Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
20 Aug 2017

St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Monica Riley once wanted to be the world's fattest woman. Each day she would consume over 10,000 calories, often being fed through a funnel. Her goal was to weigh over a thousand pounds, i.e. over 450 kilograms and be immobile; by earlier this year, when she was just over 300 kg, she was well on the way.

But then, all of a sudden, she had a change of heart. She decided things had to change, and drastically so. She went on a strict diet and started exercising, and lost more than 88kgs in just 10 weeks - that's the entire body weight of many people here. What happened that made the 28-year-old change her plans so radically? You've probably guessed: she discovered she was pregnant. Having already suffered the pain of two miscarriages, and given up on having another child, she was very excited that she was pregnant again and determined to do everything she could to be a healthy Mum and so give her child the best chance.

Monica's story tells us that pregnancy can and should be a life-changing event. But in what way? Sometimes people like to frighten mothers having their first child with stories of how they will never again sleep, or eat a hot meal while it's still hot, or have control over their own lives. However, in my Christmas homily last year I quoted the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who once said that the greatest challenge to darkness, despair, hopelessness is… a child's birth. The sheer spontaneity of the child, the love and hope a newborn evokes in all those around, are so powerful that, she thought, "freedom is guaranteed by each new birth."1 As Monica Riley has found, the journey isn't always easy. But so strong is her intention to do the best for her child, so strong is her desire to be mother of a family, that, with the help of her fiancé, she has persevered.

Every mother knows something of this perseverance. Those of you who've already had a child or children will, I'm sure, agree: though there might be certain advantages in having been through the experience before, no-one should pretend pregnancy itself, or childbirth, or feeding, or nappies, or getting up in the middle of the night, or cleaning up after, or solving arguments between children is a bed of roses. It takes a special kind of love, what I call "the hard loving", the resolute, persevering, even-when-its-not-especially-emotionally-rewarding loving. Even the first time round soon-to-be mothers here this morning have something to teach us all about perseverance. Though most of you won't have challenges as big as Monica's, each of you will have your own personal struggles, as well as those in common with other women that come with the fact that another person is growing inside you, affecting your hormones, claiming your attention. Being a mother means permanently changing your focus from "What do I want to do?" or even "What do my husband and I want to do?", to "What does my child want me to do?" or "What is best for my child?" In our contemporary world this radical other-centricity is relatively rare, not always understood, let alone supported as well as it should be. Yet all the pregnant women here today are saying, like Monica: I'm up for it!

Our readings this morning are all about perseverance: Isaiah encourages us to "have a care for justice" and "act with integrity", but above all to hold on, to "cling to the Lord's covenant" until he comes (Is 56:16-7). Likewise St. Paul reminds us that mercy will be shown us - eventually - if we persevere in God's truth for now (Rom 11:29-32). But our Gospel passage this morning (Mt 15:21-28) most dramatically demonstrates that stubbornness that in saints we call single-mindedness, that OCD-like behaviour that in new mothers we call devotion. At first, perhaps to test her, Jesus ignores the Canaanite woman and just picks up speed as he walks along. She is not perturbed in the least. As we gather from the disciples' entreaties, she continued after Jesus, causing quite a fuss, calling out to him all the way. Jesus dismisses her again, reminding his disciples that his mission is to the Jews. Not to be put off, she finally catches up to him, and throws herself down at his feet so she cannot be ignored. Again, He says He's got other priorities. But she persuades him. It is reminiscent, in some ways, of Mary at Cana asking Jesus to intervene and save the day at the Wedding Reception that's gone dry. He says it's not yet his time for miracles. But Mothers often get their way… So, too, in today's story our Canaanite woman, by virtue of her persevering faith and love, gets the miracle she needs for her child.

As Australia faces a plebiscite on marriage. The choice will be a stark one. Do you want to give same-sex-attracted people the chance to do what other people can - get married - as some say they want? After all, they have suffered discrimination of various sorts through the centuries and we don't want to be bigots... Or do you want to keep marriage as it has been in every culture, religion and legal system in the world till now, a special covenant between people of opposite sex who, by doing what husbands and wives do, usually ends up with a family, hopefully one that sticks together not just for the adults' sake but for the kids that result? There are arguments to be made both ways. Many of us may think we've got more important things to think about or that it won't affect us. Most of us will know and love someone who is same-sex attracted and want only the best for them. But we also love real marriages and we want to sustain a marital culture that will sustain them also, rather than upset it further. We don't want to be made to choose between loving homosexual people and loving real marriage. We care about both. And keeping the debate civil and respectful, indeed loving, is proving difficult. It will take hard loving, patience, perseverance.

Reflecting on today's Gospel and the question of why Jesus took so long to give in to the woman, the 4th century Bishop St. John Chrysostom thought it was to test her patience and make it an example to us all.2 Perhaps such patience and perseverance was easy for the woman; after all, she was a mother, so it had been well-tested already! But all of us need that patient mother love, whether it's for dealing with the great debates for the soul of our culture, or with the more mundane every day challenges of relationships, work, studies, prayer, whatever we find is trying our patience right now.

And so, dear mothers, we persevere with you in praying for you and your child. We thank you for your example and strength in a time of such confusion about marriage and the family, about motherhood and fatherhood, and the rest. We offer you our support. Remember that faith, hope, and love all require patient perseverance for us all; and the hard loving, when it gets hard, is the truest loving. God bless you and your little one with that loving patience all the days of your lives! Thanks be to God for all mothers and mothers-to-be!


St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Welcome to you all to this morning's Solemn Mass at St Mary's Cathedral. Today we celebrate the annual Mass for Pregnant Mothers;after Communion I will bless them and the babies growing within them. It is chance for the Archdiocese to give thanks to God for the blessing of children, to give thanks to their mothers for bearing them, and to support family life at a time when our community is not always as supportive as it should be. In addition to the expectant couples present, I also welcome our brave single mothers, and those couples who are hoping to embark on the journey of parenthood together.

I am pleased to acknowledge Mr Chris Gordon and the staff of the Archdiocese's Life, Marriage and Family Centre who have helped to organise this Mass.

To everyone present a very warm welcome!


1 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 479; see also The Human Condition, p. 247

2 St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the words, 'That Christ be proclaimed', 12-13