"Thank you . . . " I unthinkingly prompted the drive-through girl at Wendy's, after she wordlessly shoved a bulging bag of food through the window of my van. I had just plunked down an unreasonable amount of money, money without which her job would not exist, and she didn't even say "Thank you!" I wasn't expecting pheasant under glass, and I don't need to have my bum kissed for buying a Son of Baconator, but I guess a mom is a mom is a mom. Part of my job is teaching people to at least be courteous, even when they can't muster up spontaneous gratitude.
Okay, maybe it's not my job to correct the poor Wendy's gal. But I do want to hear "thank you" from people who are under my authority. I do want people, including my kids, to recognize that gratitude makes life livable -- and it puts our own needs and desires into perspective, too. It's a good thing for them to acknowledge that, even though I'm their mother, I'm not here just to serve them. I do have an existence beyond fulfilling their wants and needs. My time and energy has value, and if I choose to spend it in making their lives nicer, then it's because we have a relationship, not because they deserve it because of their overwhelming awesomeness. And they should -- dare I say it? -- be grateful to me, especially when I go above and beyond the basics.
Well, being The Mom also means learning to roll your eyes and smile when your rotten, ungrateful kids take you for granted. It doesn't change much for me if they say "thank you" or not, as long as I know I'm doing a good job. It matters to them, though. It's bad for them to reduce anyone, even their own mother, to servant status -- to an entity that fades into irrelevance the moment she's not directly serving them.
Why am I talking about this? Because, O my brothers and O my sisters, we all have the same mother, and we all could do a darn sight better job of seeing and treating her as a whole, with needs and concerns and an entire existence that doesn't have anything to do with taking care of us specifically.
I speak, of course, of Mother Church. We need to stop treating the Church like a servant who fades into irrelevance the moment she's not directly serving us. Does she cook and clean for us and do our laundry? Oh, yes, she does. She feeds us with grace, with the Word of God, and with Eucharist, and she invites us to throw our smelly old sins down the chute and -- okay, here the analogy breaks down. I guess she washes, dries, and folds our consciences for us, and leaves them in a tidy stack on our bed? She bustles around, caring for our needs, even anticipating our needs, telling us what we need and making sure we have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of what she has to offer us, from birth to maturity to death.
She knows us intimately, cares for us personally, never stops thinking about us, never stops loving us, never stops desiring everything good for us. But the Church is about more than us -- and she's about more than giving us stuff, too. Mother Church isn't just a sacrament dispenser, who fades into existence for an hour here and there, whenever we need something; and we should be careful not to treat her that way.
How should we behave instead? We can, first of all, say "thank you" for the good things the Church gives us. We can thank God for giving us the Church and the sacraments. And we can thank the priests (and sisters, and lectors, organists, and Knights of Columbus, and so on) who do the work of the Church on earth.
We can recall that the Church has many children, not just us. So if we feel like stamping our feet and complaining that we're not being served with the Church's full attention, there's a good reason for that: There are lots of other people, with lots of other needs.
We can recall that the Church has a life and a purpose beyond giving us stuff. The Church exists to worship God and to draw all men closer to Him. It is, as Screwtape distastefully admits to his nephew, "spread through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners." Not just here to do your laundry.
And we can recall that we do not, in any way, at any time, deserve or have a right to the sacraments. And here is where the analogy between human mother and Mother Church really falls apart. A child has a genuine right to be fed and clothed and cared for by his human mother; and while it's a good thing for him to remember that his mom is also a woman who has a life outside serving him, there's nothing wrong with him feeling entitled to her care when he is young.
But we children of Mother Church do not have any right to the sacraments. These are pure gifts, and we all vastly underestimate how precious they are. Yes, the Church is willing and eager to give them to us -- but that's just because she's so good. Because she is so good, we should remember to thank her!