(This article is reprinted with permission from Canticle Magazine, the Voice of Today's Catholic Woman.)
It’s not surprising. When was the last time you heard someone publicly admit to loving the Catholic Church? To modern ears, it sounds outdated, fake, and uninformed to even imply that the Roman Catholic Church is worthy of love.
It would be irritating and counter-productive to list all the presumed faults of the Catholic Church, all the jokes told at her expense, all the ways our Catholic and non-Catholic contemporaries ridicule the Church. It is sufficient to assume (safely, I think) that the reader of this article has heard those complaints many times and will hear them many more.
What I propose to offer is the antidote to today’s anger and antagonism toward the Church. Love, of course, is always the antidote to evil, and the light of faith can show us not only the blindness of our society’s attitudes, but our own individual areas of darkness as well. The basic problem, as I see it, is that we have forgotten the simple truth in a homely phrase: Love your mother.
Before examining how the Catholic Church is a mother to all of us, it is helpful to remember that many of our brothers and sisters have abandoned God completely or fallen into the barest kind of lip service to His existence. Since they don’t know Him, they cannot know the Church He founded. Without the light of faith to illuminate their lives, they fall onto false understandings of what it means to be loving and what it means to be a mother.
In television shows, dinner table conversations, and workplace discussion, our friends and family tell us about their lives and often indirectly show us how they define the word “love.” Love means eliminating all suffering. Love means letting people make their own decisions without comment or correction. Love means telling your spouse, friend, or family member to leave and never come back because he or she might continue to hurt you otherwise. Love means telling others what they need to do so that you can be happy.
All of this is nonsense, of course, but without the example of Jesus Christ etched into your heart, it is easy to see the confusion. If not for Jesus, who would believe that suffering for another can bring peace and joy? Who would believe that it is necessary to speak the truth in love even when the words are hard ones? Who would believe that you are absolutely required to forgive others, even those who have sought to end your life? Who would believe the seeming contradiction that you must acknowledge your own sinfulness before you can learn to avoid sin and be loving to others? With Christ, all these apparent obstacles to personal happiness are transformed into opportunities to love. The kind of love we are called to — which is “not rude, jealous, or brooding,” as Saint Paul tells us in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, but “bears all things for others” — is the antithesis of such cultural icons as self-absorbed talk shows, no-fault divorce, and sexual immorality.
Our culture has a similarly unhealthy attitude toward mothers and motherhood. A woman of the ’90’s avoids the trauma of motherhood through pills and devices, and if those fail, by a “safe and legal” surgical procedure. The physical, emotional, and psychological effects of those technological “solutions” are considered infinitely less worthy of concern than the fat content of her diet. When motherhood is desired and successfully achieved (according to the schedule in her appointment book and her plans for career growth), the newborn can be easily left at any one of a plethora of centers staffed by typically loving, but underpaid women who are “caring for,” but not “mothering” her child. She achieves true motherhood, according to contemporary standards, not by spending time with her child, but by making sure her child has “the best that money can buy” in terms of clothing, toys, parties, playmates, extracurricular activities, and college.
But this is not motherhood at all. Motherhood is not something you choose, but something you are granted by a gracious and loving God. Motherhood is not about filling out a checklist of accomplishments but about establishing a personal relationship with a young human being which is so important that all subsequent relationships will be profoundly affected by it. Motherhood is about being humble, poor, and gentle out of love and hope that your sacrifice will help another person become a loving child of God. So long as our culture defines successful motherhood in terms of what you can buy for your child, we will have unhealthy families. We will also be at a loss to explain to our contemporaries how they should love the Church as a mother.
But the Church is not Mother Church to our fellow citizens, or even to many of our fellow Catholics. The Church is a rigid hierarchical male-dominated establishment with a history of cruelty, according to what passes as history today. However, in these attitudes we learn more about contemporary society than about the Catholic Church.
Like an unruly teenager, our society demands that all attention be on the individual and that authority be obeyed only under special circumstances. This concern for personal pleasure and autonomy at any cost has not-so-hidden consequences, consequences which are destroying both families and communities through drugs, alcohol, pornography, and crisis pregnancies. Just as adolescents sometimes lack the maturity to see deeply enough into a problem to find its solution, so our culture turns to shallow, easy answers to fix serious problems. Giving needles to drug addicts and advocating abortion provides quick relief to perceived “inconveniences” but leads us all into deeper darkness.
To both believers and non-believers, therefore, Mother Church offers a mature, maternal answer to our questions. She tells us, first of all, that God exists, regardless of what our friends may tell us. She reminds us all that God has revealed to us and done for us and tests us at every Mass with creeds and prayers to be sure we remember the lessons correctly. She tells us not to be afraid in the face of pain and persecution but comforts us with the presence of Jesus. Her admonitions to acknowledge our sins and serve others can be painful and humiliating but are offered out of a desire for our lives to be fruitful and loving. Just as it may be unpleasant but necessary to remove a dangerous object from the hands of a small child, so it is necessary for Mother Church to tell us to let go of our participation in unhealthy organizations, sinful practices, and worthless events. Just like children, we scream and cry when we’re told we shouldn’t join the Masons, practice contraception, or watch certain movies or shows. To teenagers, this feels like oppression. As adults, we must recognize the need to honor Mother Church, and we must seek an adult understanding of issues that cause us difficulty.
Of course, as Mother Church teaches us, we must worship God alone and pray to the Holy Trinity, as a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. Mother Church, like our human mother, did not create us or save us from death, but, also like our human mother, is present to comfort, teach, and love us into life.
If we acknowledge our need to love the Church as our mother, two wonderful things will happen. First, we will find ourselves becoming like little children, as Jesus taught us we should, learning and growing in humility and obedience to God. Second, we will discover the love of Mary, another noteworthy mother, who intercedes lovingly for each of us from heaven.