Me and My House is a brand new video series for Catholic parents and families who want to grow together in love and holiness throughout their everyday life.
A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.
With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”
While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.
St. Julian of Norwich
St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.
Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.
Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.
When does motherhood begin?
After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.
Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?
What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.
Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:
“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”
The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m so pleased to share with you all these Advent Journals. As you may have noticed, Advent is quickly approaching and there are so many wonderful resources available to help deepen and enrich your Advent experience.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed a need for Advent journals that cover a few bases. 1. They are Scripturally based 2. They are simple 3. They are not time consuming but still powerful 4. They are free. I have 2 different journals this year so be sure to read to the bottom to hear about both. One is based on lectio divina, the other is a deeper look at the 4 Sundays of Advent.
Lectio Divina Journal
In the journal I’ve highlighted one or two verses from the daily readings for reflection. There is space to prepare yourself for lectio and think about what’s going on in your life that day. What’s joyful, stressful, exciting or bothering you? Your lectio experience is colored by what’s happening in your life and it is good to take a moment to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table. There is also a place for your Word or phrase that has been highlighted during your reading as well as your prayerful response to God’s movements in your heart. Finally, there is room to think creatively about what God is calling you to do or change as inspired by the day’s prayer.
The journal includes an overview of what lectio divina is, how to pray it and why it’s such a rich experience of prayer. As I said, I have chosen one or two verses for your reflection. However, maybe you already have a habit of reading the daily readings. Maybe a different verse stood out to you. At the very end of the journal is a blank page. It has all the formatting and different writing spaces, but the Scripture portion is blank. You can use this page to write your own verses in.
Remember, this is completely free and is a pdf. So you can print the whole thing if you are going to use the verses I chose. Or you can print that last page 30 times and fill in your own verse every day. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and already have a daily Advent devotional but want to give lectio divina a try – just print a week and see how it goes. Maybe every Sunday would work better. This is completely customizable to you.
4 Sundays of Advent Journal
This is the brand new journal and I’m so excited about. I was inspired by a few things. First by my long-term writing project on the Philippians 2 Christ hymn. In that project, I am doing a deep study of the hymn, looking at the historical, theological, ecclesial, and liturgical significance and why it is a piece of Scripture that we all should know inside and out. I was also inspired by Every Sacred Sunday and how their Mass journals encourage Catholics to spend quality time preparing for Mass. If you are looking for something long term to help you dig deeper into the Sunday readings all year long, I cannot recommend their journals enough.
My new Advent Journal works like this. The first and super important thing you need to know is that it starts on Nov. 26. Yes, that’s before Advent actually begins. But, if you are going to be preparing for the 4 Sundays of Advent, you’ve got to start before the first Sunday, right?
Ok, got that cleared up. Mondays we spend time with the First Reading. Tuesdays the Psalm. Wednesdays the Second Reading. Thursdays the Gospel. Each page has the reading as well as space for any notes, questions or insights you might have while reading. There is also space for a brief prayer or reflection on what you’ve read. Think of this as lectio divina lite.
Friday’s I offer a theological reflection on the readings. These include any historical information that is relevant, how the readings fit together, and what they can say to us today. It concludes with a quote from a saint that illuminates the overall theme of the Sunday.
Saturday encompasses how we can take what we’ve learned and grow in the week to come. I include another brief reflection, followed by questions or ideas meant to inspire you to apply the readings to your daily life and enhance your Advent experience.
Sunday is a simple page for homily notes or other reflections you have on these readings. Perhaps you have another Advent devotional you are doing side by side and want to write down a special quote or work through a new idea. Here is space to do it, especially in light of the Sunday readings.
I’m so excited for your Advent journey. It would be great to hear from you which journal you chose and why. I love feedback and want to keep developing these into quality, useful tools for you to deepen your relationship with God. Do please share with anyone you think would benefit from these journals.
I don’t think many would deny our country is in a challenging time. Opinions are strongly held and compromise seems a lofty and far away goal. Depending on where in the United States you live, the faces of our issues may vary. Our cities are unique, made up of many different people working many different jobs. Not everyone has close contact with asylum seekers or immigrants who have recently arrived in the United States. While it may at times seem our issues are too difficult to overcome, stories such as the one I’m about to share will hopefully inspire you to see our commonalities before highlighting our differences. I also hope it causes you to pause and spend some time reflecting on what you’re grateful for in your life.
