I n The Lord of the Rings, many of the heroes are moved by thoughts of places. Rivers and mountains matter. Minas Tirith matters. Likewise, the Apostle Paul says Christians are citizens of the heavenly city, holy Zion, the “Jerusalem above,” and “she is our mother.” It was thus that John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” also penned these words:
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded
Thou mayest smile at all thy foes.
The Christ himself has founded the Church, “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” The Church, which Paul calls our mother, aspires by the grace of God to be a “Proverbs 31 wife,” as Scripture also compares the relationship between husband and wife to the even greater reality of the relationship between the Christ and his holy, catholic and apostolic Church. So, too, we honor our mother as Christ honored his blessed mother on earth – nay, as Christ honors his wife in heaven, for the holy Church is indeed his Bride, blessed and glorious in the radiance of the Lord. To his Bride he has given the keys of his Kingdom coming from heaven to earth, which is now at hand and is not yet come to fullness. Many church buildings, accordingly, are adorned with glorious images – of the Annunciation to the blessed virgin Mary, of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, of Eve redeemed from Adam’s sin – that testify to God’s work in the midst of the Church and also attest to future glory, flooding stone interiors with stained-glass light of many colours. Will the Church be held in the honor this suggests and have our affections because of the hope we have in God?
A man who will leave the Church for her sinfulness, desiring another imaginary church rather than the one Church catholic as she is – messed up, poor, frail, marred with tears of grief – will he also leave his wife behind in favor of his pornographic fantasy, in the name of purity? But the love that Christ has for the Church when she clings to his feet and anoints him with her tears of spikenard, his love for a woman rejected by the world, is that same love which allows the husband to call his wife beautiful and be telling the truth even when she’s angry, when she has morning sickness, when she’s frazzled and paranoid and stressed and ready to die with all the duties she discharges. He will not love her for her gimmicks, or even for her love, when her love cannot split the rocks in a mountain pass: he will love her as she is. Sometimes we call this unconditional love. We who resolve to love our wives must look first to the more fundamental reality of the cosmos: to Christ, who loves his Church more than ever Adam loved his Eve. How Christ honors his new Eve – that is, his holy Church – with what was not hers!
Those who stand up to Sauron, so to speak – those who resist evil – have a city to love, a mother they did not choose, within whose walls they have sisters whose fair hearts inspire them to “sin strongly, but more strongly [to] have faith and rejoice in Christ,” to perform deeds of valor for a city that will one day know peace and no longer be beleaguered by the hosts of her enemies:
For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen […]. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor, and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom.
We in this iconoclastic generation, we who break the tradition of centuries and feign ignorance of our own subjectivity (or, alternately, use subjectivity as a way to deconstruct and reject ancient tradition), do we love the Church for her memory? her ancientry? her beauty? her present wisdom, always to be reformed according to God’s word?
What shall men do? We shall come to maturity in God’s holy wisdom; we shall serve, not reject, our mother.