Church without frontiers, Mother to all

January 4 to 10 has been designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as the annual National Migration Week. They do this in collaboration with bishops around the world, led by Pope Francis, who has continued the tradition of his predecessors in issuing a message for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees. St. Pius X instituted this annual observance in 1914. Little did he know of the flood of refugees which would be unleashed by the “great” war which was going to be unleashed on the world that year.

Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus’ “solicitude, particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalized, invites all of us to care for the frailest and to recognize His suffering countenance, especially in the victims of new forms of poverty and slavery. The Lord says: ‘I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me’ (Mt 25:35-36). The mission of the Church, herself a pilgrim in the world and the Mother of all, is thus to love Jesus Christ, to adore and love Him, particularly in the poorest and most abandoned; among these are certainly migrants and refugees, who are trying to escape difficult living conditions and dangers of every kind. For this reason, the theme for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees is: Church without frontiers, Mother to all.”

What Jesus said causes us to make an examination of conscience, asking ourselves whether we are ready to present ourselves before God (we know not when, but we do know that it will be someday) and say that we did welcome Him in the various guises He took, including as a refugee or migrant.

The Holy Father continued, offering a statement which also calls for personal and corporate reflection on our part: “The Church opens her arms to welcome all people, without distinction or limits, in order to proclaim that ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8,16). From the beginning, the Church has been a mother with a heart open to the whole world, and has been without borders. [E]ven in the first centuries, the missionary proclamation spoke of the universal motherhood of the Church, which was then developed in the writings of the Fathers and taken up by the Second Vatican Council. The Council Fathers spoke of Ecclesia Mater to explain the Church’s nature. She begets sons and daughters and ‘takes them in and embraces them with her love and in her heart’” (Lumen Gentium, 14).

“Holy Mother Church” is a term which has often been mocked in recent decades, in part because of the stuffiness of some Church members, who would seem as welcoming as the fictional character Hyacinth Bucket from the old British show, “Keeping Up Appearances.” However, Pope Francis has used the term a lot in his writings and talks, trying to get people to realize that they are part of Holy Mother Church and calling them to have a loving, motherly attitude, an attitude which bears Spiritual fruit.

On the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15), the Holy Father spoke of the Church, who is Mother “when she follows the same path of Jesus and Mary: the path of obedience, the path of suffering, and when her approach is to constantly learn the way of the Lord. These two women — Mary and the Church — carry on the hope which is Christ, they give us Christ, they generate Christ in us.”

December 9 the pope prayed that God would “grant us the grace to work, to be Christians” who are “joyful in the fruitfulness of Mother Church,” and that He save us from the danger of “falling into the attitude of these sad, impatient, mistrustful, anxious Christians” who, in the Church, have all that is perfect, yet bear no fruit. The pontiff asked God to console us with “the comfort of a Mother Church who goes out of herself” and with “the comfort of Jesus’ tenderness, His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.” 

December 23 the pope posed this question: “Are our souls open, as the soul of Holy Mother Church is open, and as Mary’s soul was open? Or have we closed our souls and put a highly erudite note on the door saying: Please do not disturb?”

In that context, we should continue our reflections on the pope’s message about migrants. “The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable. When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy.”

We need to ask ourselves how patient and welcoming we are to our fellow Catholics and to all people who darken the doors of our parishes (or who do not darken those doors due to our negative attitudes). 

The Holy Father described the current world situation as “an age [in which] large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions. Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the Biblical Commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.”

The pope then reminded us that we need “to put into practice the Commandment of love that Jesus left us when He identified Himself with the stranger, with the one who suffers, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation. Because of the weakness of our nature, however, ‘we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 270).  Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and in exiles, and through them He calls us to share our resources, and occasionally to give up something of our acquired riches.”

The pope challenged the Church: “The multicultural character of society today, for that matter, encourages the Church to take on new commitments of solidarity, communion and evangelization. Migration movements, in fact, call us to deepen and strengthen the values needed to guarantee peaceful coexistence between persons and cultures. Achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient.”

Addressing migrants and refugees directly, Pope Francis wrote, “You have a special place in the heart of the Church, and you help her to enlarge her heart and to manifest her motherhood towards the entire human family.”

May we remember that we are the Church and are called, by Christ, to always bear the good fruit of loving Him in our neighbor, including those from other lands.

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