Reflecting on this annual celebration in our country set aside to honor all mothers, whether we are blessed to enjoy their living presence or are filled with grateful memories of those who have gone before us in faith, the image of a mother remains a powerful symbol for so many of us. I fondly remember my father, digging into a beautiful, juicy filet mignon and declaring for all to hear, ‘tender as a mother’s love!’ Motherhood is virtually synonymous with those prized and endearing qualities of love and tenderness. From being nourished at our mother’s breast to her gentle kiss that had a near miraculous way of bringing instant healing to a bruised finger or knee, loving tenderness is a hallmark of motherhood.
No wonder, then, that these attributes so beautifully exemplified in our mothers, would analogously be used in speaking of the community of believers in Christ, the Church. There is something inherently touching for us as Catholics, when we speak of the Church as our ‘mother.’ From her font of new life, new Christians come forth. From her Table of Blessing, we are nourished with the living presence of her Son. Through the reconciling gift of her priests, the bruising that sin creates in our friendship with her Son, is healed and made new. With the tenderness of a mother’s love, the Church prepares us for our eternal destiny in our Father’s house.
God’s word today speaks of this maternal care that the community of believers exemplified from the very earliest days of the church’s existence. The Greco-Roman world despite its flickers of grandness, was a cruel and heartless place, especially for those who tenuously existed on its margins – the sick, the aged, the poor, the widows and the homeless. In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we witness how the early community of believers sought to make the care of these individuals, a priority. The emergence of the ministry of deacons was precisely for the purpose of extending the loving tenderness and care of the Body of Christ to those who had no one else to turn to. It was the church that provided the all important ‘social net’ of care for the powerless and those who lived on the margins of society.
For nearly 2000 years, this maternal care on the part of the church for the voiceless and underserved of society continues to be a hallmark of a community that strives to see and serve the Christ in our sisters and brothers. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why St. Theresa of Calcutta has endeared herself so beautifully to both believer and unbeliever, alike. In her and in the community of sisters that she founded, the very best of a Church that is both mother and tender healer is so dramatically and beautifully exemplified.
This image of the church as ‘mother’ is needed more than ever today, when the poor, the immigrant, the homeless, the sick and those on the margins of our society are often sacrificed at the altar of a ‘me first’ society. In the face of such self-obsessional narcissism, sadly witnessed in our society and its leaders, the church’s prophetic stance, ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ can be the truest sign of our authentic commitment to the Christ, whose Body we are.