One of my dear friends, Erin Bill, is a fellow military spouse who lives in San Antonio. She and her family have been stationed there for a few years now and she has been volunteering with two groups helping asylum seekers who are routinely dropped off by Border Patrol in the city. I’ll let her tell you more about that in the interview.
Erin has shared some of her experiences with me throughout her time volunteering and recently told me a particularly moving story. She was helping a group of Congolese women wash babies and clothes in the sink of the building they were staying in. Erin had a mop. A standard, simple squeegee mop. She was tidying up the floor so no one would slip on the wet surface even though cleaning floors isn’t exactly her favorite chore. As she worked the women stopped and stared. They were amazed at the mop. Erin was struck, she said, by their delight in the mop and the drain in the middle of the floor. Here they were, smiling at the tool she typically avoided. She watched these women cheerfully tending to their chores, seeing the novelty of a mop and a faucet and a drain with new, grateful eyes. Cleaning a floor with clean water from pipes and even more pipes to carry the dirty water – what was a chore swiftly became an experience of luxury.
When she shared this experience with me I knew it was one that had to be told to you all. What follows is an interview with Erin about her work, those she works with and the people she serves.
How did you start volunteering with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES?
I read about these groups’ outreach in 2017 after several hundred asylum seekers were released without warning in San Antonio. They stepped up to house the families in a local church and help them on their way. It really called to me as work I could serve in as I speak Spanish well, grew up in a border state, and the best part was that I could work around being a stay-at-home mom and come in whenever I was able to. I joined the outreach sent to help families dropped off at the San Antonio Greyhound Bus station with supplies. We work alongside RAICES, which provides legal information to migrants as no counsel is provided for them in immigration court. I also do document translations for RAICES at home.
Who primarily are you serving?
IWC primarily serves people who arrive at the border or cross the border and ask for asylum. Historically, they were detained while officers evaluate whether they had a “credible fear” of being returned to their home country. If they were found to have a credible fear and no security issues, they were generally released to a sponsor to apply for asylum. There are three large immigration detention centers south of San Antonio and these asylum seekers were released at the bus station where they would pick up tickets purchased by their family in the U.S. That is who we usually encountered and helped on their way.
In the past year the system has been upended quite a bit. The government no longer makes sure everyone they release has a sponsor or a destination in the U.S. Some do and some don’t—it’s very haphazard. We have helped a lot of people who are released pending their court date straight from the border and may arrive without any tickets or money. Most are from the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. I have also met migrants from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, Congo, Angola and China.
How has your work challenged you, inspired you or caused you to think about things differently?
One of the founders of our ministry, Sr. Denise LaRock, always talks about restoring the migrants’ dignity. That is the amazing thing about getting to work with these families at the Greyhound station. They come in very frightened and disoriented, with tired and frightened children in tow. Being able to see them smile when I say “Welcome” and explain to them that we can help them understand their tickets, get on their bus, and give them some extra diapers for the baby is an amazing feeling. Simple things, like medicine for a headache, a toy car and a sack lunch just make the parents and children light up. Many have had people extort them on the way to the United States and sometimes they can’t believe that the faithful of San Antonio want to help them for free.
IWC uses a trauma-informed care model and sends volunteers for training in trauma. Learning how trauma can manifest in people appearing very quiet, frightened or aggressive helps me take those stressors less personally when I volunteer. It can be emotionally overwhelming at first to be faced with people who are suffering so deeply. Instinctively you want to step back and protect yourself at first.
It constantly causes me to reflect on and to be grateful for the safety I live in and for the food and shelter that I have. I’m also reminded that I don’t have these blessings because I am more deserving of them than any of the people I meet. To the extent I have these things, it is so that I can use them for others as Jesus instructs us to do.
