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Chapter 9- Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church

Posted Jul. 22, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series

The USCCB is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015.  We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting.

Chapter Nine: Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church
Dr. Andrew Lichtenwalner
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

What’s in an Image?

The ninth chapter of the World Meeting of Families preparatory catechesis, “Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church,” begins in the following way: 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.”

What do we think of when we hear the Church described as “Bride” and “Mother”? What’s our first impression? Does it have anything to do with us?

My mom and dad raised me in the Catholic faith and encouraged a love for the Church from my earliest years. I don’t recall them speaking about the Church as “Mother” at home the way they talked of God as “Father,” but I think they conveyed that sense to me very naturally and practically in the way they lived the faith—love for Christ and love for the Church go together.

I remember during grad school coming across the work of Henri de Lubac, a French Jesuit theologian who was later made a Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. De Lubac had a great love for the image of the Church as Mother. In seeking to perceive and grasp the nature of the Church, his personal experience led him to describe in a simple, childlike way  “the first of all words: the Church is my mother.” He said that the two words “Mother Church” (Ecclesia mater) express “the very reality of Christian life.”

How can the very reality of Christian life be conveyed by calling the Church our Mother? Because the Christian life is conceived and generated by her and lived in and through her. There is no Christian life without the Church.

To call the Church our Mother, which Pope Francis himself has done on many occasions, is not a mere pious expression or sentimentality. Christian discipleship hinges on the Church being our Mother, and the Church is only Mother because she is first the Bride of Christ. Encountering and following Jesus depends first and always on grace, which we receive from the Lord through the Church. The Church can only be fruitful in discipleship and truly a Mother if she is united to Christ, close to Him as His Bride. Without Him, we can do nothing.

The Church was loved into existence by Christ. The Fathers of the Church saw the Church being formed like the New Eve, drawn out of the pierced side of Christ on the Cross. The Church is not a haphazard byproduct or afterthought of the saving work of Christ but the intended fruit of Christ’s mission of redemption manifest with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The world was created for the Church, the Bride of Christ, who as Mother would be the place of re-creation and regeneration in the Spirit.

In other words, Christ and the Church are inseparable. A Christian artist has expressed it well, saying that in Christ’s words: “You cannot care for Me, with no regard for her. If you love Me, you will love the Church.”

The image of the Church as the Bride of Christ, in addition to the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, powerfully conveys the mystery of the intimate union between Christ and the Church. The image of the Church as Mother conveys the fruitfulness that comes from being united in and with Christ. These images not only concern us but are about us. We are the Church in a real way. We are called to bear Christ to the world. As St. Augustine said to encourage Christians to live up to their identity: Be the bride.

As sinners, we know that we are in need of grace and do not always live up to the gift of holiness which marks the Church. The images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother encourage us to “press towards the mark” and to understand Christian discipleship as inseparable from loving the Church.

Even if we haven’t given the images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother much thought before, if we love the Church as Christ does, we are already living those images.

 

 

 

 

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Spiritual Accompaniment: Evangelii Gaudium

Posted Apr. 15, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

MUR-art-of-accompanimentLessons from Evangelii Gaudium #12
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason.  This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.

Spiritual Accompaniment (nos. 169-173)

In evangelization, part of our task is to provide the attentive and loving presence of Christ to others, which entails being fully aware of and present often as we can. Pope Francis points out that our culture is “paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity” (no. 169). In both of these cases—not knowing our next door neighbors but knowing all the details of our friend’s dinner from Facebook – we inadequately  recognize  the other people as unique children of God, with all of their particular needs, struggles, and gifts to offer. The culture is in dire need of Christ’s “closeness and his personal gaze” (no. 169). It is not only the task of ordained ministers and pastoral workers to make this presence known to others; instead, Pope Francis reminds us we must all be initiated into this “art of accompaniment” (no. 169). The clergy and the laity alike must foster a proper disposition towards others that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex 3:5).

While sufficient attention must be given to those whom we are accompanying spiritually, Pope Francis warns against a lapse into “a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption” (no. 170). We must keep in mind that each individual achieves true freedom only in God, while sin binds us and makes us a dim version of who we are. Our path of accompaniment must be therefore be likened to a “pilgrimage,” towards the Father in a life of virtue (no. 171). We cannot condone wrong actions or encourage people to focus on themselves alone. Attainment of virtue is a process, a habitus that requires much patience and correction.

The Holy Father encourages “the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing,” as the best way to show our respectful and compassionate presence on the journey (no. 171). By listening we are reminded of the mystery of each person in their relationship to God. We can never know everything about this relationship from the outside. Because of this, we must always aid and correct others by recognizing and helping them to realize “the objective evil of their actions, but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability” (no. 172). Through listening, prudence, and our own experience, we will come to learn the best ways in each situation to gain trust and encourage growth.

“Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization,” and this mission starts within the family (no. 173). Marriage is to be a place of spiritual accompaniment, where respect and compassion for one’s spouse abides. Being open with each other about your faults and failings in virtue, always with prudence and kindness, can be an opportunity for growth. Many married couples attest that no matter how well you know your spouse, they are still always a mystery. Make this week one in which you embody the art of listening.

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Evangelii Gaudium, Marriage and Family: Part Two

Posted Jan. 22, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

EG series temp-01Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.

