THINKING, LOVING, FEELING AND PRAYING WITH OUR HOLY MOTHER CHURCH
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [EZ 47:1-2.8-9, 12; 1 COR 3:9-11, 16-17; JN 2:13-22 ]
What is so special about the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome that is celebrated universally in the Catholic Church? It is the first Christian church in history. Until then, the Christians worshipped in their private homes because they were under the persecution of the Roman Emperor who demanded that worship be given to the emperor alone. It was therefore illegal for Christians to worship Christ. So it was not until the conversion of Emperor Constantine that the first Christian Church at Lateran was built.
What is also significant is that this ancient church has become the embodiment and powerful symbol of the Catholic Church that is indestructible, for this church has over the centuries endured and grown in spite of attacks, disasters and betrayals. It was destroyed many times by enemies within and without, by fire and earthquakes, but rebuilt and restored again and again. That it survived all these years through the ups and downs of history is testament to the protection of Christ who promised to be with His Church until the end of time. So after more than 2000 years, the Church is still thriving.
Indeed, the Church is called ‘holy mother’ because the primary task of the Church is to give new life, like all mothers. The Church, through the waters of baptism, gives birth to new children of God. Even the baptismal font is shaped in the form of a womb to symbolize the motherhood of the Church. Ezekiel gives us the image of the temple of Jerusalem, that wherever the river underneath flows it gives life and nourishment. Water is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So too those of us who are baptized in Christ through the waters of Baptism, having received the Holy Spirit, will bear fruit in our lives.
Secondly, the Church as mother nurtures by teaching, sanctifying and pasturing. The Church, like all mothers, is given the responsibility of nurturing as well. It is not enough to give birth to new children but the Church as mother must continue to nurture her children through the Word and the Sacraments. As teacher of the Word of God, the Church teaches and proclaims the truth about God and about life. She has a duty to speak the truth without fear or favour. The Church is also called to be prophetic and be the guardian of morality for the world; a promoter of life and a champion for the poor and marginalized. In her sanctifying role, she helps her children to grow in holiness through the sacraments. As the shepherd, she guides her children and looks after them.
Thirdly, the Church as mother wants to see all her children united. She therefore has the responsibility to preserve unity in the House of God. She wants to bring unity not only to the Church but the whole world by helping man to find God through Christ. In this way, all are one. The Church is called to be the sign and sacrament of unity. Hence, the Church is also missionary in character. She exists to give life to all by offering the Good News.
If we consider the Church as our mother, then on our part as her children, we must respond with love and gratitude. If the Church invites us to celebrate this feast, it is to inculcate love and reverence for her. To love the Church is to love ourselves because we are the Church. Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it with joy and peace. Without a true love for the Church, the Church cannot fulfill her mission of being a sign of love and an instrument of unity for the human race. But what does it mean to love the Church, our mother? It means to think with the Church, love like the Church, feel with the Church and pray with the Church.
To think with the Church means to believe in the Church and be one of mind and heart with the Church in doctrines. We must therefore accept the teachings of the Magisterium on faith and morals. We cannot pick and choose what we like or don’t like because truth is not a matter of opinion. There are times when it seems more difficult to believe in the Church than to believe in God. But we cannot separate the Church from Christ, since the Church is not an organization or man-made institution but founded by Christ to be His Body, He being the head. To believe in the Church is to believe that the Bishops, together as a College, have been entrusted with the gift of infallibility to teach the truth from God for all of humanity. That is why the Church is an object of faith, since to believe in Christ is to believe in His Church. Hence, in the Creed, we confess, “We believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.” To separate our belief in Christ from our belief in the Church would be to separate Christ the head from His body. However, it is not enough to obey the teaching of the Church; we must be ready to defend the Church as well. In the light of moral relativism in society, do we defend the Church’s moral teaching? To think with the Church means that we are ready to explain what and why we believe.
To love the Church means to be united with the body of Christ, the Christian community. It means that we are ready to serve the Church and be involved in the life of the community, using our resources, whether material, financial or personal, to help the community grow. We must show care and concern for our fellow Christians. We must also be concerned for the poor and the marginalized and surely also to be caring for the migrants who are working or living in our countries.
To love the Church also means to forgive each other. We must recognize the sinfulness of the Church. Quite often we have been wounded by the Church, most of all by priests and fellow Catholics because the people whom we love most hurt us most. The temptation is to reject the Church when we are wounded by priests. The truth is that when we reject the Church, we end up losing Christ as well, because by rejecting the Church, we will find it very difficult to keep in touch with the living Christ or be supported in our faith by the community. Thus, the challenge is to forgive the Church and recognize that the Church, being a community of sinners, often needs forgiveness and to forgive. Forgive us priests because we, too, are struggling to live a holy life. Instead of condemning us, pray for us just as I pray for those of you who hurt me as well.
Finally to love the Church is to feel with the Church in her zeal for God’s House. As the gospel tells us that the disciples, upon seeing how Jesus purified the Temple, remembered the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” Jesus was dedicated to the house of His Father. We too are called to be His evangelizers. We too must feel the thirst of Jesus for the whole world to know His Father. We are called to be the living Temple of God for the world to see, as St Paul reminds us. By our love and service, we are called to be the sign of God’s presence in the world. We must have this missionary desire to proclaim the Gospel and announce Christ as the Good News to all.
But before we can be his evangelizers, we must first put our house and the House of God in order. We must renew the Church as Jesus did at the temple. We begin by purifying ourselves and renewing our faith through the Holy Spirit. Anything that is contrary to the life of Christ must be purified. In other words, we must grow in holiness and be sanctified by the Lord. We must re-consecrate our lives to the Lord by doing His holy will. Hence, St Paul’s exhortation is an important reminder not to deface the Church by doing or saying anything that is contrary to the gospel or that divides the unity of the Church.
In the final analysis, holiness and mission require that we have a spirit of prayer. As Jesus says, we must once again renew the Church by making it a house of prayer. Only in prayer, can we be renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, we remain weak and feeble, easily falling back to lethargy and sin. The Holy Spirit continually comes to us, especially through a worthy reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of reconciliation. He also renews us through the Word of God when read and proclaimed in church.
Most of all, the Holy Spirit enables us to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. That is why we must pray with the Church for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that He can empower and give us the charisms for the service of the Church and her mission. In this way, we come to realize our vocation in the Church and in the family of God according to our gifts. Renewing our commitment, we will live our life with meaning, focus and joy. So if we love our mother Church, then think with her, feel with her, love like her and pray with her and for her.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.