From Pope Francis’ Wednesday General Audience address, delivered today in St. Peter’s Square (via Vatican Information Service):
“Among the images that the Vatican Council II chose to help us better understand the nature of the Church, there is that of the ‘mother’: the Church is our mother in faith and in the supernatural life. For me it is the most beautiful image of the Church: the Church as mother. In what sense and how is the Church a mother? Let us begin with the human reality of maternity.”
“First and foremost a mother gives life, she carries her child in the womb for nine months and then introduces him to life – she generates him. The Church does likewise: she generates us in faith, by the work of the Holy Spirit who renders her fruitful, like the Virgin Mary. Certainly, faith is a personal act … but we receive faith from others, in a family, in a community that teaches me to say ‘I believe’, ‘we believe.’ A Christian is not an island! We do not become Christians alone and by our own efforts, but rather faith is a gift from God that is given in and through the Church. And the Church gives us life in Baptism: that is, the moment in which she enables us to be born as children of God, the moment in which she gives us life in God, in which she generates us as a mother. … This permits us to understand something very important: our participation in the Church is not an external or formal fact, it is not a question of filling out a form, but is instead an internal and vital act. One does not belong to the Church in the same way as one belongs to a society, a team or any other organisation. It is a living bond, like that one has with one’s own mother as … the Church is truly the mother of all Christians”.
“A mother does not limit herself to giving life, but rather with great care helps her children to grow; she gives them milk, she nurtures them, she shows them the path of life, she accompanies them … she also knows how to correct them, to forgive, to understand; she knows how to be close to them in times of illness and suffering. In short, a good mother helps her children to come out of themselves, not to stay comfortably tucked under the maternal wing. … The Church, like a good mother, does the same thing: she accompanies our growth by transmitting to us the Word of God, which is a light that illuminates the path of Christian life, in administering the Sacraments. She nourishes us with the Eucharist, she brings us God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance, she supports us in times of sickness through the Anointing of the Sick. The Church accompanies us in all our life in faith, in all our Christian life”.
Francis concluded by remarking that in the first centuries of the Church, it was very clearly understood that “the Church, while she is the mother of Christians, while she ‘makes’ Christians, is also ‘made up’ of Christians. The Church is not something apart from us, but is rather the entire body of believers, as the ‘we’ of Christians: I, you, we are all part of the Church. So, we all experience the maternity of the Church, both pastors and faithful. At times I hear: ‘I believe in God but not in the Church … I’ve heard that the Church says … that priests say…”. Priests are one thing, but the Church is not made up solely of priests – we are all the Church! And if you say that you believe in God but you do not believe in the Church, you are saying that you do not believe in yourself, which is a contradiction. We are all the Church: from the recently baptised child to the bishops, to the Pope; we are all Church, and we are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all called to collaborate in the birth of faith in new Christians, we are all called upon to be educators in faith, to proclaim the Gospel. … We all participate in the maternity of the Church … we are all the Church … so that the light of Christ may illuminate the furthest reaches of the Earth. Long live the Holy Mother Church!”
Catholic News Service’s Francis X. Rocca reports that during his address, Pope Francis gave those assembled a special “homework assignment”:
“How many of you remember the date of your baptism?” the pope asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, and then acknowledged a relatively small show of hands.
“Our baptismal date is the date of our birth in the church,” he said. “When you go home today, look hard for the date of your baptism, so you can celebrate it and thank the Lord for this gift.”