Confession: Yes, I did have to google to remember the whole list.
While I was raised in a Christian home, I didn’t become Catholic until I was pregnant with my first child. In those overwhelming, early days of bringing home an infant, I became fascinated with the idea of motherhood being a holy vocation – that is, a “service unto God” (heck, it sure puts some much-needed sparkle on potty training!). Interestingly, my own mom was doing a lot of soul searching at the same time, and we had a lot of cool talks on the subjects of marriage and family life.
“I wish I had known that when I was your age!” was her common sentiment about so many topics – many of which I was finding challenging from my new Catholic perspective. Whether we were discussing Natural Family Planning or different ideas concerning a women’s role at home and in the work force, she always seemed to be of the opinion that Catholic wisdom would have made her life easier – not harder – when she was raising her own six kids. For years, she’d been a part of a small evangelical community where the pastor actually criticized her openly for not being a part of a public “ministry,” such as their soup kitchen or thrift store.
“I’m too busy raising a family!” she sadly defended herself back in her early 30s.
“That doesn’t count!” he pressed, insisting that she fulfill a role outside the home too.
Years later, she commented on this specific disagreement while bouncing her colicky grandson:
“Doesn’t count?” she laughed as baby Augustine puked into her shirt, “That’s a lot of hot baloney!”
Praise God for supportive grandmas! She and I were slapping sunscreen on my kids the other day and continuing on this thread that Mother Teresa so eloquently summed up in her famous quote: “Want to change the world? Go home and love your family.” We were adding up all the corporal works of mercy we’d already accomplished by 11 a.m.:
“Clothe the naked!” she cheered, tugging up my toddler’s swim trunks.
“Feed the hungry!” I laughed as eight dripping boys descended on a pile of sandwiches like a flock of starving vultures – okay, adorable starving vultures.
“Give drink to the thirsty!” She tossed out a few juice boxes.
We had to scratch our heads to remember the rest of the Corporal Works of Mercy, our Mother Church’s directives for publicly living out the Faith according to Matthew 25. And sure, while some of our connections were made in jest (“Burying the dead,” for example, was accomplished by searching the mucky edge of the lake to find whatever was attracting so many flies), amidst the laughter I felt like I was being knocked over by a whole lot of truth. Quitespecifically:it’s hard to raise young children, but what’s being accomplished is so much more than what meets the eye.
Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these, you did for me.” In this sense, my mom and I weren’t simply spraying sunscreen on sandy toddlers; our SPF 50 mist hit God Himself.
My oldest son got in on the game. He pointed out how we left cans out on the porch earlier in the week for a food drive – “Hey! That’s ‘Alms for the poor’!” And once again, I was reminded how often sainthood is “do-able” (by God’s grace), accomplished in the simplest of ways.
We were packing up to leave when I finally remembered “Visiting the sick!” and winked at my nephew who was fighting off a nasty cold. He rested beneath our striped umbrella, so we decided that covered “Giving shelter to the homeless” as well.
Learning How to Practice Mercy With My Daughters
Brain dead from breaking up fights over a stupid pair of goggles, I looked up the final corporal work of mercy we’d forgotten. The older boys gathered around my smartphone:
“Oh no,” they sighed, “how are we going to ‘Visit the prisoner’ here?”
“Just hug your mother!” I joked, as caring for eight boys in a heat wave is always a blessing (even though it can sometimes feel like punishment). “Now get me home to air conditioning!”
Pope Francis to Parents: Bless your children before school and bedtime
We don’t “save ourselves” and salvation isn’t “self-improvement”