Chapter Nine: Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church
by Sara Perla
We all know that moms are special. Growing up, whenever I had a question about something, whether it was as banal as “How long should I put this into the microwave for?” or as deep as, “What’s the purpose of my life?” my mom always had an answer. When I think about how I learned to read or do addition, it’s usually my mom who is prominent in those memories, even though my dad was there too.
The Church is a mother; she’s there at the very beginning of life, even before her child is conscious of her (Baptism). She feeds her children, again and again (Eucharist). She listens to them, forgives them, and tries to help them, using words that they will understand (Confession). Mom is usually the best person to have around when you’re sick (Anointing). She tells us who we are and reminds us of it when we forget. She also becomes a fierce “mama bear” when her children are being threatened—and everyone knows that you do not want to get into a scrape with a mama bear.
The catechesis reads, “The teaching authority of the Church serves the whole people of God by preserving the truth of the Gospel intact, together with all of the moral teachings revealed, explicitly and implicitly, in the Gospel, which nurture human freedom” (no. 184). This perhaps helps to explain the delicate balance that the Church, as a mother, tries to maintain at this time of confusion about marriage and same-sex attraction. The whole truth of the Gospel, which must remain intact, is both “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone,” and “Go and sin no more” (John 8).
Human beings don’t seem to like “both-and.” We’d rather have “either-or” because it’s easier that way. But Christ insists on “both-and,” telling us to go out to all the world and proclaim the Good News, and that the Holy Spirit will convict the world about sin (John 16).
One of the things that moms are good at is being right about what makes their children truly happy. On Halloween, for example, little Johnny might want to eat every single piece of candy right away, and mom will say no. Mom knows that Johnny will make himself sick if he gets to make that choice about the candy. She knows this because she knows human nature; she is older, wiser, and perhaps has seen the fallout from Johnny’s making the opposite choice before. In her love and mercy for Johnny, she tells him no, and even when he throws a tantrum and yells that he hates her as he storms out of the room, mom stands firm.
As the Church in America continues to grapple with what the redefinition of marriage may mean for her, she stands firm in unconditional love for all her children, including those with same-sex attraction, and tells them again and again that if they follow all of their impulses, they will make themselves sick. But through her, Christ can give everyone the power to live without being a slave to sin, whether that sin be pride, vanity, worldliness, lust, or any other. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…
About the author
Sara Perla is the Program Specialist for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She attended the Catholic University of America and received her Master’s degree in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. She is also a baker, a ballet dancer, and an avid listener of NPR podcasts.
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