Is today’s Church suffering from a ‘Mother Wound’?
Recently, following a Mass to celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my parish, I had the opportunity to intercede for the petitions dropped in the basket by the faithful. The majority were pleas for the return of a loved one “to the Catholic faith” or “to Sunday Mass”. A few of them were direct petitions addressed to the Blessed Mother to do ‘the impossible.’
Perhaps these faithful ones retain the same basic, intimate connection Mother Mary has to the Church (the Bride of Christ). They pour their hearts out about the pain of ‘unfaithful departed’ loved ones to their spiritual mother, just like they would to their earthly mothers.
‘Father Wound’ and the ‘Masculinity Crisis’
It is commonplace to speak about the epidemic of the ‘father wound’. It is not necessary to list the number of evil persons in history who had an abusive or an absent father. Neither is it news that several famous people with addictions and brokenness come from homes with a father issue. Although every human yearns for love, acceptance and belonging to one’s father, there is no perfect father but our heavenly Father. Therefore, we each carry the father wound to some degree or the other. The ‘masculinity crisis’ is recognized by the secular world and the Church alike.
Alas, the foundational bearing to homosexuality is often acknowledged in its denial. ‘Ecce Homo’ (‘Behold, the man’; cf. John 19:5) was Pilate’s introduction to the crowds of the scourged Jesus, crowned with thorns. Present-day crowds demand that the Church present a pseudo-reality of ‘Ecce Homosexual’ in rejection of the authentic manhood Christ represents.
What is ‘Mother Wound’?
Few speak about the ‘mother wound’. Because of the mother’s nurturing nature, it seems difficult to imagine a mother wound. Just like one expects love and acceptance from one’s father, so we expect a mother to be bonded with her child because she physically begets the child. It is she who points the child to the father, the progenitor. An earthly mother who can not give love because she is broken, distracted, or herself abused, is unable to provide, in unity with the father, a satisfying emotional foundation for the child. As a result, the child lacks a sense of affection and belonging.
These ‘parent wounds’ are the direct effects of the sin of our first parents (Original Sin)—humanity’s fall from grace.
The ‘Mother Wound’ of Our Hemorrhaging Church
The average Catholic today is unable to recognize the “true food” offered at the altar. A spoilt child prefers fast-food from a drive-through to healthy homecooked meals. And this is the malaise. His attention drifts away, looking for comfort elsewhere, exposed to the alluring language of severance (“Did you find a church?” “Try us!”). t He then believes that he needs another mother, another father, a new better home.
This is a reflection of society—absentee and uncommitted fathers, unwed mothers, and their abandoned children; marriage rates dropping and divorce rates escalating. Generations already have grown up ignorant of the love of a father and mother in a stable home. The light of “Christ [Who] loves the Church as His bride, having become the model of a man loving his wife as his body” (Lumen Gentium, LG #7) is missing. In his apostolic exhortation to Catholic Men, ‘Into the Breach’, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix notes:
“Without knowing and appreciating [the complementarity of masculinity and femininity], we cannot know ourselves or our mission as men, nor can women embrace their own vocations, confident in the Father’s love.”
A Closer Look at the Wound
As a newcomer to the United States in 2014, the first religion-related question that most Catholics would greet my family with was: “Have you found a church?” A question as puzzling as that other Protestant conversation opener: “Are you Born Again?”
I soon discovered that ‘territorial parishes’ (Code of Canon Law, Can.518) may hardly mean anything to a growing number of American Catholics. Instead, they just seem to register with and/or attend a Catholic church they “vibe with” or have friends attending. This, however, is not the same as the ‘personal parish’ that Canon Law provides.
Christus Dominus, 30(1), Decree of the Second Vatican Council states:
“In exercising [the] care of souls, pastors and their assistants should so fulfill their duty of teaching, sanctifying and governing that the faithful and the parish communities will truly realize that they are members both of the diocese and of the universal Church.”
On the ground, however, overwhelmed by an environment of individualism, fragmentation, and the push for inclusivity, these ‘personalized parishes’ seem driven into competing with variously-affiliated local churches. Unable to attract members by the Church’s liturgical or sacramental life, they are constrained instead to draw them with off-the-shelf, not-necessarily-Catholic offerings like Alpha course, VBS Roar and non-Catholic Bible studies, not to mention the coffee-and-donut staple.
Ministries, parish events, traditions and campaigns may operate disconnected from the liturgical calendar (feasts, the Saints, devotions), and dedicated liturgical years (e.g. Year of Mercy) and other occurrences in the life of the Church (not including diocesan annual appeals or the clergy sex abuse coverup issues.)
The ‘unshrunk cloth’ of Catholic authenticity reluctantly patched over the ‘old cloak’ of the inclusive ill-differentiated Christian keeps pulling away, making the tear of disengagement worse (Cf. Matthew 9:16) and the situation appears irreversible. Pastors have come to believe it to be disrespectful to call out the moral poverty of the disengaged. The hemorrhaging woman has learnt to imagine that her faith can heal her, without having to touch the hem of Christ’s garment (v.20-22).
