Monday, September 28, 2015

Mothers and little gestures of familial love

If you missed any of the things Pope Francis said while he was here in America, you're in luck!  You can catch up.  :)

Here are the full texts of all of the Holy Father's remarks.

I encourage you to take the time to read as many of them as you can; sadly, even among our fellow Catholics there are those who are twisting and distorting what the Holy Father said or complaining about what he allegedly didn't say in order to undermine our trust in his leadership of the Church.  And there are so many gems in these homilies and speeches and talks--just consider this, for example, from Sunday's homily:
Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,” says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.
How lovely is that?  I think of it as being especially encouraging to mothers at home, especially mothers with young children.  I remember those years well, and I remember how often it felt like each day was spent doing so many of those "little things," and having those things seemingly go unnoticed.  No, moms at home don't need applause every day, but I think it is undeniably true that a culture that turns us all into consumers and places a dollar sign value on work is increasingly hostile to the idea that a woman who works without pay, without notice, without attention or recognition to raise her children and turn her home, as best she can, into a place full of little gestures of welcome and love for her husband and children and extended family and neighbors and community is actually doing anything of value.  Better she should get a "real job," say some elements in our culture.  Better she should pay other people to look after her children, so she can provide economic value not only to the structure of her family but to society as well.  What good is she doing staying at home?

I'm not trying to stir up the mommy wars here; I know that many moms who do work outside the home are also trying as best as they can to provide those little gestures of love.  That's not my point today, though; my point today is that our consumeristic and material culture values the moms who work outside the home and doesn't really know what to say to the ones who don't.  Not long ago I saw a lament from a young mother who was talking about the pressure she faces, not from her husband but from others, to do something other than look after her children.  If she could earn a few dollars as a writer or artist or photographer or by selling crafts or babysitting other people's children or cleaning other people's houses, so she said, then people in her community would respect her, but when she says she's "just a mom" she gets all sorts of flack and negativity.  And I think this is a problem for all moms--because when the only work of ours that is valued is the work that produces some money (however tiny the amount) and not the work of raising our children, this is really a slight against motherhood in general, against the vocation of being a wife and a mother.  It would be akin to saying to one's parish priest, "Well, yes, I know you're a priest, but surely you work outside the parish to make some money, right?"  

The family, as Pope Francis said many times last week, is in a time of crisis and danger.  One of the dangers I see is that people have forgotten what a family is, what it is for.  It is not primarily a resource-sharing operation.  It is not an efficiency model or a strategy to maximize income or take advantage of tax breaks.  It is, instead, a model of loving service, of a love that is incarnated by service first of husband and wife to each other, and then literally incarnated into their children who are, at first, in total and absolute need of their parents' services, but who will grow to serve each other and their parents in love as well.  In this model of the family the mother who is able to stay at home with her children, especially in their earliest years, is giving them a tremendous gift of immense value--the gift of herself.  And she gives this gift every day, in those thousand acts of little service that Pope Francis referenced in his homily.  She should not have to face pressure from our consumerist culture to go out and get a "real" job.

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