Mothers and the Church
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — “I will not lose my children at any cost … That’s my mother’s heart.”
The mother of a gaggle of adult children was talking about the hard realities of watching a child walk away from your family’s values, including its faith. She was speaking at a Saturday morning convening of mothers at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, run by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Around the table were women who pray, as Brother John Luth, the Marian who organized the meeting, explained it.
Luth had been struck by a sentence from a Pope Francis homily: “If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us.” This was more than mere poetry. These were marching orders, as far as he was concerned. And no surprise: The woman at the meeting came prepared with the hard-earned wisdom of experience.
These women were not explicitly discussing headlines and world events. But in the background of the discussion about the timeless issues of motherhood and faith were the unfolding details of the torture that former Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick allegedly inflicted on priests, seminarians and others. That the roundtable and the headlines coincided was not by intentional human design but had the feeling of providence.
It was also on the eve of the week marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae.” Though it most infamously has to do with contraception and its consequences (and prophetically so), it was really about human love, life and purpose. Even a half-century later, it offers an alternative for anyone looking to begin again with a countercultural lifestyle. Pain could have been spared had men of the cloth more resounding taught its lessons and lived its example.
In that January homily, that Luth was so enchanted with and stirred by, Pope Francis also said: “the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church … While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to ‘keep.’ to put things together in her heart, to give life.”
Pope Francis has also said: “Mothers are the strongest antidote to our individualistic and egotistic tendencies, to our lack of openness and our indifference. A society without mothers would not only be a cold society, but a society that has lost its heart, lost the ‘feel of home.’” And haven’t we lost just that? Isn’t that at the heart of a lot of the anger in the world, about everything? And how everything gets political in the most unhelpful and exacerbating ways?
Pope Francis also often talks about weeping with those who suffer. He’s offering an invitation to solidarity, a key principle of Catholic social teaching. Reading some of the news stories describing abuse at the hands of a cardinal can make it seem like the worst of times. But Luth understands the Church is more than its bishops, priests, nuns and monks. We sometimes seem to forget this, and now it’s a good time to remember it. In the anger and disgust so many of us feel about Cardinal McCarrick and whatever else may soon come to light, mothers will insist on better than bureaucratic responses.
Pope Francis has also talked about a revolution of tenderness, and while it’s not the stuff of breaking news, it does show both a mystical and practical understanding of the aching needs in the ruins of an ecclesiastical culture that succumbed to some humanity’s worst instincts. It’s a reality that was part of the reason Pope Benedict stepped aside – believing the Holy Spirit had someone else to help with urgent reform. And knowing essential reforms aren’t only the necessary overhaul of institutional structures, but of human hearts.
Truth, justice, courage and healing are all necessary. So is the Church being seen more fully. The Church is not just officials, but mothers, too. As the filth of scandal is revealed, it is mothers’ love, faith and leadership that will be instrumental in a purified proclamation of Christ, as the faith of sons and daughters of the Church — including many of her good, holy, long-suffering priests — are saved in encountering God and his love and mercy, thanks in no small part to the graces flowing from motherly perseverance.
COPYRIGHT 2018 United Feature Syndicate