A MOTHER WITH AN OPEN HEART
In reading paragraphs 46-49 of Evangelii Gaudium, paragraphs that describe the Church as “A Mother with an Open Heart,” we can’t help but think about Our Lady since today is December 8th. Though the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception has been transferred to Monday (December 9th) this year because December 8th falls on a Sunday, nonetheless, the love of Our Lady’s heart helps shed light on these particular paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium.
As popes and saints have noted over the centuries, Mary is truly the pattern, model and blueprint of the maternal Church. In light of this, it can be said that the Church, as mother, gains her maternal qualities – especially, an open heart – from, and after the example, of the motherhood of Mary. In other words, since Mary is the Mother of the Church, the Church herself learns how to be a mother with an open heart from the maternal example of Mary. I believe that when we look at these particular paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium through the prism of Our Lady, we are able to fully understand and unpack the wisdom of Pope Francis when he exhorts the Church to have an open heart for everyone. After all, Pope Francis is proving himself to be a very Marian Pope.
In stressing that the Church is called to be a “mother with an open heart,” Pope Francis is implicitly directing us to see the Marian dimension of what that openness entails, and what it should look like. Think about it: if the Church is called to imitate the maternal love of Mary, do we not believe that Our Lady always has an “open heart” for all of her children? She is always available for all her children because a mother’s heart always has room for her children, both those who are strong and those who are weak, those who are healthy and those who are sick, those who are good and those who are bad. In fact, it was the immaculate heart of our spiritual mother that was pierced (opened) for us because a mother’s love knows no limits. And in these paragraphs it is this definition of “openness” that Pope Francis wants to see more of in the Church. Not an openness that allows anything and everything to happen in our Father’s house (the Church), but an openness that imitates the openness of a mother’s heart and the love she has for all of her children. And, in particular, as we all know from ordinary family life, a mother often pays particular attention to the child that needs more attention and affection. The hurting child gets the most kisses, in other words.
This is why in these particular paragraphs Pope Francis reminds the Church that we need to “go forth” with a “missionary impulse” and seek to take care of all of God’s children. Just as a mother is not closed in on herself, but loves all of her children, seeking to love each one individually and always leaving the door open for them should they go astray or find themselves lost, so it must be with the Church as mother. The Church, after the example of Our Lady, is at the service of the Gospel; she exists to bring her children to Jesus and the healing power of the sacraments, and as a good mother she has a particular concern for those who are hurting and poor. The Church is the mother of the poor, the broken, and the lost.
This Advent, as members of a loving Church, let’s do our part with the Holy Father to try and imitate Our Lady and have an open heart!
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, is the Vicar Provincial for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He is a well-known conference speaker on Divine Mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He speaks passionately about these topics in his moving conversion story. In addition, he is the editor of the books The Virgin Mary and Theology of the Body and The Immaculate Conception in the Life of the Church. He is also the author of three books: Purest of All Lilies: The Virgin Mary in the Spirituality of St. Faustina, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, and Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest.