I have five brothers and sisters. And all six of us were born in about eight years, so we all follow each other from the biggest down to the smallest. But the smallest is actually the biggest.
And when I was growing up we were always the pride and joy of my mother and father. And I remember when, on Saturday morning, my father used to take us out to get a hamburger, or to the drugstore to get a milkshake, or just to go someplace around town, or to the park. Everyone would look at him and say “are they all yours?” and he would smile, and he would say “yes, these are my lovely children.”
But I always wasn’t pride and joy to my parents. Sometimes I brought them grief. Why? Because of disobedience. I wasn’t always a nice little boy who behaved. I can’t speak about my other brothers and sisters, they have their own conscience. But I know that I didn’t. And so I didn’t always bring pride and joy to my father and mother. Sometimes I did not follow their wishes and fell into disgrace, let’s say.
I actually remember one summer I was punished for the whole summer and I couldn’t leave my house. “You stay here all summer.” And I did. And it was a punishment. And it was a hard punishment. But I disobeyed, and I was rambunctious, and I was not nice to my neighbors on that occasion. And so I received my punishment, which I carried out.
We don’t always obey, unfortunately. And when we don’t obey, we are not necessarily the pride and joy of those who look after our own good.
I remember once in a seminary too, I didn’t obey my superior. I used to play in the band and we had band practice one afternoon. But I also used to work in the office and keep track of the accounting. And I was told to go to band practice. And I didn’t go because I didn’t want to, because I didn’t like the director. And so I went to work in the office. And the superior found out, of course, because they find out everything. They know everything. And I was punished also.
I remember that day I walked up and down with father and “why did you do this” and “you disobeyed” and “you didn’t do what you were supposed to do.” And I had to take it because I disobeyed, and I was punished. And we learned our lesson. So we’re not always pleasing necessarily to those whom we should obey.
And why do we disobey? The reason is very easy. We want to do our own thing. We don’t like what we have to do, and so we look for something else. We try to get out of it, and we invent our own way and our own things that are more important, that are better. And so we go off and do what we want. That’s what disobedience is – doing what I want, on my time, in my own way, with disregard for my duties and obligations and what I should do.
And things don’t always go so well. In fact, most of the time they don’t go well at all.
And disobedience proves one thing – it’s better to obey. Not only because of the outcome that you might see, but especially because of the outcome that you don’t see. In other words, when we disobey, we disrupt our peace and our joy. And really, what we disrupt is true friendship.
Because when God confides in us, when our parents confide in us, when others whom we serve confide in us, and we say “no” and we do our own thing, we displease them. And that’s the real damage. The damage is done to a friendship. God is our friend. Yes, He’s our Father. But He’s also our friend – our best friend.
Friendship is not to be belittled. Jesus himself tells His disciples, “I call you friends. No longer do I call you My servants . You are My friends because I have shared and I have given everything to you.” And that’s what a friend does.
And when I was growing up my father was my best friend. I could always go to my father any time, any moment, and tell him anything good, bad, ugly – anything. And he would listen. And he would give advice. And he would counsel me and love me. Even if I did something bad he would be there.
And that’s God for us too. And Jesus tells His disciples today, “whoever keeps My Commandments is the one who loves Me.” Because in the end that’s really what obedience is all about. It’s about love. Yes, we can obey so that we’re not punished. We don’t like punishment. We don’t like the negative consequences of our misbehavior. But even more important is when we betray that friendship out of lack of love. And so love is really the motivation to obey. “I respect you. I obey. I do as you wish because I know that you are looking after my good.”
I think my parents always wanted what was best for all of us children. I don’t think they did ever did anything that would harm us. Yes, some things were difficult to accept. Yes, sometimes it was hard to obey their orders. But in the end I knew they loved us, and they loved me. And they wanted what was best. And I wanted to love and please them. And that’s the motivation, really. Why we obey God and observe His Commandments, and listen to others, and heed them, and obey them; those who are over us, especially our parents. At work, those who have authority – legitimate authority – and exercise it in the name of the good of all. It’s not a question of going off and doing my own thing.
I remember one person in the Gospel who did that, the Prodigal Son. He went off to do his own thing, and it did not go well with him. But he did come back to his father. And his father showed the great love that he had for him, and was waiting at the door for him to come back. And so our Lord teaches us today that if we truly love and observe His Commandments, He will also love us even more than we know. And He says he will reveal himself to us. And that is really when we get to know God; when we follow His Will. And we do what He wants in our life.
