In my first two articles (see: part 1 and part 2) on this subject, I reminded readers we are called to love ourselves as Christ loved us on the Cross, and we are called to love our spouses as Christ loved us on the Cross.
Christ has always been exceptionally clear about His love for all of us. In Matthew 19:14, Christ made it abundantly clear His love extends even to the littlest of us, by instructing His disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Everywhere we look, parents are inundated with messages that children should be seen and not heard, and we are expected to complain about parenthood at all times. Being a parent is hard, tiring, and many times feels thankless.
Parenting is also a rewarding path toward sanctification!
Sr. Lucia dos Santos, one of the visionaries of the apparitions from Our Lady of Fatima cautioned us, “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and family.” Something we overlook in today’s society, though, is not every battle will wage in courtrooms or on the news.
The battles can be waged in each family, as a parent begins to overlook their secondary vocation of parenthood, second only to marriage, and begin to allow bitterness, resentment, and envy to seep into their hearts. As parents begin to view their children in a manner which overlooks the child’s age and development, and overlooking the child’s dignity, parents begin to run the risk of forgetting just how much Christ loved all the children.
God the Father understood that we mere mortals would comprehend the depths of His love for us, when He gave His only Son to be sacrificed for our sins. In fact, perhaps the most memorized Bible passage is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
God knew we would understand the depths of His love for us, through the act of sacrifice of His Son!
As Christ died on the Cross, He despised the abuse that He knew some parents would carry out on their children.
He despised the way society would try to push children to the outer reaches, only wanting to embrace each other as adults.
He despised a culture which would seek to destroy a child’s life – both literally and physically – before that child had an opportunity to live and flourish.
As Christ died on the Cross, he made His sacrifice for our children as much as for ourselves.
As Christ died on the Cross, He loved the beauty and innocence that we see in all small children.
As Christ died on the Cross, He loved the little children.
Pope Francis has reminded parents about placing their children’s needs at the forefront, when he encouraged a breastfeeding mother to feed her young child. He reminded adults that the needs of small children should be met before the physical, social, and emotional needs of any adult.
Our needs, by virtue of parenthood, become secondary to the needs of defenseless, helpless creatures. And, while those small humans don’t remain defenseless and helpless for very long, their brains take longer to grow… meaning, they may look, act, and sound like an adult, but our needs are secondary to those who are still developing into adults.
Which makes the vocation of parenthood long and tedious. It is tough, in the midst of tantrums, in the midst of late nights and long days, in the midst of the latest round of supporting our children as they master their next developmental stage.
Like it or not, parenting is not about adults.
Parenting isn’t even about the children.
Parenting is about God – leading His little children to Him!
Perhaps, the most poignant words on parenting are found by St. Gianna Molla. Her gentle reminder about parenting is profound.
So, the next time you are tempted to lose your temper with your child, the next time you want to run away from your children, and the next time time you begin to doubt whether or not you are cut out for the role of parent, keep in mind St. Gianna’s words. You aren’t looking into the face of your child, or wanting to run away from your child, or doubting your ability to parent your child – you are looking into the face of Christ, wanting to run from Him, and doubting your ability to parent in His stead.
This is not to say there aren’t consequences for their actions!
Even our Ultimate Parent, God, gives consequences to us as petulant children. Instead, this is reminding all of us to approach parenting with a mindset which honors the dignity, worth, and beauty inherent in all children – to honor their worth and beauty…
…and to help it flourish.
Christ loved all of us, but perhaps held the most affection for children. As parents, we are called to remember His love, and to radiate His love for them, to them.
We are called to love our children as Christ loved them on the Cross.
My oldest son is graduating from high school tomorrow. Tonight is Baccalaureate Mass. The feelings that have arisen in me are perplexing. I am not quite sure how I feel, how to feel, or how I should feel. It always felt like this day was one of those events that would never arrive. I felt like I had all the time in the world to spend with him as my little boy, taking him to karate and t-ball games, reading his favorite stories to him and having him read them to me. Now he is a man, and I am so lost.
My identity for the past eighteen years has been first and foremost as his mother. Every year on his birthday, I tell him the story of the day he was born. I tell him how he made my dream of being a mom come true. I held him in my arms and kissed every bit of his little face. The first thing I saw was his big dimples on each of his sweet little cheeks. I tell him of nights sleeping in the recliner with him snuggled on my chest and how I would place my hand on his chest to make certain of every one of his breaths. I loved him from the moment I knew he was growing inside me. Our nightly prayers closed “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” These first moments have defined me.
I took him to his first day of kindergarten. I kissed and hugged him goodbye and he smiled ear to ear. I smiled and waved back at him. I went back to my minivan, sat there for a few moments and cried. I did not know what to do with myself if I did not have him to take care of. I suppose I am feeling quite the same way right now.
I have had the pleasure of spending every day of the last four years with him—two of which were as his teacher. I know all his friends and I have gotten to know him in a different light than just simply as my son. I have found him to be charming and genuine, and I am honored to be his mom.
He will leave for college in three months. I am excited and saddened at the same time. I have raised him to be a man, to have an adventure, to be who God has meant for him to be. This is His will. My boy prayed and prayed about where he was to go to school and what God’s will was for him. So he will be nine hours away from me, and that is okay. He will be at an amazing Catholic university where I know he will grow into that man God wants him to be and that is more than okay.
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–” Ecclesiastes 3:1.
