More Magnificent Than a Cathedral?
“The Most Important Person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral — a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?” (Venerable Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty).
I first stumbled across this quote a few months ago on a friend’s Instagram page. My first instinct was to marvel at the beauty of such a thought. What a beautiful tribute to motherhood! But upon further reflection, I found myself unable to really relate to the feeling. Motherhood at that moment didn’t feel holy. I certainly didn’t feel like I had built something magnificent. It was Easter morning, and my 10-month-old son had woken up with a fever. He and I didn’t go to Mass that morning, the first Easter Mass I had ever missed. I spent the day wondering how any of this could be holy.
It certainly didn’t fit my image of holiness. The “holy” mother is the one who actually attends Mass, reverently praying while her well-dressed children sit quietly with her. I, on the other hand, watched Mass on Zoom, wearing dirty pajamas and my husband’s sweatshirt. This wasn’t the way I had envisioned motherhood.
About a month later, during Mass on Mother’s Day, the priest gave a homily on the beauty of a mother’s love. He had been raised by his stepmother, and he spoke eloquently about her impact on his life. He said, “If you ever think Christ is absent from the world, just look at a mother’s love for her child.” I was deeply moved and started to wonder whether my image of holiness really fit the season of life I am currently in.
Our Call to Holiness in the Present Moment
The holiness I wanted — perhaps the one I was more comfortable with — was the type I strove for before I had kids: daily Mass, frequent Adoration, silent prayer, etc. The holiness we are called to in the present moment is one we are capable of achieving not in spite of the mess of our lives but because of it. For example, before I was married and had children, I went to daily Mass at the cathedral down the street from my apartment before my graduate school classes. It was one of my favorite pastimes. However, the parish where I live now doesn’t have a daily Mass I can attend with my work schedule. There is a monthly Wednesday evening Mass, during which my son spends most of the time screeching like a pterodactyl and waving at the priest.
Holy? I sure hope so.
The holiness we are called to in the present moment is one we are capable of achieving not in spite of the mess of our lives but because of it.
Raising children is holy work, even when it doesn’t feel like it. It’s messy, exhausting, and frustrating. But our Church is full of saints who have made this messiness holy. Consider St. Zélie Martin. St. Thérèse of Lisieux used to call out to St. Zélie, her mother, every time she descended a single step of their staircase at home. St. Zélie graciously responded, “Yes, child,” to encourage her to keep descending the stairs. If she didn’t respond, St. Thérèse remained rooted to the spot. Maybe St. Zélie was trying to cook dinner or pray her rosary when St. Thérèse kept interrupting her. I can certainly relate to that.
Consider also St. Gianna Beretta Molla. As a physician and mother of four, I’m sure St. Gianna had days where she felt torn between her profession and her family. I’m sure she struggled to find time for an uninterrupted sip of coffee. But she was also known for her pervasive spirit of joy, which I’m sure inspired her family.
Even though my son might be considered a distraction or an interruption at times, it’s his needs that are leading me to sainthood. What better way to become detached from self and to minister to another than to serve someone wholly dependent on you?
What better way to become detached from self and to minister to another than to serve someone wholly dependent on you?
While raising children might not always feel like the glorious experience Cardinal Mindszenty describes it as, it certainly is a gift and a call to greater holiness. This call might take the form of middle of the night snuggles or handing over a sippy cup during the day. It might even look like missing Easter Mass and spending the day taking care of a sick child. Either way, motherhood invites us to recognize the call of Christ embedded within our children’s needs and minister to those needs as best we can.