Motherhood: Learning About Holiness in Fragments
On April 9th, The Pope released his Apostolic Exhortation, Guadete et Exsultate. In this lovely exhoration, Pope Francis highlights the very important and personal call that all of us faithful, within our various vocations, have to strive toward holiness.
Perhaps it seems rather obvious that in taking one’s faith life seriously, there is an element of desiring to be “holy” demanded of us. Though, at times this can be something that may be lost on us. We could struggle from unhealthy ideas of what holiness truly is and where it is found.
It is important to recognize that holiness deeply belongs to where Christ has called you to serve, presently. And has also provided there a grace to enter into what is before you, keeping always present God above.
This may seem a rather idealistic portrayal. In the practical, moments and circumstances demand questions, peace may seem far out of reach, and the mundane items seem overwhelmingly unholy. There is nothing further from the truth! It is quite dangerous spiritually, to envision holiness as belonging somewhere in the clouds and not in the trenches of ordinary and practical life.
My reflections on this area increased greatly by the very means I had to approach this document. In fragments, due to my natural obligations that I have throughout the day. By doing such , the call to holiness in motherhood became even more evident to me than it has been made known already through experience.
I read the first section riding the bike while the kids were napping.
While I would have preferred to sit with a coffee and indulge in the document, I recognized that part of my being able to remain holy throughout my day is tending well to myself, and disciplining myself to have daily exercise increases the peace in me and aids me to be better to those I serve.
The area of motherhood is one that I have a very big heart for. In saying this, it also seems to be an area that is incredibly challenged and deeply misunderstood by society at large, more tragically by many women themselves.
There is a certain reverence owed to it, that when forgotten , robs it’s very essence of sacrificial servitude and replaces it instead as a self-loathed burden.
I had to stop reading to vacuum the stairs
While I vacuumed I thought about what I read, the service of my day amplified the call to personal holiness in the deeply practical areas. Even vacuuming the stairs is not excluded from striving for holiness. Holiness manifests in the practical, on the ground. To be obedient to duties that confront us responding with love, gives rise to peace. This simple work becomes a prayerful offering.
Motherhood is often described as a thing to simply “survive” and to me that is a wounding claim, though I am sure moments can arise where one feels they are clinging off a cliff dangling , holding onto dirty bibs, screaming babies, and explosive poo. This is not a task to simply survive, but to find immense life in, and to discover the grace of God’s sustenance in all of it. To see that there is nothing untouched by the providence of God, especially towards the heart of woman, offering up her many tasks in caring for the beloved , His beloved, that were sent to them.
Where there is holiness there is freedom. Our vocations call us to become holy. To discover the implications of this is where we find freedom and the grace of endurance to greet every task with joy and balance. To know to place proper emphasis on the ordinary, extraordinarily, we need to be mindful of our deeper purpose.
We need to reclaim that we are called and sustained by leaning into the love and providence of God. That nothing is insignificant, nothing too mundane or apart from His movements.
I had to prepare the chicken for dinner..
Yet another pause, another means to fulfill a task oriented toward personal holiness.
For a mother, especially as a mother at home full-time, the call to holiness is evident in every natural rhythm of my day. Balance and structure is a primary necessity to be able to have peace, and so this has been source of much clarity for me in order to see the moments that welcome a call to holiness.
For those, who present the task as near impossible do a tremendous disservice to themselves, and primarily place limitations on the goodness of God’s graces that are especially near to us, should we desire to remain in Him. There are practical means to living this out. It belongs and begins in prayer. Because alone, we learn quite quickly that we sink without this.
There is need then to practically make time to sit with God.Even if ever briefly , formally in prayer. One must strive to make that important and a priority. It is the fuel and the source of anything good that we will do throughout the day. If God is not primary in our order of things then secondary items in comparison only spiral out of control. The yearning for “me time” as often pitched by our secular society, is truly a starvation for time with God. The more we avoid this, the more sense of motherhood as a burden surfaces.
