Some years ago, I read a story in which the mother of a large family of ten or twelve children met the Pope. They talked for a while about her family and then he asked her, “Which of your children do you love the most?” and she answered, “The one who is in trouble!” That answer has remained with me and has come to symbolise the heart of true ‘mother-love’ – for true mother-love is always life-giving, always reaching out to the one most in need of new life. I also remember feeling something similar, when reading once about the mother of a hardened criminal, who had just been sentenced to life imprisonment. She was asked what she felt about her son after the sentence had been passed and she answered, “But he’s a good boy really.” Our first reaction would probably be to dismiss such a remark, thinking she is blinding herself to reality. But – is she? Or, are mother’s able to see something about those they love that the rest of us find very difficult, if not impossible, to see?
When we look at a person with a critical, condemning eye, we see only who they are and what they have done and in so doing, we reduce that person to “a thing”, an object that has a past but no future. This is what the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre called “the hateful stare” – something that destroys a person’s humanity and all hope of redemption or salvation. However, when someone, such as a mother, looks at one she loves, she knows who they are and what they have done – but she also sees what that person can become. She knows that the one she loves is not only someone with a history, but also a person with a future – but it takes the eyes of love to see that. This is why we say that only God can truly forgive, for only God can truly look at us with eyes of love.
This Season of Advent, that we have just entered, is very much the season of “Mother-Love”, as epitomized by Our Lady. The writings of the ancient prophets, that we read during this season, recognise that the People of Israel have become a selfish and greedy people – but they are also readings of hope for they see what the People can become by God’s grace – and, as such, they proclaim God’s ‘Mother-Love’ for his People. This is an aspect of God that we often overlook, for we conceive of God in terms of our own image and likeness and thus see him as a condemning God – a stern father-figure. The presence of Our Lady, however, at Christmas, balances that picture, for, at this time, she is not only a model of faith for us, but, in giving us her Son, she is also an “Icon” of God, who “gave his Son for the life of the world” (John 3:16) and so reveals that God is both Father and Mother.
This motherly aspect of God is also seen through the Gospels. They are full of examples of how Christ does not condemn sinners, but looks on them with love and by so doing gives them life. The story of Zaccheus (Lk 19:11-27) and the woman taken in adultery, (John 8: 1–11), are but two wonderful examples of this. Christ does not imply that what they have done is unimportant, on the contrary, but he looks at those two, and others, as they are – persons capable of becoming so much more than what they have done – and his loving regard sets them free from the chains of their accusers and opens the doorway to new life. These stories not only show the character of God’s love for us, but also present us with a challenge in our relations with others, for the Lord calls us to become one with him in bringing this life-giving “mother-love” to those among whom we live – however, it is so easy to let this commandment of the Lord slip by us unheeded.
When we examine our way of life, we tend to concentrate on whether we have been faithful to our religious duties – our prayers and attendance at Mass etc. – but we pass over “gossiping”, for instance, very lightly – giving only little weight to its importance. And yet, it is precisely here, in our relations with others, that we affirm or deny our discipleship of the Lord, for “to gossip” about someone is to use “the hateful stare”, to identify them with what they have done – and refuse to look on them with the eyes of God’s mother-love. Christ calls us to be, with him, life-givers in this our world, but when we gossip we become not life-givers, but life-takers – we kill those he commanded us to love!
We are coming to the end of the term and the academic year. Lectures are over and the students are coming and booking time-slots for their oral exams. I finished marking all the essays, during I the retreat I gave in Mukah last week – so there is a little lull before the storm of oral exams – when the students answer questions rather than sit a written exam (This doesn’t mean that I have become a dentist! – “Oral”!)
(I have become very wary of telling British-style jokes, based on word-play, for sometimes people just stare at me uncomprehendingly and then I have to explain what I think is funny about what I have just said!!)
I shall be going to Bali on 18th Dec and stay there until 26th Dec, when I shall return here to Kuching. I am looking forward to it, although it is usually wet, humid and crowded in Bali at this time of the year – but the opportunity to meet old friends again will be a great Christmas present.
When I get back, we shall have a reunion/recollection day, on 27th Dec., for those who went on the Chiang Mai Retreat last May.
And if I do not get to write to you again before Christmas:
All God’s Blessings on you this Christmas
And peace in the New Year to all of the world