by Jackie Armstrong, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
“The Church has institutional forms because she must work in the world. But that does not exhaust her essence. The Church is the Bride of Christ, a “she” not an “it.” In the words of Saint John XXIII, She is our mother and teacher, our comforter and guide, our family of faith. Even when her people and leaders sin, we still need the Church’s wisdom, sacraments, support, and proclamation of the truth, because she is the body of Jesus himself in the world — the family of God’s people writ large.” (Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, Chapter 9)
What images do the words Mother and Teacher evoke? Start by reflecting on the earliest memories you have about your mother, your primary school teachers, and your religious education catechists.
The images of the Catholic Church as teacher and mother present a myriad of responsibilities, duties, roles, and dogmas. When I was first approached about reflecting on the concept of mother and teacher, I pondered not only definitions but also synonyms for those words: Creator, founder, kinship, originator, prototype, precedent, manager, counselor, disciplinarian, vanguard, instructor, director, coach, tutor, trainer, expert, friend, judge, doctor, confidant, leader, mentor, rudder, captain, scout, sergeant. Which word resonates with you? If a soldier maybe the term sergeant comes to mind, if called to religious life perhaps counselor.
All of us can identify with the enormity of being called to teach and provide the care, love, and devotion of a mother. We turn to the Bible for inspiration and direction. The Church in her wisdom embraces the knowledge and truth ensconced in Scripture to inform her teachings.
Teachers and mothers embody so many traits, but when thinking about the Church the starting point for these familiar maternal characteristics center upon the truth. The Catechism references Canon law to explain the Moral Life and the Magisterium of the Church in CCC, no. 2032: “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to social order, and to make judgements on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls” (citing 1Tm 3:15; LG, 17: CIC, can. 747 2.)
The Church’s responsibility in the life of the human family as teacher and mother is inestimable and irreplaceable according to Pope Francis. We must look to our Mother and Jesus’s first teacher on earth, Mary, as the role model for life. Mary was obedient to the Word of God and his demands. Jesus, as a child, was obedient and faithful to the teachings of his mother. We as children of the Church must also respond to her teachings with obedience and respect.
Mothers and teachers are the first role models, and their responsibility is great. It is that responsibility that is endowed to the Church and given by Christ through the Apostles, ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me’ (Lk 10:16.) All of us, as the faithful children of God, are commanded to follow his instructions, not just for his own pleasure, but for the salvation of our souls. It is through the mission of the Church, in the formation of our right conscience, that we gain all that we are from her teachings. It is this direction that must guide our interaction with family. It is this guidance that must form our roles in ministry. It is this responsibility that must cause us to pause in awesome wonder of the great love shown through life. The Church as mother and teacher, in forming our right conscience and facilitating the salvation of humanity, is like the worthy wife mentioned in Proverbs 31:12, 25, 26:
- ‘She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.’
- ‘She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.’
- ‘She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.’
The Archdiocese of Military Services, USA reminds all of us of the role of the Church as teacher and mother for the men, women, and families entrusted to its care. In the lived experiences of moving away from family and friends, deploying to hostile environments, and dealing with illness, depression, and even death we rely on the Church to accompany us. The AMS reminds us of God’s presence through the Sacramental life of the Church. The AMS provides guidance to support religious instruction, sacramental preparation, moral guidance, and pastoral care. This guidance reminds us of the motherly teaching of the Church centered upon truth, discipline, and love. We hold solid that her knowledge brings the truth.
The Church has and sets high standards. This is what we strive to attain. We must remember and rely on these lessons and standards to guide our lives. The Church as a mother loves us unconditionally, and in that we can find great peace. The AMS, under the guidance of our shepherd, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, reminds us constantly of the love and devotion of the Church found in a mother who stands at the foot of the cross, steadfastly praying for the salvation of all. As a mother and teacher, the AMS has some of the same characteristics of the woman in Proverbs 31:15, 20, 27:
- ‘She rises while it is still night, and distributed food to her household.’
- ‘She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.’
- ‘She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness.’
Knowing the depth of the pastoral concerns and the multitude of issues facing our military, the AMS points the way to our mother Church with wisdom and care. As we celebrate the World Meeting of Families, let us rejoice as a family fully alive, that the Church as our mother may continue to shower us with love and devotion. Through our moments of Calvary and at our moments of Resurrection, let us glory in the true faith and knowledge that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Our Church is both mother and teacher. Like children, we will rest in our mother’s arms.