November 7, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

The Church, a merciful mother to all her children

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinPope Francis has said that his favorite image of the Church is “mother.” This is “the face of the Church,” the pope says. It is an image he would like the Church to display more often.

What do we mean when we say that the Church is our mother? Pope Francis answers this question by describing what mothers do for their children.

“A mother teaches how to walk in life,” the pope says. “She teaches how to do well in life; she knows how to direct her children; she seeks always to indicate the right way in life to grow and become adults.”

The Church is a mother who teaches, guides and helps us to grow. She is an alma mater (a nourishing mother) as opposed to a harsh or cruel teacher who seeks to impose her ideas on us.

Pope Francis emphasizes that a true mother wants only the best for her children. She never teaches anything that will harm them, but seeks to impart only those things that will help us to grow in wisdom and understanding.

“Think of the Ten Commandments,” the pope says. “These are the fruits of tenderness, of the very love that God gives us.” Anticipating our reaction, the Holy Father says, “You might say to me: but these are commandments! They are a list of negatives!” Look more closely, the pope tells us. Read them and then think about them positively. “You will see that they concern our way of behaving toward God, toward ourselves and toward others, just as a mother teaches us how to live well.”

Because the Church is a nourishing mother, Pope Francis says, she teaches only “what is best for her children.” We don’t always want to hear what our mother has to say. We think we know better. But as we grow up, our mother’s words of wisdom come back to us and help us make the kinds of choices and decisions that allow us “to do well in life.”

A nourishing mother possesses infinite patience and mercy—no matter what mistakes her children make. “When a child grows and becomes an adult,” the pope says, “he does what he wants, and at times, he may happen to stray from the path.” Instead of giving up on her children, “a mother always, in every situation, has the patience to continue to accompany her children.” Even when we make mistakes—sometime serious ones—our loving mother stands with us. “She is animated by the strength of love … she always finds a way of understanding them, to help them.”

Pope Francis believes that the Church is a merciful mother. “She always seeks to defend us even when we stray from the path.” And the pope insists that the Church “never closes the doors of her house” to those of us who have lost our way. “She does not judge, but rather offers God’s forgiveness; she offers her love to invite her children to return to the right path even when they have fallen into the deepest abyss. The Church is not afraid to enter into the darkest night with them in order to give them hope.” Mercy and hope are given to us always—even when we are surrounded by darkness!

Finally, Pope Francis reminds us that a loving mother prays for her children, especially when they are most in need. Mothers intercede for their children; they implore our heavenly Father to be gracious and merciful, to lift us up when we are down “in the deepest abyss,” and to allow the light of Christ to illumine the darkness that surrounds us. “Through prayer, a mother places the lives of all her children in the hands of the Lord,” the pope says. “Let us trust in the strength of the prayer of Mother Church: the Lord never remains indifferent. He always knows how to astonish us when we least expect it.”

Perhaps the most astonishing thing the Lord ever did was to become a man and be born of a woman. As an infant, he was totally dependent on his mother. As a man dying on the cross for our sake, he handed over his mother to us, and she then became the mother of the Church.

Mary is the model of motherhood that the Church seeks to imitate. She is the perfect teacher, the Mother of Mercy, and the one who constantly intercedes for us to our Father in heaven.

May the Church always look to Mary’s example. May Mother Church never be indifferent, cruel or unforgiving in her care for us, her children. May she always welcome us home when we have lost our way! †

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