Getting everyone seated for dinner at the same time is an everyday struggle in the Jones household. Between the two adults, toddler and 9-month-old, managing to get all parties seated and strapped in with warm(ish) food on their plates before the meltdowns start is sometimes the day’s biggest accomplishment.
But, an even greater miracle, is my older son yelling, “Mommy! Pray!” usually after I have already begun coaxing whatever pureed concoction the baby is trying that night into his mouth. Brendan reaches out his sticky little fingers toward Mommy and Daddy, turning to tell his brother Liam to pray too, and tries to say the mealtime prayer along with us.
With a firm “Amen,” he then proceeds to try “Father, Son …” before reaching out for a high-five — a family tradition of mine growing up. We always gave high-fives after grace.
And so, in the busyness and distractions that fill my life as a working mom of two, it is my innocent little boy who reminds me to give thanks at mealtime.
Since becoming a mom, Brendan and now little brother Liam are my inspiration to try to live out a holy life. And sometimes they serve as my reminder to keep doing the little things right.
When Pope Francis published “Gaudete et Exsultate,” it was 2018, and I was working for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. There was quite a buzz around the document throughout the Catholic community, but especially in the office. Brendan was only five months old, and I was just starting out on life as a working mom and all the joys and challenges that can bring.
And yet, here was this document: a new guide to “holiness.” The pope had provided a written, clear explanation of how to rejoice in the Lord’s goodness and live out a full life as he intended.
If only it were as easy as it sounded.
I want to focus on a particular passage of the exhortation here though, as I feel that it sums up how and why I strive to live a holy life now. It reads:
“Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite. His compassion made him go out actively to preach and to send others on a mission of healing and liberation. Let us acknowledge our weakness, but allow Jesus to lay hold of it and send us too on mission” (131).
Like all moms, I want to raise children with good values who contribute to the betterment of society. But this quote pushes me to lead by example, without reservation. I need to preach the good news and show my children what it means to serve God and others. Just as Jesus is there to send me on a mission, I want to do so for my kids.
And as this passage so nicely reminds me, I’m not perfect. I have limitations. I will not always be a perfect example of holiness, or even a good one for that matter. I have weaknesses and faults.
What does this mean for me in real life when there are diapers to change, little teeth to brush, stories to read, laundry to do, and not to mention bills to pay and meals to cook?
For me, it means instituting a nighttime prayer ritual with a toddler and infant. It means finding ways to get to Mass. It means cloth diapering to limit plastic going into landfills. It means further caring for the earth by purchasing local farm shares and composting. It means taking the boys to the grocery store after a long day of work and daycare to buy lunch and/or casserole items for the local soup kitchen.
It also means showing humility and apologizing when I know I have done something wrong. It means showing them what it means to be in a loving, supportive relationship.
As Pope Francis also reminds us in his exhortation, “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness” (22).
I take comfort in this because I know that sometimes I may fall short in my path to a holy life — as the saints did — and not always be the perfect example I want to be for my children. What is important is that I keep journeying onward and know I can always do more.
And I also need the grace to accept that sometimes the craziness of life takes hold and I need a 2-year-old to remind me to pray.
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(Jones is a freelance writer based in Maryland.)