Parenting is a Privileged Holiness
When I grew up my family was very important to me and because I come from a big family I was always surrounded by many siblings and also my parents. I come from a staunch Catholic family and church and spirituality was always part of our lives.
We used to have many discussions and debates about church matters and also of course have a very disciplined family prayer life, which consisted of evening prayer during the week and going to Holy Mass on Sunday.
Yet, with describing my life as it was as a young child, I remember thinking always of spirituality connected to church things.
In my mind the priests and the nuns were spiritual people. They lived at the church and they went to church more often than we did. They prayed morning, noon and night and wore crosses and rosaries around their necks. They lived celibate and chaste lives, so they thought of nothing else but God. They had a direct connection to God because they did not have distractions like husbands, wives and children. They were spiritual people, and we were family people who led normal lives including fighting and arguing. That’s what I so clearly remember thinking as a child.
Family people, in my mind as a young person of that time, were worldly.
They did not work at the church, they worked in shops and factories. They were married and had sex. They did not pray a lot, but spoke about worldly things and argued. And as a young person of that time, I understood that if I wanted to be more spiritual I needed to work in the church or become a nun. Somehow I believed that the priesthood and sisterhood was a higher and holier state of spiritual life than parenthood and family life.
Yet marriage, and subsequently family life, is a difficult vocation. I remember a priest preparing us for Confirmation explaining how marriage is a very difficult, humbling and unself-centred calling.
He said to us that when a priest feels unhappy with anything in his parish, he can retreat into his house and does not have to see anyone.
When a sister is unhappy with something in her community, she can go to her room for some time without having to face the community maybe until the next day.
But when a husband and wife are unhappy with anything in the marriage, they cannot go anywhere.
They have to face and deal with what’s bothering them which can even result in one or both asking for forgiveness and one or both showing mercy or forgiveness. That’s the difficult part of marriage, you cannot run away, because ultimately you have to share the same room to sleep in.
And this brings me to the spirituality of family life which I recently was introduced to while listening to a YouTube clip by Dr Wendy Wright, a mother and theologian. She talks about a spirituality of parenting and suggests that raising children, being a mum or a dad, is a privileged means to holiness.
The experiences of marriage and family naturally take us out of our inherent selfishness. We have to share our time. We sacrifice our sleep. We share our house with others. We sacrifice our sports programmes so that others can watch their soapies.
Many mothers and fathers will do without in order for their children to experience or receive something. Many parents eat less so that their children have enough to eat.
Becoming a parent, submits Dr Wright, reshapes the heart in a unique way, moulding it more and more to be compassionate as God is compassionate.
In a similar way, the sacrifices that siblings experience through living in a family are all exercises towards becoming more compassionate. Family life creates opportunities for us to become more compassionate and thereby deepen our spirituality.
So going back to my thoughts as a young person about church people and spirituality, and taking into account what I have learnt about the spirituality of family life, I can see that all of us, whether church workers, priests or nuns, or ordinary moms, dads or siblings, are called to live spiritual lives and all of us are given opportunities in our unique day-to-day settings to grow and to bring out the gift of holiness which is inside all of us.