“Well Father how, do I know what the Will of God is?” Well, we certainly know many things about the Will of God. He did give us Ten Commandments. So we know that’s His will. And Jesus also gave us the two great Commandments of Love, with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength; and love our neighbor also. And Jesus himself taught us the Supreme Love. “I give my life for you because I love you.” But more particular, how do we follow the way of God in our hearts? Well, we all have desires. We all have deep longings. We certainly know that if we go against the Commandments of God, we’re not doing His will.
But I have two choices. I have this road and that road I can go down. Well, if one of them is evil that’s obviously not God’s will. But if both are good, they’re legitimate options that we could take, how do we know which one God wants for us?
Well, God also works with us. He doesn’t work against us. And so we pray and we ask for discernment. And then we have to make a decision. And then we make a decision. Will not God bless us in our informed decision? Obviously, if we go through life just willy-nilly, choosing crazy things, the blessing of God may not be upon us. But when we try to discern, with the gifts and talents that He has given us, and ask the Holy Spirit’s presence – and that’s one thing also that God has promised us – the Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father, He will give you another advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth.” This Spirit of Truth will be in us and remain in us, to help us, to lead us, and to guide us. And so when we look to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to help us discern properly, in our own hearts and our own minds, the Will of God, how will the Holy Spirit fail us?
“Oh, maybe I should have made the other decision. Maybe I should have done that, maybe I should…” Well, that’s looking back to the past. It’s hard to change that. Can we make mistakes? Yes, we’re human, after all. But more important than making mistakes is learning from our mistakes, and using that to go forward. And asking the Holy Spirit, “can You continue to grant us light that we may discern the will of God in our own lives?” So we thank God for the gift of His Spirit. We ask him to help us, love and serve Him as we ought.
And today, we also celebrate our mothers. It’s not a religious holiday, I know. But it’s still a wonderful civic holiday. When we remember the love and the attention that they have all given us. And we ask God to look upon them and bless them because they are guides for us, they have done so much for us. In a great way I owe my priestly vocation to my mother, who sent me to religion classes when I didn’t want to go. She said, “I signed you up for religion classes.” I said, “I’m not going.” And she said, “yes you are.” And I said, “no I’m not.” And she said, “yes you are.” And I said, “no I am not.” And she said, “yes you are.”
And I went for 12 years, and here I am. Didn’t hurt me. And so she set me on a path to hear the Word of God and his call. And for that I am grateful. But for many many other things – see moms do many things that we don’t even see. Dad was loud. He spoke loud, He talked loud, he set down the law. Mom was quiet. She worked. She did things. She knew us, each one. She knew exactly what we needed when we need it. She had that heart of dedication, and giving and giving and giving. Before she passed, two years before she passed, I went home one day and I visited. And I said “mom, how can you be wearing those slippers? They’re full of holes. You can’t be using those.” And she said. “I liked them. They’re wonderful. They’re fine.” I said no and I bought her a brand new pair of sheepskin slippers. And I brought it to her for Christmas. And I forgot about it.
And then after she passed we were home and we were looking, rumbling through the closets. And I stumbled upon a box. And I opened a box. And I said, “there are the brand new slippers I bought my mother. She didn’t even use them.” I didn’t feel bad, and I know why she didn’t use them. Because she never thought of herself in the way of buying herself new things, getting this, getting that. She always looked after us first. She was always the last one to sit down at the table to feed us. She was always the last one to buy a nice blouse, or buy a nice dress for herself. She always made sure that we had everything.
I remember one day I came home from the Seminary, and she said “here’s a hundred dollars to buy yourself some socks.”
“Mom, a hundred dollars to buy socks? Socks don’t cost that much.”
“Well, you might need some in the future.”
And my dad looked over and he said, “can I have some sock money too?”
These are our moms. They look after us, they care for us, they love us greatly and dearly. And so we thank them for all the wonderful things they do for us and have done for us. And we ask God to bless them. And those who are looking on us from above, we ask for their presence and help still, as we live in this world. So at the end of Mass we’ll also have our blessing for our mothers’ pure present.