When my children were infants and toddlers, there was nothing more heartbreaking - or heartwarming - than pulling them into my arms to comfort them when they were hurt or distressed. Whatever the injury: a skinned knee, a bruised ego, illness, or disappointment, a hug and some soothing words usually seemed to take the edge off the pain. I remember feeling the same way when I was a child and needed comfort. There was something about the feel of my mom’s strong arms and the softness of her cheek, the smell of her skin, and the sound of her voice that put me at ease and made me feel as though everything would be OK. My mom offered the solace I needed to head back out into whatever I was doing, confident in her love for me and reassured of my place in the world.
This is why today’s first reading resonates so powerfully with me: “As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” The image of God as mother is one that I can relate to both as a child being held and consoled and as a mother offering solace. Although I will never be able to fully grasp the depth and breadth of God’s immense love for us, I think the closest I will ever come is through the maternal love I’ve both given and received.
The Gospel reading, on the other hand, carries a bit of a different tone. When Jesus missions the seventy-two to go out and share the Good News, he tells them to expect difficulty and pain: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves,” he warns. Their instructions are to stick together, live simply, graciously accept hospitality, and shake off any ill-will. We don’t get much detail about their adventures, but we can presume that they achieved at least a modicum of success, as they come back “rejoicing” after having cast out demons in the name of Jesus.
Our readings today are rich with spiritual wisdom as we consider the current state of our world. The Earth suffers under the weight of climate change, pollution, and deforestation. As a people, we are increasingly divided and demoralized. Racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia are as prevalent as ever. And the institutions we’ve come to depend on out of necessity or tradition or choice - including our government and the Church - have become repositories for disillusionment and, often, disgust. How are we to proceed, as disciples of Christ who are called to be conduits of God’s love and mercy in the world? On the surface, the picture looks bleak, unforgiving, perhaps even hopeless. Lambs among wolves, indeed.
Yet the word that echoes through nearly all of our readings today is “rejoice” (“...your heart shall rejoice,” “...let us rejoice in God,” “...the seventy-two returned rejoicing.”) In spite of the hardships we face, or creeping feelings of despair, we are invited to recall the love of God as Mother: nurturing us, consoling us, and reassuring us of our place in the world. We are called to be a people of hope as we go about our work as disciples in our broken world, with God’s promise of abundant, gratuitous love as our foundation.
Remembering this is not always easy; it’s certainly something I’ve struggled with in my own ministry. I’ve sat with students coming to terms with the sins of the only Church they’ve ever belonged to, questioning whether or not they want to stay and often wondering where God is in the mess. I’ve commiserated with colleagues and friends as we search for new and creative ways to raise our voices in protest of injustices both sacred and secular. It feels increasingly difficult to explain to others, and sometimes even to myself, why I continue to do this work in this Church.
And yet the image of God as Mother offers something in addition to tenderness and compassion. It offers the hope that something new can and will be born into the world: a “new creation,” as Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians. The definitive manifestation of this newness, for Christians, is Christ himself. He who ate with the outcast, touched the untouchable, and loved the despised and forgotten was put to death and then came back in a way that was wholly new and mysterious...unlike anything that had come before. A new creation, rooted in peace and mercy and love, is what we are promised. It is the reality for which we are told to rejoice. And not, as Jesus reminds the seventy-two in today’s Gospel, for what we can do, but for who we are: God’s beloved, whose names are written in heaven.
So I rejoice in those beloved whose presence brings color, laughter, and consolation to my world, whose names are written in my own book of days:
I rejoice in my colleagues in ministry, companions on the journey whose faith and generosity fortifies my own…
I rejoice in my students, whose compassion and idealism fill me with hope...
I rejoice in the love of family and friends, my community of saints, my cheerleaders and challengers...
I rejoice in my children, who remind me to see the world through eyes of imagination and wonder...
And I rejoice in God as Mother, whose love is always there for the taking, arms open wide to receive and comfort and then send us back out, together, to do Her work in the world.
Emily Rauer Davis
Emily Rauer Davis is Assistant Chaplain and Director of Domestic Immersions at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. A 1999 graduate of Holy Cross, she spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Fresno, CA before receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Her previous work in ministry has involved both high school and college campus ministry, young adult spirituality programming, and faculty/staff formation. She has spent most of her career at Jesuit institutions, including Loyola University Maryland, Seattle University, and the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Seattle. Emily has also written for the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Just Parenting blog.
A native of Syracuse, NY, Emily currently lives in Natick, MA with her husband Andrew and their two sons, Michael and Peter.
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