Embrace of the Holy Mother Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Church as Mother and Teacher. A Catholic receives the embrace of the Holy Mother Church through his home parish. If she is wounded, her embrace of us seems not intimate enough. Beleaguered, members become estranged not just from the Church but forget how to truly and intimately relate with the Father in heaven and with others in the world. Saint Cyprian of Carthage (early 3rd Century AD) wrote:
“You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.”
The Catechism reminds that while
“[m]inistries should be exercised in a spirit of fraternal service and dedication to the Church, in the name of the Lord, […] [p]ersonal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.” (Cf. CCC #2039)
When pastors focus on “teaching, sanctifying and governing,” trusting that God “put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Cf. Ephesians 1:22, 23), gradually the flock begins to return.
Today, the Church mirrors society instead of society mirroring the Church. Resisting the temptation of pragmatism or instant results, pastors must exercise the foresight of keeping the pulpit and the ‘pasture’ (Cf. Psalm 23:2) close together—letting every pastoral effort flow from the altar, or (in a compromised scenario), having all things at least lead back to the altar. Losing this connection between the Head and the Body of Christ leads inevitably to ‘dismemberment’ and ‘hemorrhage.’
“Thus a true filial spirit toward the Church can develop among Christians. It is the normal flowering of the baptismal grace which has begotten us in the womb of the Church and made us members of the Body of Christ. In her motherly care, the Church grants us the mercy of God which prevails over all our sins […]. With a mother’s foresight, she also lavishes on us day after day in her liturgy the nourishment of the Word and Eucharist of the Lord.” (CCC #2040)
Healing the Mother Wound—Mother Mary to the Rescue
As the Mother of Jesus, Mary is “the image and beginning of the Church” (Cf. LG #68). In her humble self-surrender to the fulfilment of God’s plan for our salvation—when by the Holy Spirit, she conceives God the Son—Mary becomes the meeting point of humanity and divinity.
Christ, the God-Man, in turn, births the Church from His pierced side on Good Friday. Church Father Saint John Chrysostom explains:
“Since the symbols [water and blood] of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam.”
The Church—Members of Christ’s Body—is thus united and nourished by Christ’s self-emptying love. In entrusting His Blessed Mother and John reciprocally to each other, Jesus is giving her as the Mother of His Church. In ‘The Secret of Mary,’ Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort quotes Saint Augustine calling Mary the living “Mold of God” and notes:
“Since Mary has formed Jesus Christ, the Head of the elect, it is also her office to form the members of that Head, that is to say, all true Christians; for a mother does not form the head without the members, nor the members without the head.”
In thus forming Christ’s elect (her children), Mary calls them to be moulds filled with the grace of God the Holy Spirit just as she is.
“Whoever is cast in it, and allows himself to be molded, receives all the features of Jesus Christ, true God.”
Mary ‘Re-members’ the Church
Being “conformed to the image of Christ” through Mary’s example is seen happening at Pentecost. In Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is a non-biblical scene of Peter approaching Mother Mary repenting his denial of Jesus. The realness of this scene is not difficult to imagine. John, the youngest apostle “who Jesus loved” is already with Mary. In the events leading up to Pentecost, Peter is in the company of his brother Apostles with the Mother of Jesus and others in the “upper room” praying “in one accord” (Acts 1:13, 14), and with the Holy Spirit descending, “they were all filled” and enabled to speak in different tongues (cf. Acts 2:4).
We also note that the Church’s Marian dimension prefigures the Petrine dimension. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar states (and Pope John Paul II echoes in Mulieris Dignitatem) Mary is “Queen of the Apostles without any pretensions to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers.”
Sadly, the clamor for women at the altar rings louder than the sound of Hail Marys prayed in the church. Marian festal liturgies and other pious devotions are no guarantee in North American parishes. On the other hand, where Eucharistic Adoration and Marian devotions flourish, parish life and families flourish, and vocations abound.
Bring Her Back to the Upper Room!
The Mother of Christ, the Queen of the first bishops, and those called to be Alter Christus is also “a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Cf. LG #68).
The Second Vatican Council (Cf. LG #67) “admonishes all the sons of the Church” to “generously [foster]” “the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin” “and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries” to “be religiously observed.”
Catholic men and women who model themselves after the Blessed Virgin Mary do better than others in their marriage. Praying the Holy Rosary as a family strengthens family bonds and faithfulness to Church teachings. Parishes unable anymore to influence the moral life of the faithful must let Mother Mary do it for them.
“As a physical mother watches over an ailing child, so does Mary watch over her erring children.” – Venerable Fulton Sheen
When the Blessed Mother being reallowed her rightful role, the parish becomes the Upper Room. As Louis-Marie de Montfort visualizes,
“When the Holy Spirit, her spouse, finds Mary in a soul, He hastens there and enters fully into it.”