The Catholic Church: A Nuclear Family

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Cyprian (and St. Cornelius, but we”ll talk about him another day). Born of pagan parents, St. Cyprian was a third-century Bishop of Carthage who eventually was exiled and then martyred during the persecution of Emperor Valerian.

Among other things, St. Cyprian is known for coining the maxim: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother,” which is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 181.

It makes sense. St. Paul talks about the marriage between Christ and His Church in Ephesians 5. As Christians, we are the offspring of that marriage. We truly are children of God, and we”re also sons and daughters of the Church. The Church is a supernatural “nuclear family.”

In matters of faith, however, we see a lot of “single parenthood.” [more]There are some Catholics who have no problem with being part of a Church, but they resent and reject God”s fatherhood. This perennial tendency has been amplified in recent decades with the rise of radical feminism, such that commentators have bemoaned a feminization of the Church. When our faith is nurtured by the Church as a single mother, the discipline and even more the truth of the faith is obscured. We have a Church that preaches compassion, sensitivity, ”social justice” (in a perverted, impoverished sense), and tolerance, but not the meat and potatoes of “faith and morals.” It”s very much about the here and now. 

While those who cling exclusively to their spiritual mother tend toward heresy, those who cling to God without the Church tend toward schism. This largely is a Protestant dynamic, but we see it also among Catholics, especially those who “know the score” and are frustrated because of the Church”s all-too-evident failings and “warts.” So those who want God to be their “single parent” have more of an independent streak. They tend to be their own arbiter of what the Christian faith entails, and they don”t recognize our connectedness with one another through our mutual unity in Christ, the true vine (Jn. 15:1-11).

Obviously all this has repercussions when it comes to our culture’2012-04-24 18:34:29′s conceptions–or misconceptions–of what constitutes a family.

I don”t know about you, but I think St. Cyprian”s simple yet profound idea of having God as Father and Church as Mother is an interpretive key for understanding divisions within the Church as well as the Church”s perennial quest for greater unity among Christ”s disciples. It”s also a good examination of conscience for each one of us.

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