Church is 'mother' when it offers mercy, tenderness, pope says

Vatican City — As his international Council of Cardinals began a three-day meeting to discuss the reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis said having a perfect organizational chart for the church won't guarantee that the church fulfills its mission of bringing people to Christ.

Celebrating an early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence Tuesday, Pope Francis prayed that "the Lord would give us the grace to work, to be joyful Christians," who generate and raise new members, and "help us not fall into the attitude of those sad, impatient, distrusting, anxious Christians who have everything perfect in the church, but don't have 'children.' "

Commenting on the Gospel story from Matthew 18:12-14 about the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to go in search of the one lost sheep, Pope Francis said the shepherd could have approached the situation like a "good businessman: 'Well, there's still 99, if one is lost, it's not a problem.' The final balance, earnings and losses" are what counts.

But instead of having a businessman's head, the Gospel protagonist "has a shepherd's heart. He goes out looking until he finds the one lost and celebrates; he's joyful," the pope said, according to Vatican Radio.

"The joy of going out to search for our brothers and sisters who are far off, this is the joy of the church," the pope said. "That is when the church becomes a mother, becomes fruitful."

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"When the church doesn't do this, when the church stops with itself, closes in on itself -- even if it is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart with everything in place, everything tidy, but it lacks joy, lacks celebrations, lacks peace -- it becomes a mistrusting, anxious, sad church, a church that is more like an old maid than a mother."

The perfect, closed-up church "is useless, it's a museum church," the pope said. "The joy of the church is to give birth; the joy of the church is to go out of itself to give life; the joy of the church is to go in search of lost sheep."

"The joy of the church," he said, "is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother."

The day's first reading, Isaiah 40:1-11, opens with the line, "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God."

Pope Francis told those at the Mass that "the Lord comforts us with the consolation of a mother church that reaches out and consoles us with the tenderness of Jesus and his mercy in the forgiveness of our sins."

The greatest consolation, he said, comes "when a person feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord."


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