What if Pope Francis gave you a special mission? Wouldn’t you find it hard to ignore? I, for one, paid attention when the Holy Father issued a commission to me and my companions during a private audience in Rome back in October of 2013.
We had gathered together for a study seminar hosted by the Pontifical Council for the Laity commemorating the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women. I found myself sitting a few feet away from a man who had only been pope for half a year, but who had already captivated the attention of the entire world. He had also been the subject of my own personal research for the book I had just co-authored with my father, Saint Francis, Pope Francis: A Common Vision (Servant 2014). Little did I know that this encounter with the pope would lead me to begin work on my next book! But it was there in the heart of Mother Church, surrounded by the splendor of the Vatican, that Pope Francis planted the seed which three years later has flowered into my newest book, The Church is Our Mother: Seven Ways She Inspires us to Love.
During his address to us at the seminar, the Holy Father spoke these words. “The Church is woman, she is mother, and this is beautiful.” And then, he issued the directive to us, “You must consider and go deeper into this.”
First merely an idea, the mission of “going deeper” into the heart of Mother Church eventually turned into a concrete labor of love as I began researching and reflecting upon these themes while writing my manuscript. And I find it quite fitting that while meditations on the maternal nature of the Church germinated in my mind, a new baby grew and developed in my womb. A year after giving birth to my fifth child, my fifth book was “born”! And now, as I await the imminent arrival of baby number six, I have to say I feel that I am a better mother thanks to the mission I received from Pope Francis. It led me, a cradle Catholic, to new realizations not only about my Church, but also about the significance of my vocation.
Being a mom can be a tough job. After dealing with a tantrum from my three-year-old this morning that felt like it lasted for eternity, I was flustered and shaky. I wondered what I was doing wrong, what I should have done differently, how I could do better in the future to help my daughter handle her frustration. I felt powerless and defeated, like a lousy mom who still can’t get it right even after all these kids. And for a moment, I just wanted to give up. But then I remembered one of the chapter themes of The Church is Our Mother, namely, “Mothers Accept.” And I thought about how Mother Church never gives up on us. Her embrace never expires. Even in the face of her children’s rebelliousness or immaturity, she continues to care, to teach, to heal, to celebrate (these are other chapters in the book…). And I am called to do the same with my children.
During the ins and outs of my life as Mom, I have started to see things differently. I have begun to view my own motherhood in the light of the Church. This has given me a kind of ready-made toolkit to handle the challenges that pop up from day to day. I ask myself, what would Mother Church do? And then, I try to do it! As I discovered while working on my book, reflecting upon Mother Church helps us understand motherhood, and at the same time, reflecting upon motherhood helps us understand Mother Church. Thinking about these “seven ways” the Church inspires us to love has helped me to grow in practically, concretely showing my love for my children.
It’s been liberating for me to learn that “Mother Church” isn’t just a theological term without any relevance to my life. True, most of us have heard the title countless times, but how often do we pause to think about what this really means? How often do mothers consider the implications of their inherent association with the Church? How often do they allow “the Mother and Teacher of All Nations” as St. John XXIII called the Church, to teach them about being a good mom?
Pope Francis is right to want to visit these themes with more attention. And as I took up his challenge and worked on writing The Church is Our Mother, I found a deeper appreciation not only for the Church, but also for the vocation of motherhood itself. I hope this book will help many other women to make the same discovery.
Gina Loehr is a popular author and inspirational speaker, a theology teacher and the mother of six young children. She worked in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for the Family as a panelist at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and also served as a delegate for the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s 2013 Vatican study on women and the Church. While serving in this capacity, she met Pope Francis about whom she published her fourth book, Saint Francis, Pope Francis: A Common Vision. In addition to her book on the Holy Father, Gina has written two books on women saints, The Four Teresasand Real Women, Real Saints: Friends for Your Spiritual Journey, as well as two books on Catholic women’s spirituality, Choosing Beauty: A 30-Day Spiritual Makeover for Women and her newest release, The Church is Our Mother: Seven Ways She Inspires us to Love.