Their faith is an inspiration to me. I wear my Lady of Guadalupe bracelet or necklace when I go to the bus station, since she is the patroness of all the Americas. That can be a great point of connection with the families, who recognize her and smile. Many arrive wearing or holding rosaries. A phrase of thanks I often hear is “Dios te lo pague,” which means “May God repay you.”
It can be very difficult knowing that many of the people I meet will not win asylum and will be ordered deported. It is also hard to say goodbye to them each day knowing that not everyone they meet here will be welcoming or kind. I have had to lean on my faith that our work matters anyway, even if only God knows the outcome.
Can you share a little more about the organizations themselves, how others can help their work and those they serve?
IWC is a group of churches and temples in San Antonio that have joined forces and funds to support migrants in the city. RAICES is a secular organization that focuses on legal representation for immigrants, on advocacy and on refugee resettlement. They are able to represent immigrants free of charge in court proceedings and they also pay bail so that immigrants are not kept in detention longer than necessary. They are both in need of cash donations, especially for IWC which doesn’t have as high of a profile.
The shelter with the infamous mop is run by Travis Park Methodist Church and IWC helps staff it with volunteers. It is in the church’s Sunday school rooms near the Greyhound station and gives people released by ICE or CBP a safe place to stay overnight if they don’t arrive with tickets. Seeing different faith communities, nonprofits and the city government coordinate to provide the shelter has been wonderful.
Currently IWC is raising money to support shelters in Mexico where the U.S. government is currently making many asylum seekers wait for their court date instead of releasing them to sponsors in the U.S. The border cities are very dangerous for migrant families and the shelters are not adequately funded by the Mexican government. We are also constantly fundraising for money to put together backpacks of supplies and to buy medicine, diapers and cell phone minutes. This is a video the local PBS station put together about Sr. Denise that gives a good look at what we do.
Another great way to help is to learn about the asylum system in the United States. The national media generally don’t do a great job explaining how complicated the process is for any immigrant and how little resources are available to help people navigate the system correctly. This is one good summary: And this is one that explains some of the roots of Central American migration.
I am so thankful to Erin for sharing her thoughts, experiences and volunteer efforts with us. I hope you found this interview as insightful as I did.
“Would somebody cut my meat?”
“I want somebody do my buttons!”
“Why won’t somebody help me!?”
My sweet little 4 year old, Clare, seems to have discovered a new way to ask for help. Instead of addressing the person she wants to help her directly, we’ve all collectively been renamed. Somebody.
Reflecting back, I think this peculiar manner of addressing us really hit its stride after Gabriel was born. Our time and attention have undergone pretty major adjustments and every child handles a new baby differently. We’ve had both of our mothers come to stay with us, plus we delivered Gabriel in a city near some family. There have been lots of extra hands and a rotation of helpful faces. Which don’t get me wrong, is a HUGE blessing! But somewhere in the beautiful chaos Clare has forgotten how to ask politely for help. “Somebody” was always around so obviously “somebody” should be able to help her.
My new response in all this is, “My name isn’t ‘somebody.’ When you remember my name I’d be happy to help you.” I’m happy to help once she respectfully asks for it.”
While this might be a good response for a child in need of some retraining, how wonderful our God doesn’t have a similar response for us! Human history is riddled with examples of complaining, mistakes, anger, pride and ungrateful behavior. Just check out the wandering in the desert in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Or the Babylonian Exile in Lamentations. Let’s not even get started with what the prophets had to go through!
Humans (Aka me) are notorious for being rude, impolite, snarky and plain old difficult when things aren’t going our way. This happens especially when the circumstances are beyond our/my control. “If only somebody would let me have my way/listen to my idea/help me achieve my goal/etc.”
Did you notice all the me’s and my’s in that? The more I focus inward the less I look at who is actually helping me.
Did you know that in these moments of testing and trial there is a very simple prayer which could be said? Conveniently, it even gives “somebody” a name – Jesus. The prayer is called ” The Jesus Prayer.”
