Sunday, June 16, 2013

Christianity: Meet the family!

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on Fathers’ Day 16th June 2013


In your opinion,

what is the most important thing

a father has to have?


Does he have to be loving?



Able to change a dirty nappy

without the need for a clothes peg

on his nose?




Patient? Able to be able

to withstand being hit on the nose

by a well-aimed doll?



the most important thing a father has to have

 is a child in the first place.


You cannot be a father,

or a mother for that matter,

without a child.


What makes a father a father,

and a mother a mother

is having someone to call son or daughter.


Of course,

it is the quality of that relationship

that determines whether

you are a good father or mother.



Most of us would agree

that to be a good parent,

you need to be loving,

kind and self-sacrificing,

and very, very patient.


Is it possible to be loving,

 kind, self-sacrificing and patient

 and not be a parent?




It is while Jesus is teaching

 Pharisees, Scribes and the general people

 that someone comes up to him and says,

 "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without,

 desiring to speak with thee."


And Jesus makes the strange reply,

"Who is my mother?

and who are my brethren?"


He stretches out his hand to His disciples and says, 

"Behold my mother and my brethren!


For whosoever shall do

the will of my Father which is in heaven,

the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."


So it seems that whoever is loving

is indeed a brother or sister

or even mother of Jesus.



 The Lord is clearly talking about 

a family relationship that

He has with each of His disciples.


We might be able to understand

what it is to have the Lord as a brother,

but can we really see ourselves as His mother?


The Blessed Virgin cannot be described

as anyone other than Jesus' mother,

 but she is mother in a deeper sense

 that just a human family relationship.


She is Mother of God

and that fact cannot be denied.


She is not the mother of the just human bit of Jesus,

 because the Lord's human bit and divine bit

simply cannot be separated like that.


In calling his disciples his mother, 

Our Lord is not cheapening

Our Lady's relationship with Him

but rather extending her relationship with Him

 to us.


If we are the Lord's brethren,

then Mary becomes our mother too.



if we love one another

-      which is the will of God, after all,

we are His brothers,

sisters and mother.


But not father.


Why not?





To His local community of Nazareth,

Jesus will always be the son of St Joseph,

and yet have you noticed how little we hear

 about St Joseph after the Nativity stories?


It seems reasonable to accept the tradition

that St Joseph died before Our Lord started His ministry

and so ceases to be counted among the disciples.


It's also true to say that

whenever the Lord mentions His Father,

He is referring to The Father

– God the Father Almighty,

 Maker of Heaven and Earth.


It seems, then,

that we can never be regarded as Jesus’ Father

even when we are the best disciples

and this would be right.


The relationship between

God the Father and God the Son

 is utterly unique in all of reality.


Even so, we know that

God the Father cannot be a father without God the Son,

and God the Son cannot be a son

without the Father.


If the disciples can never be regarded as Jesus’ Father,

why do priests get called “Father”?




We know that Jesus teaches to “call no man father”.


He thus denounces anyone who seeks to be called “father”

 simply for the respect and status that it appears to give.

As we have seen, we can’t even call God,

 “Father” without realizing that He has a Son.


So to a good priest,

 being called “father” can only call up thoughts

 of having people for whom he has a duty of care.


When a good priest hears “father”,

he hears “father of whom?”

and remembers that he is under the direst penalties

 if he fails to look after anyone

whom the Heavenly Father

has entrusted to Him.


Those direst penalties will come

from within the priest himself.


A good priest truly loves his congregation

as his own flesh and blood.


It goes the other way too.


If we want good priests to thrive in our Church,

 then we have to support them fully in their ministry

in the same way that a child would want

 their good father to be able to continue

 to support them.


The respect that comes with being a father

is fundamentally conditional on the love

that the father invests into his children.


 Often, this is not always done and the results are deeply painful.


Fathers and priests are not perfect

and neither are children and congregations.


That’s a fact and not an indictment.

There are character flaws

and mistakes

and even the most grievous unkindnesses

 that come from the fallenness of our nature.


If we want our community

– our family –

to grow then both fathers and children

need to be aware of their duties to each other.


 Tolerance of each other’s failings goes both ways;

patience goes both ways;

respect goes both ways,

and, of course,

love goes both ways.


The more love we invest in our family,

and this does mean our family in God,

then the more that family makes

 the love of God real in our society.




It may be a tiny Church in which we worship,

 but is its very existence not proof

of the love of the Heavenly Father

and the love of human beings

committed to the family?


 How can we help that love to grow?


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