From the Heart of the Gospel
Pope Francis writes in this section about how the deep and beautiful truths of the Gospel are often not communicated effectively in the modern world because of the focus of mass communications on the controversial or difficult moral teachings. He calls the pastoral ministers of the Church to concentrate instead on, “the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (no. 35).

Christian Marriage, which takes into account the basic human desire to love and be loved, to give life and receive it, is certainly one of the most beautiful and appealing aspects of the Gospel. Marriage is essentially a response to a love that precedes it— God’s love. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) that Christian spouses are able to love one another with His own love.

The Gospel transforms daily life; it enlivens our hearts with hope and trust in God. We experience the Holy Spirit through joy and peace, generosity and service. God is visible in gatherings of families—children running around playing while the adults converse, for example, and in religious communities—working together with smiles and unruffled patience. These are witnesses to the faith that are “most appealing and at the same time most necessary.”

Why most necessary? Because there is fear in the modern heart. Getting married and raising a family based on Christ’s love has always been a daunting though enriching task embraced by many young people, but today many young people are delaying marriage or even not getting married at all. The most recent Pew research study, for example, showed that a record number of young adults in America are unmarried and that many young people do not see marriage as a priority. Cohabitation has increased, more children are born out of wedlock, and divorce is fairly common.

In these circumstances, the Gospel of the Family in the context of “the harmonious totality of the Christian message” (no. 39) is ever more necessary. Men and women need to hear and see that God can do even what seems impossible: bond two flawed human beings together for life, in love and fidelity. This is “the fragrance of the Gospel” (no. 39). Married couples, young and old, share your love visibly and inspire young people with your witness of fidelity!

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Pope Francis on Children’s Rights

Posted Apr. 11, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Pope Francis 4-11-14

Pope Francis offered a very clear message today to members of BICE (International Catholic Child Bureau), a Catholic NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide:

“On a positive note, we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

Click here for his full address.

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Friday Fast: April 11

Posted Apr. 10, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

Intention: We pray for a deeper understanding of what it means to be created male or female.

Reflection: During a recent morning meditation, Pope Francis reflected on the Book of Genesis. “The creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation,” the Pope explained. God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.”

Here the Bible shows us a very important truth; man and woman are equal, but different. This sexual difference is actually complementary. It is through the existence of woman that we are able to fully appreciate the uniqueness of man and vice versa. An example of this aspect of difference and complementarity can be seen in beautiful paintings where two complementary colors are used. When brought together, the two different colors look more vibrant and unique than they would have looked separately. The same can be said of man and woman. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, “femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity.”

Did You Know? In his Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II explained that “man became an image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.” Through marriage, a husband and wife are able to be a true communion of persons by giving themselves and receiving the other in unselfish love. In this way, a husband and wife have the unique ability to reflect Trinitarian Love.

FYM couple outdoors

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“Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us”

Posted Apr. 2, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason No comments yet

pope-francis-leaves-audience-smilingToday, Pope Francis concluded his Wednesday catechesis on the Sacraments with a reflection on marriage. He began by explaining that marriage is “A sacrament that leads us to the heart of God’s plan, which is a plan of alliance with his People, with all of us, a plan of communion.” He then explained, “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman, not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.

“We were created to love, as a reflection of God and his love. And in matrimonial union the man and woman realize this vocation, as a sign of reciprocity and the full and definitive communion of life.” When a man and a woman receive the Sacrament of marriage, “God is, so to say, ‘mirrored’ in them, he imprints in them the features and indelible nature of His love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God too is communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always lived and live forever in perfect unity. And this is the mystery of marriage: God makes married couples into one existence. The Bible uses a strong term: it says one ‘flesh’ only, so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage.” Pope Francis then concluded his catechesis by saying, Married life is beautiful, and must be protected.”

Let us pray together for the courage to continue to protect the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman!

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“The Masterpiece of Creation”

Posted Mar. 30, 2014 by Marriage Unique for a Reason 1 comment

The Common Good

Pope Francis recently reflected on the Gospel reading of Mark in which the Pharisees, wishing to put Jesus to the test, asked him whether it is lawful to divorce. The Pope reminded his listeners that Jesus “goes right back to the days of creation.” Jesus explains, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female; ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one flesh.’”

Pope Francis had much to say about this event and explained quite beautifully that “the Lord is here referring to the masterpiece of creation.” For God “created the light and saw that it was good.” Then “he created the animals, the trees, and the stars: all good.” But “when he created man” he said “that he was very good.” Pope Francis continued, “the creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation.” Also because God “did not want for man to be alone: he wanted him to be with his companion, his companion on the journey.” Pope Francis then explained that this moment was also “the beginning of love.” However, he added that “the Lord’s masterpiece was not finished there…the Lord holds up this love contained in the masterpiece of creation in order to explain the love he has for his people. Yet there is another step: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he also does so in relation and in reference to the bride. For Christ is wedded: he wedded the Church, his people; as the Father had wedded his people Israel, so Christ espoused his people to himself.”

All of this, the Pope concluded, brings to mind the “plan of love”, “the journey of love of Christian marriage, which God blessed in the masterpiece of his creation with a blessing that can never be taken away. Not even original sin destroyed it.” And “when one considers this,” he quite naturally sees “how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is.”

For Pope Francis’ full reflection, click here.