I was born and raised in Maryland, but I grew up in a Salvadoran household which was a unique experience. Don’t worry, this isn’t the beginning of my memoirs (that’ll come later! Jk), but needless to say that with Latino parents my upbringing was always a bit different. For example, there was the requirement to greet or say goodbye to every single person in the house upon entry or exit (otherwise you were deemed to be rude and disrespectful); birthday parties seldom involved school friends, but rather more cousins and adult family members than you could count (those same parties lasted until 2 a.m. btw); and of course the constant admonition to speak Spanish at home, not English (English is for school and friends, not family).Then, there was “la chancla.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, la chancla is the informal Spanish word for “the sandal.’ But ask anybody that grew up with a Latina mom and they’ll tell you it is so much more than just a sandal. La chancla is both respected and feared; it is a Latina mom’s tool for discipline and teaching. When la chancla comes off of mom’s foot, you know you’ve done wrong and you’re about to be corrected. However, what ultimately makes la chancla so effective is the fact that it’s delivered by the one who loves you most, mom. When mom gets you with la chancla, she’s doing it because she loves you.
I’m not here to get into an argument or discussion about different methods of parental discipline. I’m not laying out a pro or anti-spanking agenda. I’m simply stating a reality that I, and many Latinos, are intimately familiar with. Latina moms believe in tough love. Mom loves you, hugs you, kisses you, feeds you, wipes your tears and encourages you, but ultimately when mom needs to correct or discipline you, even though she does it out of love, it’s going to hurt a little bit.
We often (or at least I do) forget that discipline is a good and healthy thing. We focus on the unpleasant aspects of discipline even though our Faith sees it as necessary, done out of love. Scripture reminds us that “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines” (Heb. 12:5) . In fact we should be encouraged by this discipline because it means that, “God treats you as sons” (Heb. 12:7). Does discipline hurt? Sure. But as long as we remember that it is done out of love by a person who loves us, it should be tolerable.
What happens, however, when discipline seems to come not out of love but out of an agenda? What happens when we are disciplined by a stranger and not a loved one as intimately close to us as a mother? We become angry or resentful. We withdraw and distance ourselves. We lose sight of the love that was supposed to be closely attached to that discipline. We feel the sting of la chancla but not the warmth of mom.
Unfortunately, it seems like Catholics live such a reality. For many of us there is a separation between the difficult discipline of Church teachings and the loving embrace of the Church, our Mother. Many of us feel the sting of The Church’s chancla but not the warmth of the Mother Church because many of us we forget that the Church is truly our Mother.
Perhaps the idea of the Catholic Church as our Mother is a new concept for you. It was for me. But it is not I or even the Church Herself that makes this declaration, but rather scripture. The Church is our Mother because she is the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5 21-33) and as such she births us, her children, into Christian Life. She spiritually feeds and nurtures us that we might grow in holiness.
This reality can be easily forgotten, after all, it can be hard to see the Church as our Mother. It’s easy to see the Church as merely an organization or an institution. But we were never meant to see the Church in that way. Pope St. John XXIII wrote that the Church is Mother and Teacher, called “to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness. "When we begin to recognize the Church as our Mother and Teacher we begin to feel that “embrace of love."
The Maternal aspect is critical. The Church is Mother and Teacher not just “teacher” or just” disciplinarian." When we separate, whether in our minds or in practice, the Maternal element from the teaching aspect of the Church, we the children, lose.
We see it when we’ve been called out in our sin perhaps over something personal or embarrassing, and we forget that the Church still loves us and will walk with us through any struggle. We forget our Mother and end up angry and resentful.
We see it when we’re reminded of our obligations as Catholics, and become overwhelmed by the list of “do’s and don’ts," but forget the Church is constantly offering us grace in Sacraments. We forget our Mother and end up withdrawing and distancing ourselves.
We see it when our personal or political viewpoints are carelessly attacked by other Catholics and we forget that the Church is bigger than a few of Her members. We forget our Mother and we end up losing sight of any love at all.
We cannot forget that the Church is not only our teacher, but truly our Mother. Pope Francis says it best (one of the many reasons he is pope and I am not) when he reminds us, that a mother feeds and nurtures her children, but “she also knows to correct them, to forgive them and understand them. She knows how to be close to them in sickness and in suffering… The Church like a good mother does the same thing: she accompanies our development by transmitting to us the Word of God, which is a light that directs the path of Christian life; she administers the Sacraments. She nourishes us with the Eucharist, she brings us the forgiveness of God through the Sacrament of Penance, she helps us in moments of sickness with the Anointing of the sick. The Church accompanies us throughout our entire life of faith, throughout the whole of our Christian life.”
You see, we’ve always been called to find in our Church that warm love embrace only Mom can give, not just the sting of la chancla. But... if you are getting la chancla it’s probably for your own good (ask anyone with Latino parents), just don’t forget that Mom still loves you!