Motherhood is messy. Best laid plans often go awry. The house that was cleaned at naptime looks like a hurricane went through it by dinner time. The patience we were determined to show today got washed away with the second cup of spilled juice. In the middle of all the mess, how are we ever to become holy?
Indeed, in so many ways, on so many levels, life is messy. Something I learned while writing Saintly Moms is that not only is it possible to become a saint amid the mess, but the mess actually causes the growth in holiness.
The women in my book did not have perfect lives. They had wayward children; they had difficult in-laws living with them; they had difficult, sometimes even unfaithful, husbands. They suffered from cancer, depression, or other illnesses. They lived during times of persecution or war. Yes, even saints have messy lives.
So how did they do it? Though the path to holiness is as unique as each person, there are five things that all these ladies, whether they lived in the first century or the twentieth, had in common: they prayed, served, taught their children, and persevered.
Pray unceasingly. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Pray like St. Monica! Not that she got it right all the time. The saintly Bishop Ambrose had to remind her to “talk less to your son about God and more to God about your son.” So, the mother stopped hounding and started praying unceasingly for her wayward son. Her prayers were eventually answered. Her son, Augustine, was baptized, went on to become a bishop, and is one of the greatest doctors of the Church!
Pray like Eliza Vaughan, who made a holy hour every day for her children and for an increase of vocations. Ten of her fourteen children became priests, religious, or nuns! What a wonder to have all those children and still find time to pray for an hour! Some days it is difficult to just find time to go to the bathroom! Still, we should make time to spend some time alone with God every day.
“For the Lord is not unjust as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.” (Hebrews 6:10)
Serve like St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who, though queen, did not lord it over her people, but served them in their needs. She fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. Sometimes, she took her three children with her to the villages to tend to the poor of the kingdom. She built hospitals where she nursed the sick herself and monasteries where sick souls could be prayed for. Through her great love in service, miracles happened.
Look for opportunities to serve – whether it is in your workplace, community, church, or home. The greatest way we show God we love Him, after spending time with Him in prayer, is by serving others. As mothers, we have many opportunities to serve. Serve with love and great things will happen.
“Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
Teach like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Widowed with five young children, she was most concerned with their education. Her sons were sent to private Catholic schools; her daughters were taught at home. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also taught other people’s daughters in New York (until they found out she converted to Catholicism), in Baltimore, and finally in Emmitsburg, MD, where she opened a Catholic school for girls. Always speaking to her children about trust in God’s Divine Will, this beautiful American saint taught in word and in action.
No matter how we chose to educate our children - public, private, or home school - we as parents are our children’s first and most important teachers. No institution can take the place of parents. No teacher will ever have a greater impact on your child than you.
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
Persevere like Blessed Margaret Bosco. At a time when she should have been resting from raising three boys on her own and enjoying grandmotherhood, she answered the call of her priestly son to foster hundreds of poor and troubled boys. When she was tired and wanted to retire back to the country, she looked to the cross to receive the graces she needed to be mother to these boys.
When we have one of those days where we just want to get away, when we feel like we cannot do one more thing, remember Mama Margaret and look to the cross. Perseverance comes from the graces Jesus won for us in His own Passion and Death. With Him at our side, all the good we strive to do for our families will be brought to completion.
“And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:14)
Of course, persevering, teaching, serving, even praying is for nought if we do not do them out of love. Love is what brings us to perfection – love for God, love for our families.
Love like Mary. Everything she did was for love of Jesus – literally! Mary sanctified our vocations as mothers. Now, everything we do (changing dirty diapers, wiping spilled juice for the third time today, etc.) can make us holy, if we do these little tasks with great love.
Do you need encouragement in your vocation as a mom? Surround yourself with saintly moms, both here and in heaven.