A special aspect of the “maternity” of the Church is education through mercy, and this was the subject of the Holy Father’s catechesis during this Wednesday’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Like a good mother and educator, the Church focuses on the essential, and the essential, according to the Gospel, is mercy, as Jesus clearly tells his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your father is”. “Is it possible for a Christian not to be merciful?” asked Pope Francis. “No. The Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is at the centre of the Gospel. And so the Church behaves like Jesus. She does not give theoretical lessons on love or on mercy. She does not spread throughout the world a philosophy or a path to wisdom. Certainly, Christianity is all of this too”, the Pope remarked, “but as a consequence, a reflection. The mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example, and words serve to cast light on the meaning of her gestures”.
Therefore, “the Mother Church teaches us to give food and drink to those who hunger and thirst, and to clothe those who are naked. And how does she do this? She does it through the example of many saints who have done it in an exemplary fashion, but she also does it through the example of many fathers and mothers, who teach their children that what we have left over is for those who are in need of basic necessities. In the most humble Christian families, the rule of hospitality is always sacred: there is always a dish of food and a place to sleep for those in need”. And to those who say they have nothing to spare, Francis gave the example of a family in his former diocese who shared half of what they had to eat with a poor man who knocked at their door. “Learning to share what we have is important”.
The mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are sick. Like the saints who have served Jesus in this way, there are many people who practise this work of mercy every day in hospitals, rest homes, or in their own homes, providing assistance for the sick.
The mother Church also teaches us to be close to those who are imprisoned. “’But Father’, some will say, ‘This is dangerous. These are bad people’. Listen carefully: any one of us is capable of doing what these men and women in prison have done. We all sin and make mistakes in life. They are not worse than you or me. Mercy overcomes any wall or barrier, and leads us always to seek the face of the human being. And it is mercy that changes hearts and lives, that is able to regenerate a person or enable him to be newly reintegrated in society”.
“The mother Church teaches us to be close to those who have been abandoned and who die lonely. This is what Mother Teresa did in the streets of Calcutta and it is what many Christians, those who are not afraid to take the hand of those who are about to leave this world, have done and continue to do. And here too, mercy offers peace to those who depart and to those who remain, making us aware that God is greater than death, and that by staying with Him, even the final separation is only ‘until we meet again’”.
“The Church is a mother”, he continued, “teaching her children the works of mercy. She has learned this path from Jesus; she has learned that this is essential for salvation. It is not enough to love those who love us. It is not enough to do good to those who do good to us in return. To change the world for the better is it necessary to do good to those who are not able to do the same for us, as our Father did for us, in giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing. It was all free. Doing good without expecting anything in return – this is what our Father did for us and what we too must do”. For this reason, he concluded, “let us give thanks to the Lord, who has given us the grace of having the Church as a mother who teaches us the way of mercy, the way of life”.