It's not easy to become a saint while raising a family. Especially for some of us. Me, for instance. And I could use a little help. I heard a priest recommend that we read about and seek the intercession of saints who shared the same vocation as us. Priests should get to know the lives of holy priests, religious sisters should study saints who were religious sisters and parents should seek the intercession of saints who lived their vocation as parents, etc.
Quick! Think of saints who were parents! Now, eliminate those who were martyred with their young children, because that's not the same as becoming a saint while parenting those same children through the years. You can also eliminate those who were royalty or otherwise had someone on staff helping keep house and raise the children. There goes St. Margaret of Scotland, patron of mothers. She was a queen. Also, there goes St. Gianna Berreta Mola, darn it! She is a prime example of a modern woman who was very holy and a mother. But, she's doesn't exactly represent me, because, though she had decided to stop her full-time work after the birth of her fourth child, she died heroically from complications of her fourth pregnancy. She did not spend all her days at home attempting to educate her kids (though I suspect she would have been great at it if she had!).
Likewise, Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese (and four other daughters who became nuns) died young. I'm not young anymore and I need a patron for this job! I know all the saints give an example of holiness that can apply to us all. I am a great appreciator of the saints, many of whom I consider dear friends.
So, what’s so different about being a mom than other vocations that makes it so hard to grow in holiness? Well, first of all, you’re never really alone in a quiet, prayerful setting. Even church isn’t a quiet, prayerful setting when I go with my kids. Why do you think there’s so much discussion about whether young children should be taken into the church or stuffed into the cry room? They call it the “cry room” for a reason. One might argue it could just as well have been called the “whine room.”
If you don’t spend quality time speaking and listening to God, how can you cultivate a relationship with him? Right?
And, let’s face it, St. Paul was right.
“An unmarried woman . . . is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband." (1 Corinthians 7:34)
As much as I argued with him that, surely after gaining attending a graduate program in theology from an institution faithful to the Church, surrounded by others who want to be saints, I would be able to balance spiritual life and family life! Why would I suddenly be more concerned with things of the world just because I got married? What did he know?
Well, these “things of the world” keep my children fed, which, if I didn’t concern myself with, they would perish. I guess he knew something after all.
But still, I’m going to argue that while each vocation and individual life is fraught with its own difficulties and distractions, having children living about you daily, per se, makes it a bit harder to practice those virtues you need to become a saint. Oh, sure, there are many more opportunities to practice these virtues (patience, prudence, fortitude, justice, charity, etc.), for me, this somehow always seems to translate into more occasions when I actually fail at these virtues.
I wonder, then, if God gives parents sort of a family discount for holiness. Sort of like a golf handicap.
Let’s see, you entered the cloister early and died young? You need to gain 5000 virtue points to be a saint. You can earn those by praying for families. Your family was wealthy, your every need was met and you lived through an era of peace? That’ll take 7300 points, but you can get a discount for giving away half your fortune without a tax deduction. You’re a pastor who maintained a prayer life, exemplified virtue, said the Mass reverently, settled quarrels and evangelized your flock? Congratulations! Here’s your “Get Out of Purgatory Free” card! Your people should bring forward your cause for canonization!
You’re a homeschooling mom? You get a coupon book containing 40,000 coupons redeemable for unfinished Rosaries, weekday Mass you wanted to go to, but someone threw up, taking your kids to the grocery store without using bad language in public and many more! We don’t expect much from you, under the circumstances.
Getting to heaven is a lot of work!
Now before you get all panicky that I think we need to work our way into heaven, of course I don’t. It’s enough to “accept Jesus Christ into our heart as our Lord and Savior” to gain eternal life. (And, if you want to get all technical, be baptized. Matt 28:19). But, my love for Him is what He wants and what I want to give Him. Love is shown by going the extra mile, by putting our words into action. To just believe and call it “done” seems a little like saying, “That’s enough for Him! The rest is all for me.”
While it is enough, Our Lord wants for us ever so much more. He wants to dwell in us, so we may have and become all He gives us.
Think of the rich, young man in Matthew’s Gospel. He asked Jesus what he ought to do to gain eternal life. Jesus answered simply “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” That was enough. But the young man pushed his question to another level. “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” To which Jesus, seeing he wanted more than to just slip in to the kingdom, gave him the course to the next level of love, “If you wish to be perfect; go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (cf Matthew 19:16-21)
A few chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear Jesus sum up his sermon on the mount with the words, “So, be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48). Jesus invites us to be perfect; He wants us to be perfect.
He wants us to aspire to the higher level, to holiness! He gives us the grace to do so. But, He also knows we are weak and we each live in different circumstances and so, there is a level of commitment that is “enough,” but not “perfect.” He knows the lights we each have been given and the weight of the burdens we carry. Only He knows these.
And yet, He calls us each to a higher level of love than we can know we are capable of.
It is in this that His “discount” lies. His Love is our discount. We must avail ourselves of it, whatever our circumstances, whatever our vocation. And, those peaceful prayers of those cloistered nuns? Many of them are for those of us living in the world and in families. And they carry us along more than we will know in this life. They help convey His love to the world.
So, I guess that means that I’ve got to step it up not only in my parenting, but in all my relationships, if I want to love God perfectly – to become a saint. I don’t get to figure in my own handicap. I’ve got to take up my cross and follow Him each day, not concerning myself with my abilities. He calls me to do the best I can, not worrying about how poor that is, because He Himself, will apply the discount of His mercy.