Mothering Sunday with the African Chaplaincy

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Fourth Sunday of Lent 2019



Homily notes of

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Saint Finian, Rivervalley, Swords 31 March 2019


We come to celebrate mothering Sunday.  We come as the African Catholic Chaplaincy in the Archdiocese of Dublin.   We give thanks for the great pastoral activity of this chaplaincy, through the lives of families, of mothers, of children.  We give thanks for those who give their time and energy and wisdom to the work of the Chaplaincy.  

We thank today the Women’s Organizing Committee.  We thank the Pastoral Council.  We thank Father Cornelius and his co-workers.  Above all we than the Lord Jesus for the graces that he brings day after day to the members of the African Catholic Chaplaincy.  

We remember those who are sick or who suffer or who are troubled in any way.  We remember those dear to us who have died in the past year


We all know the Gospel of the Prodigal Son.  It is one of the great stories of the Gospels.  It is full of wonderful simplicity and detail and we have to read it closely to get its full meaning.

The first thing we have to note and remember is how today’s Gospel reading begins. It begins by talking about the annoyance of the Pharisees.  They are annoyed because Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Why are the Pharisees so annoyed and scandalised?  The Pharisees surely also wanted sinners to change their ways.    Why would they then object to Jesus welcoming sinners?

The fundamental difference between the Pharisees and what Jesus proposes is that the Pharisees demanded a whole series of conditions for a sinner to be welcomed back into the believing community.   They wantedsinners to repent, but they made it as difficult as they could for sinners to do so.

Jesus acts in another way: he does not shy away from sinners.  He reaches out to sinners and he takes the first step.  That is the message of the story of the Prodigal Son.  

The prodigal son is a figure who inspires both indignation and pity.  He wants to go his own way. He wastes all his money and his talents in order to enjoy himself.  He does not think of anyone else.  

It does not take long before his selfish dream-world collapses.  Just as his money runs out, a famine hits the country and the cost of food rises beyond his possibilities.   He is left with nothing except his humiliation.  The only job he can find is to feed pigs, a job that would be particularly repugnant to a Jew.  His humiliation is total.

He decides to return home.  There is another interesting thing here.  His reasons for returning home are also selfish.   He does not return out of any great loyalty to his father or any true sense of repentance.  He returns because he realises that this is the best chance he has to survive.   He knows the goodness of his father and he says I can take advantage of that.  

He prepares his words to ask his father for at least minimal help.  What happens?  His father overwhelms him with kindness.  There is no sense of calculation and punishment but quite the opposite.  The father goes out to meet his son.  He embraces him.  He greets him with the signs not of being simply accepted, but of being restored.  He receives the best clothes and shoes and a ring and the best food and the entire community of his father’s household are all called to join in the rejoicing.    When we fail him, Jesus is still out there waiting to embrace and restore us.  His mercy is great even today.  Let us turn to him.

The only shadow in the story is the complicated reaction of the olderbrother who feels that the father had done him wrong by giving the reckless and irresponsible brother such a lavish welcome back.

What is the father’s reaction?  Again, when the Father learns of this resentment, he once again goes out to the brother.  He does not wait for the resentful brother to come in.  He explains how his love and respect for him remain.  He tells the elder brother that there was no other way in which he could have responded.  “It was only right,” the Gospel says.  “How could I have done otherwise?” is another translation.  

Jesus reacts to both the waster younger brother and the resentful older one by going out to encounter them where they are and being for them right there the embrace of God’s mercy.    Jesus changes sinners not by testing them but by embracing them, by welcoming them, by assuring them.

As a Church, we have to rediscover that notion of rejoicing in repentance and in welcoming the sinner, in reaching out to encounter the sinner. We have to remember that Jesus is there waiting to welcome us home when we fail.

Pope Francis has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. He challenges us to become “the tender embrace of Jesus” for all who are marginalised and on the fringes and on the frontiers of the society in which we live.   He does not simply say, as a theological statement, that the Church is the tender embrace of Christ’s love.  He challenges us to become that tender embrace.

Today we want to remember in prayer and thanksgiving one special witness within our faith community to the tender embrace of Jesus Christ, namely that of Christian mothers.  We give thanks to God for the grace of our own mothers and indeed of their mothers.  Generation after generation ofChristian mothers have played a vital role of caring for their children and their families and in passing on faith in Jesus Christ.  They passed on the faith not just by teaching words and formulae but by unselfishly witnessing to the loving embrace of Jesus.  We give thanks for the grace of our own mothers.

Christian mothers have suffered in their witness to the love of Jesus.  At times, they have experienced the ingratitude of their children.  Mothers have lost many nights sleep anxious about where their children’s lives had gone inthe wrong direction.  I think of the many mothers in Africa who weep day after day for their children trapped in war and in natural disasters.    I think of some of your mothers living in Africa saddened by the fact that you have had to come so far to find a truly dignified life.   Lord protect Christian mothers who suffer in our world.  

Pope Francis has noted that at times we feel that the failures in our evangelising efforts are due to the fact that so many in today’s world are closed to God; they do not hear the call of Jesus; that when Jesus knocks on our doors they do not let him in.  The Pope however counters that by adding:  “we also fail at times when Jesus knocks from within and we do not let him out”.  The Church must reach out.  An inward looking, self-centred, narcissistic Church will never witness to the generosity and care of Jesus Christ.  Lord strengthen us all in our efforts to spread knowledge of your name and you message and above all of your love.

Let us work to forge a new commitment by our young people to deepen day by day their love of Jesus Christ. Living our faith is not easy in today’s world.  All of us require an on-going deepening of our faith; we need to know the Jesus of the Gospels; we need to know the Creeds of our faith.  However,we need to know them not as formulae, but as the inspiration of lives thatwitness to God’s love. To do that we need a deep sense of prayer and personal communion with the Lord, continuing in the tradition of those who went before us, especially our mothers and grandmothers, and all who helped shape and deepen our faith. Lord teach us how to pray.  

One final observation.   In the parable of the prodigal son, the special witness to the mercy of Jesus is the young man’s father.  We might have moreeasily expected such tender forgiveness to come from his mother.  The Gospel reminds us men and especially fathers that we are called to witness to God’s tenderness in a special way:  in how they treat our wives, our children, those who work with you and those you meet in society.  Lord make our men witness to God’s tender love.

Lord bless our Christian mothers, Lord Bless our Christian fathers, Lord protect and inspire our young people and help them live their faith fully in theyears to come.   Build up your Church in your love.