The entirety of my son’s life can been summed up in that one Bible verse. I now realize what an enormous blessing God bestowed upon me when He made me mother to this amazing young man. I hope I did, and continue to do, what I was called to. I pray every day while I continue into another chapter of motherhood.
We’ve made it to mid-Lent. How is it going for you? As always, it starts with a gusto and, at least for me, becomes so much more challenging to find the motivation to continue with one’s initially heartfelt and enthusiastic spiritual commitments.
It is the “heartfelt” part that gives me pause. By now, the “feeling” is not necessarily felt. The motivation has lessened, the behaviors we may have rightfully set aside practically beg for satiation, and we find now that there is just as much time left in Lent as there already has been given to this time of abstinence and fasting. We become weary. Or even bored.
On Sunday, I stayed home from the Divine Liturgy with a wee one while the rest of the family attended, giving me the opportunity to attend Mass late in the evening at our local parish.
Normally, when we attend Mass or the Divine Liturgy as a family, we spread out in the back or well off to the side, attempting to find a somewhat nonintrusive place to witness the Holy Sacrifice while also wrangling many small children, a double stroller, and a wheelchair.
This time, I savored the opportunity to sit in one of the front rows, in the absolute optimal place to see and hear everything. I simply took it all in, not trying to keep up with the unfamiliar hymn during the offertory and preparation of the altar, but watching the priest continue quietly praying to God over the singing, his mouth moving while he raised the bread and then the wine. Blessed be God forever.
After the consecration, the priest took a long time to carefully break the large Host into smaller pieces. I found myself riveted by his hands. The only sound at that point was this breaking, and there, his simple human hands actually held God, preparing to distribute Him to His people. He placed a tiny Particle into the Precious Blood and kept completely focused on the task at hand. His hands moved completely intentionally yet habitually, as he had done this so many countless times before that the muscle memory must be ingrained.
Seeing his focus in the midst of the large congregation and very busy sanctuary, replete with a great many Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, edified and strengthened me. This is a part of our holy Catholic faith that inspires me to contemplation so frequently…that God is not far from us, nor does He insist on acting from a distance. No. He flagrantly works through and with us, insisting that we have a part to play with Him in the ongoing sanctification of creation. This priest, giving himself wholly to the task God gave him, actually had to permit God to do His work. It’s crazy, but true.
As the Epistle shared on Sunday from 1 Corinthians 1:22-25,
…we proclaim Christ crucified…
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
As I think about the plans we have prayerfully discerned as our Lenten sacrifices, I think to this priest and how his participation in God’s plan during the Mass was completely focused, habitual, and with muscle memory. Won’t we benefit from this as mothers to our children, for instance, if, when we get angry or discouraged, our focused and habitual response is to turn to the Blessed Mother for prayer, or to repeat our morning offering in that moment, with a muscle memory that opens our arms to one of love and embrace for our child who may have offended.
These are the habits we seek to build during Lent. We are halfway through; let’s recommit to this next part and pray for the grace to continue.
It is that time of year, when most of us are going back to school. The start of the school year affects most people in one way or another. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, a student, or any working person, back-to-school days are bittersweet– exciting, yet mournful; happy, yet solemn.
I am a teacher and a mom. Back to school for me, means many things:
1) My vacation is over. I use the summer vacation to recharge. No matter what your opinion is of a teacher’s schedule, deserved or undeserved. One hundred eighty days of high energy individuals not only inspire, but they also drain the energy from those who are entrusted to their care and education. It takes a lot to love so many children, and it is truly a gift from God to be able to do so day in and day out. So, yes, I do need a vacation—a long one.
2) I have to be without my kids. I know some parents are relieved when their kids go back to school, but for me, there is a little pleasure in letting go, even if only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. The summers, for me, are filled with sleeping in, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the pool, and daily Mass. I get to have lunch with my kids every day. It is sad for me to be without them.
3) My kids are getting older. The years with my children have flown by. I have one more year until my oldest, a senior in high school, goes off to college. Each back-to-school time brings my family closer and closer to life-changing moments. This year holds a high school graduation and First Communion for us. Exciting rites of passage like these begin with the start of a new school year.
4) I get to meet a brand new batch of students with whom I will fall in love. As I entrust my kids to other teachers, I am able to pay it forward. I can express my love for my own children and give it to the children of others, if at least just from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm.
5) The most important thing that all this means is that I understand my vocation best at this time of year, even more profoundly than at any other time. I realize that God placed me here to care for others. My job is to help them all grow in one way or another—intellectually, physically, socially, and, most of all, spiritually.
My own children are a part of me. I am given by God a great responsibility as a mother to help them become what God has intended. I lead them in the ways of the Church; I nourish them with food and spiritual nourishment. I love them and educate them. Back-to-school for us as a family is a natural progression of life. It signifies the process that God has put in place, the passing of time and the movement closer and closer to Himself. My children are a true extension of myself and the older they get, the closer they are to God’s purpose for them.
As for my students, I am fortunate enough to teach at a Catholic school where I am always able explore the spiritual side of myself and my students. Back-to-school as a teacher enables me to move further and further outside of myself. It means I get to influence, and be affected by, a hundred different souls every year—some of these years better than others, but all of them a part of God’s plan for me.
Back-to-school is bittersweet, but oh so very necessary in what I call life. God gives me an opportunity to extend myself further and further through my own children and to those whom I “mother” at school. The excitement of a new school year is my opportunity to develop grace and bring myself closer to my purpose.