Mother Church - Nurturing God's Family

Most Rev. Michael Olson

Bishop of Fort Worth

North Texas Catholic

10/19/2015

 

The main reason for Pope Francis’ journey to the United States was to participate and to speak at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “The Family” was not only the topic of his address to that gathering of people; rather, it is a metaphor that imbued his entire approach to his time spent among us.

It occurred to me as I listened with other bishops and among other men and women to the Pope’s words of encouragement and call to conversion that he very much presents our life as the Church as being involved in a family, in God’s family to be more precise.

Pope Francis frequently speaks of the Church in her role as a Mother, holy Mother Church, who loves her children and does not exclude them from her life.  The Church as our mother includes all of her children without abandoning her responsibility to teach them lovingly the full truth as revealed by Christ.  As a mother, the Church never excludes her children even when she cannot condone their wayward behavior that denies both the Gospel and harms human nature.  The Pope especially demonstrated this point when he spoke to prisoners — his brothers — reminding them that confinement does not mean exclusion.  In other words, these men — our brothers — are accountable to justice by being confined, yet they are responsible for acting toward rehabilitation and to use well their time of confinement for the good of their neighbors in society.  They do not lose their human dignity nor are they excluded from membership in the family.

As a mother, the Church always includes her children who are her children because of baptism.  The image used by the Pope is that of a dialogue, that is, a respectful conversation between a mother and her children; it is a conversation that includes people even if their ideas cannot be included because of their opposition to human dignity or the fullness of the Gospel.  It is not the dialogue of activists who dishonestly employ it to serve their own agenda.

Pope Francis, the Holy Father, encouraged us bishops to be fathers to our priests and to our people — to avoid the temptation to be bureaucrats instead of being fathers.  Fathers are first members of a family, they protect their children; they accompany their children and lead them to authentic freedom by living as active contributors to the common good; fathers love their children and never speak harshly to them even when they rightly are admonishing and encouraging them to live good lives for the sake of the entire family.
The Pope especially demonstrated this point when he spoke to us bishops — his brothers — reminding us that we are to pray to Christ for our people so that when He asks each of us, “Who is my sister, and brother, and mother,” each of us can respond, “Here they are. I return them to You Who first entrusted them to me.”

It is at the heart of our call from Christ to conversion to become more truly his family as the Church.  It is a conversion that requires that we do our best to live faithfully our baptismal call, despite the postmodern messiness of fragmentation that afflicts each of us in the lives of our families.  To understand the Church as being a family, as Pope Francis does, requires that we accept our baptismal and sacramental membership in that family with its corresponding responsibilities of service especially to the poor and voiceless.  It requires that we not see the Church as yet another fragment with which we construct our own inward looking ideology that leads us to a selfish polarization.

 

The main reason for Pope Francis’ journey to the United States was to participate and to speak at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “The Family” was not only the topic of his address to that gathering of people; rather, it is a metaphor that imbued his entire approach to his time spent among us.

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