Seeing the Church as Our Loving Mother

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about the messiness of my relationship with my mom, and a video I had recently watched online popped into my head. The video began with sentimental background music and captions explaining the circumstances of a family: the children’s mother had passed away that year due to cancer. In the video, the family is gathered around a Christmas tree and one of the little boys opens up a gift to reveal a teddy bear from Build-A-Bear. When he squeezes the teddy bear’s paw the boy’s face lights up. He then begins to cry, hugging the bear tightly. The same thing happens with the two other children as they open up their own teddy bears.

After a few seconds, the captions read, “Want to know what made these kids react this way? Listen carefully.” The video replays the scene around the Christmas tree but now we can hear what is being said in the room. The father hands his son the gift, the boy opens it, and when he squeezes the teddy bear’s paw he hears his mother’s voice coming from the bear: “I love you! Mommy loves you so much! Mommy will always love you!” 

Before the mother passed away she went to Build-A-Bear and had custom bears made with her recorded voice for each of her three children. She knew she was going to die and wanted her children to have something to remind them of how much she loves them. I am not much of a sentimental person, but when I saw the video I could not contain my tears.

As someone who struggles with addiction, it’s no surprise I have a disconnect with my mother. As a therapist once told me, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” I remember the feeling of hurt and disappointment after my conversation with my wife about my mom and that old familiar thought creeping in: If my mom would have done a better job then I wouldn’t be this way. I quickly shook off the thought and started thinking about the message the mother in that video had sent to her children. I thought about how beautiful that gesture was and how deeply it must have impacted her children.

Then I thought of something awful: What happens when the batteries die or the voice box finally breaks? My heart sank and I felt a wave of sadness as I imagined my own children’s reactions. Yet, the truth is that, eventually, no one will be able to hear this mother’s message of love. The bears will eventually break down, as all material things do. Ultimately, those children will only be left with their mother’s memory. 

In a similar way to those children in the video, we too have a mother who tells us, “Mommy loves you so much!” God gives us everything we need to live joy-filled lives, even during times of loss and suffering. And one of those things is our universal mother, the Catholic Church.

The Church has been referred to as a “mother” throughout the centuries. In his treatise on The Unity of the Church, Saint Cyprian writes, “He can no longer have God as his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” Saint Clement of Alexandria writes in his “The Instructor of Children” that “as a Mother [the Church is] full of love…she nourishes [members of the Church] with the Holy Milk, that is the Infant Word.” And Saint Augustine writes in his “Commentary on Psalm 88,” that one should “love the Lord our God and his Church…for what does it avail you if you do not offend the father but do offend the mother.”

The understanding of the Church as mother is also grounded in the motherhood of Mary and Scripture. In the Gospel of John, before Jesus dies, He looks upon His beloved mother and says, “behold your son” and then looks at His beloved disciple and says, “behold your mother” (John 19:26-27). At that moment, Jesus gives His very own mother to all of us. As Saint Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, “The Church’s motherhood is accomplished not only according to the model and figure of the Mother of God but also with her ‘cooperation.’ The Church draws abundantly from this maternal mediation which is characteristic of Mary.” In other words, the Church is modeled after Mary as a comforting lover of our souls. Just as Mary was obedient to the will of the Father, the Church is obedient to the workings of the Holy Spirit. 

Through all of the Church’s many gifts and sacraments, we receive the Church’s maternal love for us. This is especially the case during the sacrifice of the Mass, where we perpetually hear the Church’s words of love through the consecration of the host as the Body and Blood of Christ. Our mother the Church offers us the same consolation that this mother in the video offered her own children with one exception: the words of love from Holy Mother Church are perpetual and eternal. She will never go silent. Her words will never cease to be spoken to us.

It is difficult sometimes to see the Church as anything other than a hierarchical organization made up of rules, a bunch of “thou shalt nots.” But when we look at the Church through the eyes of faith, we can see the Church as not an overbearing and finger-wagging judge but as a mother whose words of love are spoken to us without end. The Church wants what is best for us on the deepest level of our being. And like any mother, she is always calling us home to feed us and allow us to rest.

Therefore, let us listen to the Church’s words of motherly love through her prayers and liturgy and receive our spiritual nourishment by frequenting her sacraments and encountering her many graces often and always.

Ambrose is a convert to Catholicism and has struggled with sexaholism and mental illness. He has undergraduate degrees in Catholic theology and philosophy and enjoys learning and reading about the lives of the saints.