Loving Mother Church in the Midst of Her Crisis

Although the tides of heresy and confusion may threaten to capsize us, we must keep our eyes on Mary, Mother of the Church.

Federico Barocci, “Madonna del Popolo”, 1579
Federico Barocci, “Madonna del Popolo”, 1579 (photo: Public Domain)

“In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be love.”
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux

I vividly remember what it felt like to sit, angst-ridden, in a basement chapel at the Protestant Reformed college (Calvinist) college I was going to, with my overly-highlighted and scrawled-upon New International Version Bible cracked open.

The college was founded by my great-great-great (I’m hoping I have the “greats” right) uncle, a Reformed minister and immigrant from the Netherlands. My mother and her twin sister, as well as my uncle, all attended the college. My grandfather, also a Reformed minister and immigrant from the Netherlands, was on the board of the college and preached there as well.

As I sat there, rung out by interior suffering over the struggle to find the Truth about the history of Christianity, Christ’s Church, and dozens of dogmas that felt like looming enigmas to my 20-year-old brain, I began to feel an ethereal peace wash over me. I was so tired of roaming around the “Christian world” and digging to excavate the answers to the questions that burned in my soul and raged throughout my spirit – I just needed to know.

I needed to know why God made me, and what he wanted me to do with my life. I needed to know where he wanted me to go to church every Sunday morning, which version of the Holy Bible I should read, and which spiritual authors I could trust. I ached to know why Mother Teresa seemed so holy when I had been told by highly educated people that she was “the devil in a sheep's skin,” and how St. Francis of Assisi could have the stigmata and give his life with raw-blooded surrender, without having a “personal relationship” with Jesus, as I’d heard.

I wanted to understand why each Protestant church I visited had their own set of beliefs, yet they all claimed to be part of the one Body of Christ, his peacefully united Church on earth. I needed to know if abortion was wrong, when I should fast and when I shouldn’t, and what were the best ways to pray. I was thoroughly exhausted from trying to figure all of this out on my own, and I decided it was time to put up my white flag of surrender.

And then it hit me. As I read Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, I realized that what Christ said about his Body and Blood being true flesh and true drink was a plain fact.

The Protestant churches I attended (and I had visited at least 20 of them) claimed that they were the “only ones to take the Holy Bible literally,” yet at the same time, they didn’t believe that Communion was very important. Many of them never even practiced receiving Communion, and they certainly didn’t believe that it was truly the Body and Blood of Christ they were receiving.

From that point on, I knew I had to belong to a church that believed in what I now know is called transubstantiation. I also knew I had to belong to a church with some sort of reigning authority that could transcend over human nature and its frailty.

I surrendered my soul to God’s plan for my life, admitting my total helplessness and incapacity to find the Truth on my own. Terrified, I also surrendered to this maternal authority that I sensed must exist. I realized that as a mere human creature, no matter how intelligent or educated in Christianity I could become, I could never discern each doctrine or dogma perfectly, or carve out a path to Heaven with my own feeble hands.

Now that I have been Catholic for 18 years, I can look back and see that I was saying “yes” to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. I was saying “yes” to having a spiritual mother on earth, to guide me, to strengthen me, to lead me to my eternal home.

Thank God Almighty I found her – and sullied as she may be, without her, I would be a lost, shivering lamb, confused as they come. As St. Cyprian of Carthage said, “You cannot have God for your Father if you don't have the Church for your mother... From her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her Spirit we are made alive.”

Although the tides of heresy, liturgical shipwreck, cultural decadence and demoralization may threaten to capsize us, we must keep our eyes on Mary, Morning Star, and Mother of the Church. Though our brothers and sisters in Christ may fail us, the infallible doctrines of Mother Church will never fail us. Through we may be betrayed by the best of them, we must know that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the author of all Truth, will stand by our side.

As St. Augustine of Hippo summarized so beautifully:

The Catholic Church is the work of divine Providence, achieved through the prophecies of the prophets, through the Incarnation and the teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the apostles, through the suffering, the crosses, the blood and death of the martyrs, through the admirable lives of the saints... When we see, then, so much help on God’s so much progress and so much fruit, shall we hesitate to bury ourselves in the bosom of that Church? For beginning with the apostolic chair, down through succession of bishops, even to the open confession of all mankind, it has possessed the crown of teaching authority.

For many of us these days, merely hearing the words, “the Church,” can be painful. Wounds and fears perpetrated from the recent scandals penetrate the very depth of our spirits, and it is terribly easy to lose heart. Yet, even in the midst of the crisis we bear on our shoulders like iron weights, there is a shimmering hope that sails around us – a hope in which we can grasp on to, in which we can live and breathe and have our being.

As Bishop Athanasius Schneider eloquently stated:

Even the most perfidious plot to destroy the Church from within will not succeed. Hence, our Mother the Church answer with the voice of her innocent children, of her pure young men and virgins, or her fathers and mothers of families, of her courageous and knightly lay apostles and apologists, of her chaste and zealous priests and bishops, of her religious sisters and especially of her cloistered nuns, the spiritual gems of the Church: ‘They could not prevail over me!’ Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of Holy Hope, ora pro nobis!