Most of what I learned practically about my vocation, oddly came from observing the monastic life, prior to even knowing I was called to marriage, let alone to motherhood. The natural rhythm of work and prayer (ora et labora) was incredibly helpful to understand and recognize the fundamental sustenance of God’s grace through prayer, to endure work, which was not separate from the prayer itself, but only the manifestation of prayer in the practical. The service of our hands is the offering we make to God.
I sat across from an old monk in my young adulthood, and he shared with me how he was greatly moved by a woman who had come to the Abbey with her TWELVE children and her husband. They were annual retreatants. Her children were of varying ages. And there was a newborn. As he spoke to me, I was amazed by his amazement at her sacrifice, not that it isn’t heroic, because goodness………I can’t begin to claim how many ways it indeed is.
But what struck him the most was the thought of rising in the middle of the night to feed a newborn baby. He said to me “You have really got to have a profound love for someone to be able to do this, joyfully, and lovingly, and not despise it”. I did not offer much to that, as I couldn’t claim experience yet to know what such a love, was. But I quickly thought of his life, and this is where the call to holiness, became quite evident.
I was amazed by his awe, precisely because this is a man who has woken every day for nearly 60 years then, at 2am to pray his Vigils, without fail, without complaint, simply with a fullness of love for the Lord. If he could do that for the God that he “cannot see” , then how much more gracious is motherhood in giving to us this life, this infant, whom we see, hear cry, and can wake for in those early hours, during the early phases of development to hold and caress, and to love?
This to me began my formation in motherhood. Long before a vow was even a thought. It resonated deeply with me there, and it remained.
It has been the source of tremendous courage and importance. The sacrifice of another that we experience helps us to endure our own. It is for such that we do not journey alone to holiness but as a Church at large. It is by each of us being faithful to the vocations we have and the call to personal holiness that encouragement is fostered.
My husband came home from his meetings hungry
By this point I was sitting with a coffee and quite enjoying myself, so this moment particularly demanded me to put my thoughts into action and to serve and tend to him lovingly. There would perhaps be nothing more troubling than reading about holiness in our personal vocations and having it take us away from doing what brings forth our holiness. I found renewed joy in his grumbling hunger, and the opportunity to serve.
Part of the freedom and enjoyment of fulfilling the very demanding role of motherhood is in growing in an understanding of it’s dignity and value. We can only recognize such by remaining near to God. And in having a practical sense of what holiness is and the clarity to see that the opportunity greets us daily.
The kids woke up from their nap
At this point I put the exhortation away and tended to my children. I was just about done my reading though. My son awoke with the most horrifying poo, there was nothing more grounding and humbling. There is great holiness in praising the poo. Though it may be often tough to “doo doo” 😉
“Go to Joseph”
Holiness manifests in the ordinary. The means to see this begins by starting the day with time in the Lord. It is the foundation of peace to lovingly endure what comes. If you can get to daily Mass this is also very helpful. I always tell moms to keep near to the Blessed Mother, but on Easter Sunday I received a message from a priest in Rome, at the bottom of his signature was “Ite Ad Joseph” , it resonated with me. Quite often I have petitioned him for my husband’s vocation as a man and father, but I see him now as a very helpful intercessor for us mothers. For what better care can we expect than from a saint who cared for the most Blessed Virgin Mary, and our Lord Jesus?
May we all strive daily to be faithful to what is presented to us as a means for our good, God’s glory, and our long journey to becoming holy.
Catherine C. Spada
Catherine C. Spada is a Public Middle School educator currently loving her new role as a full-time mom to a budding toddler girl and baby boy. Her and her husband Carmen reside outside of Toronto. Catherine’s favourite time of prayer is the quiet solitude of the early mornings when the world is fast asleep and the coffee is hot. She enjoys speaking on all things faith related and sharing the beauty of the Catholic faith through her blog entitled Sacred Sharings for The Soul, and on Twitter @celeste_cc7.