We can only receive revelation and faith from Christ by being born of our Mother the Church through the sacrament of Baptism.
In the Gospel reading proclaimed today, Jesus speaks of His preparation of a place for all of us — a home, a mansion with plenty of room for all who have faith. It is where He is going and where we are to follow. Thomas, tempted against faith, asks sincerely but without trust, “How do we know the way?” Thomas is looking for a private path that does not involve trust. Jesus, as clearly as possible directly states that He, Jesus, is the Way. Faith in Jesus is the way. It is the faith that unites us with Him and with each other as brothers and sisters. Perhaps, Thomas’ later reticence to trust is because he is not with the other Apostles when Christ first appears; at that point in time Thomas decided not to belong. The gifts of the Holy Spirit guard your sense of belonging as sons and daughters of the Church, as brothers and sisters to each other.
The Church guards the faith and guards us in the faith because we belong to the Church, our Mother, as Her children. As her children, we are brothers and sisters with each other before any other citizenship, race, color, language group, political affiliation, or association. So when the Church speaks to us on issues that affect all of her children — like the dignity of the unborn, the care of the terminally ill, the integrity of marriage and family life, the integral and natural beauty of human sexuality distinct in man and woman, the common good of our society, and the inclusion and well-being of immigrants and refugees with the integrity of national borders — she reminds us, as our Mother, that we belong to Christ and to each other and that there is no private or elite path to the place of belonging prepared for us in faith by Christ. The Church as our Mother follows the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Cana who told the stewards regarding Jesus, “Do whatever He tells you” — true, wise, and authoritative counsel, as only a mother with the simplicity of faith can offer her children