Mother’s Day was originally conceived as a day to honor one’s own mother, but over time has taken on additional meaning as a celebration of motherhood more generally. Certainly, anyone with small children like your humble writer would be foolish to omit the celebration of his children’s mother on this day. However, there is another mother who also deserves our attention; namely, our Holy Mother Church, the bride of Christ, and the refuge of us all, poor sinners that we are, His children.
Sacrificial love receives an extended treatment as an exegesis of one of St. Paul’s most famous and most frequently-quoted passages in chapter four of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia. This patient and gentle love of the Church for sinners is expressed by Our Lord on the Cross as the love of a mother for her children. Just as a mother will sacrifice anything, even her life, for the protection of her children, the Church similarly offers the ultimate sacrifice–the death of Our Lord–every day in the celebration of the Mass for the good of her children.
This kind of motherly love is inconvenient and difficult, but the Church does not have a choice. Our mothers participated in the profound and sacred mystery of man joined to woman in one flesh to give us life in this world. So too, the Church participates in the sublime and transcendental mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ which gives us eternal life in the hereafter. The Church’s joy for the repentance and salvation of sinners is as a mother’s joy when she first discovers that God has blessed her with a child.
However, a mother’s joy is bittersweet. Even while her child is in the womb, she has a thousand different fears. When they grow older and get in trouble, the mother bears these things in her own heart and suffers with her children and for her children, even when they do not realize it. Even when they are fully grown, a mother never stops worrying about her children. In this way, the whole Church weeps for her children who, enticed by the empty show and false promises of the Prince of Lies, have abandoned God. Like Saint Monica, the whole Church prays unceasingly for her children to return to her embrace and to the merciful love of her spouse, Jesus Christ.
Even though it means she must suffer–and even the mother of a saint must suffer–a mother does not choose her children, but welcomes a complete stranger, known but to God, within the most holy place of her own person–the womb–where, in the weakness of our earliest development, we are protected by her body and nourished by her flesh so that we might grow and take the form God desires for us. So too then, the Church welcomes every stranger, every sinner–everyone afflicted by weakness both physical and spiritual–and protects us all within her great body that surrounds the entire globe. She calls us, wounded as we are, to dwell within the wounds of Christ so that we may be led to fuller conversion and, with the grace and help of God, to be worthy of full communion with the nourishing flesh of Our Lord.
St. Peter’s Square was intentionally designed with this image in mind. The curving arcades are like arms reaching out longingly and lovingly to shelter and cradle all of humanity into the bosom of our Holy Mother Church. The church building itself is like a womb, a place of safety and protection. When we go forth after Mass to proclaim the Gospel in our lives, we go as her children who cling to her hands for reassurance in a dangerous and uncertain world. As we celebrate–and rightly so–all that the mothers in our lives have done for us, let us not forget the Church, the great mother of us all, without whom we can do nothing.