Elizabeth Joice was 32 years old when an MRI detected aggressive spinal cancer. She decided not to fight it; she’d just enjoy whatever time she had left. However, as soon as she told him, her boyfriend Max had other ideas. He made a beeline for the kitchen, fashioned a ring out of tin foil, and brought it back to the lounge room so he could propose marriage to her.
They married a month later and she fought to live. She went through repeated rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and surgery. She went into remission but was told she could never have a child as the chemotherapy had made her infertile.
Three years later, to Liz and Max’s delight, she fell pregnant. But soon after her doctors told her cancer was back. They recommended a quick abortion as pregnancy would be dangerous for her and oncology dangerous for her baby.
Her response was immediate: having a kid would be the most important thing she would ever do. She would proceed with the pregnancy. She would not have drugs that would endanger her child’s life or health.
Liz was “full of positive energy” but knew the risk she was taking. The birth was induced as soon as it was safe, and she and Max took beautiful Lily home. “Liz’s magic rubbed off on Lily,” Max said. “She’s beautiful and remarkable. It provides me with the strength to get through this.” But Liz’s health declined rapidly.
Tumours had invaded her right lung, heart and abdomen. A few months later she died in hospital with Max beside her in the bed. She had made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up her own life so her baby girl could live. There is a lesson for us there in a state that this past week and next will consider its abortion laws.
Making waves on YouTube are some job interviews conducted via teleconferencing. Applicants were invited to apply for the job of Director of Operations, the most important position in the company. Expertise in healthcare, finance and culinary arts was advantageous. High job satisfaction was guaranteed but the working conditions were very demanding, including standing for hours on end with few or no breaks, lots of bending over to pick things up, a workday of up to 19 hours – and no pay.
As details of the job unfolded, the candidates were more than a little shocked, describing them as “cruel”, “inhumane” and “a sick joke”. The video ends with the reaction of the candidates after they were told the job was … Motherhood!
Now in on the joke, they talk gratefully about their own mums, realising the scope of self-sacrifice and love that their mothers had offered for them. (I would highly recommend you watch this on YouTube by searching for “World’s Toughest Job”.)
In the secular world today is Mother’s Day, on which we recognise the sacrifices of own mothers and heroes like Elizabeth Joice have made that we might live and live well. But highest among the mothers to whom the Church owes gratitude is surely Mary.
Yesterday was the centenary of her appearance to three little shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, near Fátima in Portugal. Pope Francis marked the occasion by canonising Jacinta and Francisco, and we marked it here in the Cathedral by re-consecrating the Archdiocese of Sydney and the world to her Immaculate Heart.
The message of Fátima 100 years ago was straightforward: pray the Rosary every day for the peace of the world and an end to war. Join your intercessions to Mary’s. Join your works of reparation to those of the Church Militant and Suffering. Join your aspirations to those of the Beautiful Lady and all the Church Triumphant.
The Blessed Virgin Mary played a crucial role in salvation by saying YES to being Mother of the God-man who saved the world. Without her fiat we would not have had the One who described Himself in our Gospel today as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:1-12). When Jesus tells His disciples today that He is going away, they are naturally confused, even desolate. But as He was dying we know He gave them His mother to care for the nascent Church, as she had cared for the nascent Lord (Jn 19:26). The apparitions at Fátima demonstrate she cares for us still, and so we honour her as Mother of God, Mother of the Church, even Mother of the World.
But for all her titles, Mary was a mum and so her life was no bed of roses. She was naturally afraid when the angel told her her task. Simeon then warned that her heart would be broken, pierced as if by a sword. She would have to endure ignominy because of the unusual conception, insecurity as she fled with Joseph and the Baby into Egypt, agony when the Boy went missing in the Temple, loneliness when He embarked on His public ministry and, cruellest of all, helplessness as she watched Him dying on the Cross.
Our Lady of Dolours knew self-sacrifice in giving herself for her Son and His mysterious mission of salvation. But her fidelity did not go unrewarded.
Full of grace she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, conceived the Son of God, was greeted by her kinswoman Elizabeth as ‘Mother of my Lord’, and all generations would call her Blessed. The reward for her particular version of the maternal 19-hour-a-day-job-for-no-pay was to be crowned by the Resurrected Lord. So we owe her our devotion as her children, our imitation as her fellow disciples, and our obedience as her subjects, even as she points us to “doing whatever her son tells us”.
The 16th-century Bishop-Saint Francis De Sales once explained today’s gospel passage by comparing it to our relationship to our Mums. Just as children, by listening to their mothers, imitating them, and trying to speak with them, learn their native language, “so we,” said St Francis, “by keeping close to the Saviour in meditation, and observing His words, His actions, and His affections, shall learn, with the help of His grace, to speak, to act, and to will like Him.” And by keeping close to Our Heavenly Mother and the saints, we keep close to Jesus.
Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima: pray for us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary: pray for us.
Mother of the Church and Help of Christians: pray for us.
St Francisco and St Jacinta: pray for us.
This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A (Mother’s Day), at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney on 14 May 2017.