God Is Our Father, and the Church Is Our Gentle Mother
“The Church is our mother … with great care she helps her children grow, gives them milk, feeds them, teaches them the way of life, accompanies them always with her care, with her affection, with her love, even when they are grown up.” —Pope Francis
I am no accomplished baker. The chemistry that requires precision for the butter, the flour and the heat to work their magic into delectable goods is too much for my impatient hands. Yet, when I saw the cookies a mother made to celebrate her daughter’s First Holy Communion, I was unusually inspired to bake some for my own daughter.
It was truly a momentous day for my little lady to receive Our Lord for the first time in her life. We had been studying the catechism for a while as we memorized the Ten Commandments and talked about the intricacies of culpability, with examples from the lives of Marvel or Narnia characters. The white dress and the lacy gloves had arrived in the mail. She had gone to her first confession.
Even though we have a small community, I wanted the day to be memorable. Our wonderful pastor graciouslydirected his homily to my daughter, who listened to every word with interest and intensity for the first time. The small gathering that followed this momentous occasion was happy with gifts and treats, including my all-time culinary accomplishment of special cookies. All of these steps were expected and planned, but what was unexpected and unplanned was a Corpus Christi procession the following day.
My husband and I are both converts to the faith. Since we became parents we have been trying to introduce traditions into our family life, traditions that were never passed down to us from our families. In our search to find a home for our family, one of the things that provided us stability, trust and comfort was the timeless traditions of Holy Mother Church.
I had never realized how important these traditions were before I became a parent, even though the Traditional Latin Mass has always occupied a special place for me. What has pleasantly surprised me was the beauty and gentleness of the liturgical life of the Church — scrumptious feasts, exquisite vestments, beautiful statues and specific prayers. Like a loving and caring mother, the Church cradles us in her arms and raises us in faith from baptism to the last rites.
The Church cares for us not only as individuals, but also as families, because the Lord created the family as the first society and the as the basic unit of a properly ordered society. With her small-t traditions, the Church provides occasions for mothers to become more like the Blessed Virgin, for fathers to imitate St. Joseph and for the children to safely become true disciples of Jesus.
The day after my daughter’s first Holy Communion, we participated in the Corpus Christi procession. It was not the first time for our family, but this one made me especially realize how gently Holy Mother Church had guided our babies to become part of the greater community while staying near to their family.
Our 10-year-old son carried the incense boat. He wore a lacy alb that had changed its color overtime, giving the vestment an aura of timelessness. He whispered, “Father told me the alb is old school. I like it.” He walked in front of Our Lord with a seriousness he could not muster the rest of the day. The solemnity of the feast turned him into a little man who rose to the occasion and carried out his task with duty and care.
My 8-year-old daughter, who had just received the Eucharist for the first time the day before, wore her white dress and spread rose petals for Our Lord. She, too, carried out this simple but meaningful task with diligence.
We had always sat together as a family until our son started serving Mass. But that day, during that procession, both of them walked a few yards ahead of us, serving the Lord in different ways. I saw the invisible thread that bound our family together stretch out ahead of my husband and me, as he carried our 7-month-old and I held the hands of our other two little ones.
As we sang hymns and provided a curious sight for the onlookers, for the first time I realized what a gentle mother the Catholic Church is. Her traditions have been tested through the centuries and been found fruitful, loving and caring. Here were my two babies, both of whom had special roles to play on this day to serve the Lord who died for them.
They had not been unceremoniously ripped away from us, but gently led away as we watched them grow and flourish. Unlike the first day of kindergarten when I had to leave them with a roomful of scared kids and adults who had just met them, in the Church, they were surrounded with people who already knew them. There were no tears or separation anxiety or fear about what to expect. Instead, the Church held their hands on the one side and their parents on the other side so that we could all walk toward the Lord together.
That slow procession through a university campus under the noon sun was a reminder that our children belong to God first. While we have the privilege to raise and lead them to Christ, we are all equal and equally loved before the Lord, who was merciful enough to give us a mother who is so gentle and kind.
As scandals defile the Bride of Christ, it is easy to get discouraged and to be tempted to leave the mother for the sins of her children. Precious moments like processions, baptisms, weddings and other tangible means of grace should always remind us that over the centuries, the Church tried many ways to keep us close to the heart of God, not only with her teachings, but also with her fasts and feasts.
She knows her children and how to guide them. She is a gentle mother who brings us to salvation, as St. Cyprian said: “No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.”