Earlier this week at the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, while preaching at the Mass celebrated in the Santa Marta Residence, the Holy Father’s homily contained these words:
“In these times where I don’t know if it’s the prevailing sense but there is a great sense in the world of being orphaned, it’s an orphaned world. This word has a great importance, the importance when Jesus tells us: ‘I am not leaving you as orphans, I’m giving you a mother.’ And this is also a (source of) pride for us: we have a mother, a mother who is with us, protects us, accompanies us, who helps us, even in difficult or terrible times.”
Pope Francis went on to explain that this motherhood of Mary goes beyond her and is contagious. From it, comes a second motherhood, that of the Church.
“Without motherhood, only rigidity and discipline remain. The Church is our mother. She is our ‘Holy Mother Church’ that is generated through our baptism, makes us grow up in her community and has that motherly attitude, of meekness and goodness: Our Mother Mary and our Mother Church know how to caress their children and show tenderness. To think of the Church without that motherly feeling is to think of a rigid association, an association without human warmth, an orphan. The Church is our mother and welcomes all of us as a mother: Mary our Mother, our Mother Church, and this motherhood are expressed through an attitude of welcome, understanding, goodness, forgiveness and tenderness.”
Those are comforting words, and true words, as far as they go. Most of us know them to be true because of our own experience.
When it came to her three sons, my mother always sought to understand, she was certainly good, quick to forgive and treated each of us with great tenderness. But she was not a push-over. There were standards in our family – certain expectations concerning behavior – and we knew they were unchanging. Also, because my mother and father agreed on those expectations, there was nowhere to hide and it was impossible to play one parent against the other. Our understanding and forgiving mother could also be a demanding mother, when it came to our transgressions.
And so it is with our Holy Mother the Church, which is why I venture to say that I think the Holy Father didn’t go quite far enough, and in fact, even borders on setting up a false dichotomy. Having standards and expectations when it comes to what is right or wrong is not being rigid; rather, having discipline is being realistic and loving.
When my brothers and I were young boys it would not have occurred to us to say to our father, “You’re too rigid – we’re going to appeal to Mom!” We knew the rules, we knew they agreed on the expectations, and we knew we would receive a just verdict from each of them.
So also, the motherhood of Mary and of the Church is a just and true motherhood, embracing us in love while also holding us accountable, and it's through that loving discipline that we know we’re not orphans.