On the Church as a Mother
Vatican City, (Zenit.org) | 2012 hits
This morning’s General Audience took place at 10:30 in Saint Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and all parts of the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope continued with the series of catecheses on the mystery of the Church, focusing his meditation on the theme: “The Church, Mother of Christians.”
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We take up again today the catechesis on the Church in this “Year of Faith.” Among the imagers that Vatican Council II selected to make us understand better the nature of the Church, is that of “Mother”: the Church is our Mother in the faith, in the supernatural life (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 184.108.40.206.42). It is one of the images most used by the Fathers of the Church in the first centuries and I think it can be useful also for us. For me it is one of the most beautiful images of the Church: the Mother Church! In what sense and in what way is the Church Mother? We begin with the human reality of maternity: what does a mother do?
First of all, a mother generates life; she bears her child in her womb for nine months and then opens him/her to life, generating him/her. The Church is like this: she generates us in the faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit that renders her fecund, as the Virgin Mary. Both the Church and the Virgin Mary are mothers; what is said of the Church can also be said of Our Lady and what is said of Our Lady can also be said of the Church! Faith is, certainly, a personal act: “I believe,” I personally respond to God who makes Himself known and who wishes to enter into friendship with me (cf. Encyclical Lumen fidei, n. 39). But I receive the faith from others, in a family, in a community that teaches me to say “I believe,” “we believe.” A Christian isn’t an island! We do not become Christians in a laboratory, we do not become Christians on our own and with our own strength; faith is a present, a gift of God that is given us in the Church and through the Church. And the Church gives us the life of faith in Baptism: that is the moment in which we are born as children of God, the moment in which we are given the life of God, she generates us as Mother. If you go to the Baptistery of Saint John Lateran, to the Pope’s cathedral, there is inside a Latin inscription which says more or less this: “Here a people is born of divine stock, generated by the Holy Spirit that fertilizes these waters; Mother Church gives birth to her children in these waves.” This makes us understand an important thing: our forming part of the Church is not an external or formal event, it isn’t to draw up a paper that we are given, but it is an interior and vital act; one does not belong to the Church as one does to a society, to a party or any other organization. The bond is vital, as that which one has with one’s mother, because, as Saint Augustine affirms, “the Church is really Mother of Christians” (De moribus Ecclesiae, I, 30, 62-63; PL 32, 1336). Let us ask ourselves: how do I see the Church? If I am grateful to my parents because they gave me life, am I grateful to the Church because she has generated me in the faith through Baptism? Some raise their hands, but how many don’t remember! But the date of Baptism is the date of our birth to the Church, the date in which our Mother the Church has given us birth! And now I leave you with a task to do at home. When you go back home today, go and look well for the date of your Baptism, to celebrate it, to thank the Lord for this gift. Will you do this? Do we love the Church as we love our own mother, knowing and also understanding her defects? All mothers have defects, we all have defects, but when there is talk of our mother’s defects we cover them, we love her so. And the Church also has her defects: do we love her as we do our mother; do we help to make her more beautiful, more authentic, more according to the Lord? I leave you with these questions, but don’t forget the tasks: look for the date of your Baptism to have it in your heart and to celebrate it.
A mother doesn’t limit herself to give life, but with great care she helps her children to grow, she gives them milk, nourishes them, teaches them the way of life, always accompanies them with her attentions, with her affection, with her love, also when they are grown up. And in this she also knows how to correct, to forgive, to understand; she knows how to be close in sickness, in suffering. In a word, a good mother helps her children to come out of themselves, not to remain comfortably under the maternal wings, as a brood of chicks under the wings of a hen. The Church, as a good Mother, does the same thing: she accompanies our growing up by transmitting the Word of God, which is a light that indicates the way of the Christian life, administering the Sacraments. She nourishes us with the Eucharist, she gives us God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance, she supports us in the moment of sickness with the Anointing of the Sick. The Church accompanies us in our whole life of faith, in our whole Christian life. We can now ask ourselves other questions: what relation do I have with the Church? Do I see her as a Mother that helps me grow as a Christian? Do I take part in the life of the Church, do I feel a part of her? Is my relation formal or vital?
A third brief thought. In the first centuries of the Church, a reality was very clear: while the Church is Mother of Christians, while she “makes” Christians, she is also “made” by them. The Church isn’t something different from ourselves, but is seen as the totality of believers, as the “us” of Christians: I, you, all of us are part of the Church. Saint Jerome wrote: “The Church of Christ is nothing other than the souls of those who believe in Christ” (Tract. Ps 86: PL 26, 1084). So, all of us, pastors and faithful, live the maternity of the Church. Sometimes I hear: “I believe in God but not in the Church … I have heard that the Church says … the priests say …” The priests are one thing, but the Church is not made up of priests only, all of us are the Church! And if you say that you believe in God and do not believe in the Church, you are saying that you don’t believe in yourself, and this is a contradiction. All of us are the Church: from the recently baptized baby to the Bishops, the Pope; we are all the Church and we are all equal in the eyes of God! We are all called to collaborate in the birth of faith of new Christians; we are all called to be educators in the faith, to proclaim the Gospel. Each one of us must ask him/herself: what do I do so that others can share the Christian faith? Am I fruitful in my faith or closed? When I say that I love a Church that isn’t shut in in her enclosure, but is able to go out, to move, even with some risks, to bring Christ to all, I think of all, of myself, of you, of every Christian. We all participate in the Church’s maternity, so that the light of Christ reaches the ends of the earth. Long live Holy Mother Church!
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Dear Brothers and Sisters: today I wish to continue our catechesis on the Church by reflecting on an image used by the early Fathers and the Second Vatican Council: the Church as our Mother. By reflecting on the human experience of maternity, we understand that the Church is like our own Mothers. First, like our Mothers, the Church gives us the gift of life. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are reborn as children of God and receive his life. While faith is a personal act, we also recognize that faith comes to us through others – our families and communities who teach us how to believe. Second, like our Mothers, the Church nourishes us, helps us to grow, teaches us the path to follow, and accompanies us in life, especially in our illnesses and sufferings, through the Sacraments and the Word of God. Third, it is also our mission to go forth and share in the maternity of the Church by bringing others to a life of faith. And so we ask ourselves, do we love the Church as our Mother, who helps us to grow as Christians? And how do we go beyond ourselves in order to bring Christ to others? As faithful children, let us bring the light of Christ to the ends of the earth.
Holy Father (In Italian):
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Malta, Kenya and the United States. May your stay in the Eternal City increase your love for the Church, his Church, our Mother. May God bless you!
A warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the faithful of Acerenza with their Archbishop, Monsignor Ricchiuti, who have come to the See of Peter for their diocesan pilgrimage on the occasion of the Year of Faith; the women religious, especially the Alcantarine Franciscans, holding their General Chapter; the military representations; the adolescents of the diocese of Chiavari, accompanied by their Bishop, Monsignor Tanasini. I greet the parish associations and groups, in particular the pilgrims of Piansano with the Bishop of Viterbo, Monsignor Fumagalli. To all I wish that the visit to the Tombs of the Apostles will serve to strengthen their faith and Christian witness!
Finally, an affectionate thought to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow is the Memoria of the most Holy Name of Mary. Invoke her, dear young people, to feel the sweetness of the love of the Mother of God; pray to her, dear sick people, especially in the moment of the cross and of suffering; look at her, dear newlyweds, as the star of your conjugal journey of devotion and fidelity.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]