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
You probably already have it memorized, right? Or could in just a few minutes of effort. This little prayer can revolutionize your daily life. Whole books have been written about how, but here are a few highlights:
- This prayer clearly identifies who is in charge here and to whom we ought to be speaking to
- We are reminded of Jesus’ divinity as God and His ability to extend mercy and love
- We recognize that we are not in charge, that we are sinners and that we are always in need of Jesus’ merciful love
- This prayer can instantly center us by pulling our focus back from whatever trouble we are having in order to see the bigger picture. God is God, we are not, and whatever joys or sorrows we have today will be better understood from a place of peace and prayer.
Interested in learning more about this prayer? Check out these writings:
Peter Kreeft on the Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox Tradition which has a very rich history of study and use.
The next time you wish somebody would come to your aid, slow down and take a breath. Inhale the first words of the prayer. Fill yourself with Jesus’ name. As you exhale, breathe out the second half. Release whatever your struggling with and place it at Jesus’ feet. Continue allowing yourself to be filled and emptying what you do not need to carry. With practice, you will find a peace within yourself you may not have had before.
We are so happy to share that we have a new son! Gabriel was born last month and is doing wonderfully. We enjoyed our family time while Ben was home and everyone seems to be acclimating well to our newest source of joy and astonishment.
It’s always amazing how much a new baby changes the family dynamic. We are moving at a slower pace again, keeping some new hours and discovering new problems and solutions. There are some baby routines that I’m right back in step with, like diapers, oh the diapers! At the same time, I’m racking my brain to remember how often a 1 month old should be nursing at night. Don’t get me started on how on earth we will ever homeschool in the fall. I know we will do it, I’m just still at a loss for how. More on that later this summer I’m sure.
One of the overwhelming parts of having a new baby, at least for me, is the amount of choices presented to new parents. Breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable diapers? Circumcision or not? Sleep training? Elimination Communication? Baby TV shows or strict no screens? Pacifier? When to start solids? Catch my drift? It’s no wonder so many new parents have the deer in the headlights look when asked anything about anything! Choices are good, but they can often be paralyzing if there are too many or you don’t have an informed opinion.
Even now, with Gabe being our 5th, there has been an element of this paralysis. Should we try cloth diapers again? We have SO many, is it a waste to let them sit unused? I have always nursed the kids, that’s not a question. However for whatever reason this time I felt compelled to have Gabe be familiar with bottles on the off chance we needed to use them. So now we are working through the whole bottle/breastfeeding combo deal even though I will still be home 24/7. I’m sure we will come to others.
Fortunately, God is always looking out for me. I’ve recently started receiving The Morning Offering email from The Catholic Company. It was quite by accident. I had ordered a crucifix for John for his First Communion through them and ended up on a mailing list. And I’m so thankful! This email has provided much food for thought and encouragement for me the past two months. A few weeks ago, this passage came my way and cause me to pause:
“If we do not die to ourselves, and if our holiest devotions do not incline us to this necessary and useful death, we shall bring forth no fruit worth anything, and our devotions will become useless. All our good works will be stained by self-love and our own will . . . We must choose therefore, among all the devotions to the Blessed Virgin, the one which draws us most toward this death to ourselves, inasmuch as it will be the best and the most sanctifying. For we must not think that all that shines is gold, that all that tastes sweet is honey, or that all that is easy to do and is done by the greatest number is the most sanctifying.”
— St. Louis De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, pg 40
This resonated with me on so many levels. It’s easy, both religiously and as parents, to get caught up in all the “stuff.” “If I just add cloth diapers, then I’m really doing well.” Or “I’m saying this rosary because I know that it’s a big deal, and I’ll probably get some grace out of it, but I’m not exactly paying attention.”
As parents, we cannot give our kids everything. Simply impossible. There will always be another family who chose a different sport, discipline method or clothing brand. Sometimes the choice that is right isn’t easy, but we know will bring about a greater good for our family.
As Christians and Catholics living in the world today, it is unlikely we are able to engage in every spiritual practice of the Church every single day. Just as we make choices for and about our kids, we do concerning our religious practices. I am humbled by St. Louis de Montfort’s advice to dig deeper into the religious practices I’m engaging in. What is easy may not be the most sanctifying practice. This will look different for each person and will change over time.
We are called to be holy. Part of growing in holiness is making the choices that keep us on the path toward that end.