Sunday, May 6, 2012

Vocation of Wife & Mother - Growing in Holiness

Vocation of Wife and Mother
Growing in Holiness

By Kristen M. Soley

Our Vocation (Wife and Mother)
, according to Miriam Webster:  a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially: a divine call to the religious life 8

Blessed John Paul II wrote, in a Letter to Women, thanking women, including wives and mothers. 
It reads - “This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world, is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life…

Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.”7

Our Vocation of wife and mother is a loving, selfless, charitable vocation.  When we serve our families, we are truly serving God.  It is a vocation, to which God has called us and it is through this vocation that God ultimately will sanctify us and prepare us  to meet Him someday.

Head vs. Heart – Each of us plays a distinct role in our marriages.  Our husband is the head of our household, and we are the heart of our home.
My confessor put it perfectly.  Each of us brings such different, but complimentary gifts to our home.  We are to respect and honor our husband’s judgment in matters of the head.  He, in turn, should respect and honor our judgment in matters of the heart.  God works through our spouse, as a channel of grace, and we also are a channel of grace for our husbands.   

The Holy Spirit works powerfully through our husbands, lovingly guiding us, through our husbands.  My husband never ceases to amaze me.  The Holy Spirit guides me beautifully through the wisdom he has given Nate.  Therefore, in marriage there is a mutual give and take, it is not an order barking submission 5

When we are called to honor and obey our husbands as the head of our home, who are we really obeying?5
Romans 13:11 “Every [a]person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” 

God is the true head, and he has placed our husbands, here on earth, as His representative for our homes.

Ephesians 5:21-33 sums up perfectly this call, our vocation:
“…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.  Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her… So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself”
• This is  not always easy to understand and can sound a little too humbling; we, nevertheless, need to take God’s word for it, assuming we call Him God for a good reason.
How do we do this?
• Read the Bible, the handbook for success (bible before breakfast & bible before Bed, Lectio Divina and journaling.)
• Pray, God will give us the graces we need to serve Him as he desires.
• Talk with your husband; ask him to lead your family, with loving respect for you. 
• Let him lead and take a step back, God will reward your humility.
• Pray to St. Joseph, for him to pray for your Husband, to lead your family to heaven.
  o We are not trying to be better than our husbands, our job, with God’s grace is to get him and our children to heaven. 
  o This can only be done with loving acts of charity and humility. 
  o When we make these changes in our behavior, our husbands will respond lovingly. 
  o Some neat ideas I was given from other holy wives and mothers:
       Try not to point out your husband’s mistakes. if it is no major consequence (we all make mistakes; how does it make us feel when he does this to you?). 
       Serve your husband first at meals.
       When your husband arrives home from work, give him your attention; see that the children are occupied so he may have a little peace and your attention when he arrives.
      Encourage him and point out his strength
      If he is primary provider, thank him for the sacrifices he has made for your family.
      When I began to treat my husband with the biblical respect he is worthy of, he started doing dishes without me asking, suggested that I go out with a friend or go for a jog. 
      The things I had been longing to do and or get done, he was doing without my asking and there was a love and joy in him that I had never seen.
      With God’s grace, I had empowered him to be the man God created him to be by humbling myself. 

Romans 12: 9 – 10, we are taught :Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing respect.
When we honor and obey our husband, we are truly honoring and obeying God. 

A good example of this humble honor and obedience is Mary…  She was 9 months pregnant and Joseph said to her, “let’s head to Bethlehem for the census.” Do you think Mary said, “you know Joseph, a ride on a donkey for 2 weeks is not in the cards for me right now…  My ankles are swollen and I can’t even bend over to pick up the water jars anymore.  Let’s hold off until after the baby comes, I am sure the census will still be going on.”  No, she did not, she humbly hopped on the donkey and headed to Bethlehem as Joseph suggested.

Then, Joseph wakes her and their newborn baby, in the middle of the night and says “get up and ready things, we must head to Egypt.”  Do you think she replies “Honey, seriously, it is 2 in the morning, I am tired. The baby has been nursing every 2 hours and I have not had a minute’s rest.  Let’s hold off until morning, after I have had a little rest, to prepare for this long journey.”  no she did not, again, she humbly obeyed. 

Mary did not question Joseph.  Here she is, the handmaid of the Lord, chosen, through her obedience, to bring the savior into the world, conceived without sin, and the Queen of heaven and earth… and she humbly submits to the authority of her husband, for love of God.    A better example one cannot find for our vocation.

Proverbs 31: 10 - 31 helps us to understand how to be the wife and mother that God calls us to be.
Description of a Worthy Woman10 An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She looks for wool and flax
And works with her [h]hands [i]in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And [j]portions to her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From [k]her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds [l]herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
18 She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her [m]hands grasp the spindle.
 20 She [n]extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And [o]supplies belts to the [p]tradesmen.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the [q]future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the [r]teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who [s]fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the [t]product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates. 2

So who is a Proverbs 31 Woman then really?

• She is an excellent wife who is worth more than jewels.
• Her husband trusts her; she does him good all his life.
• She works with her hands, sewing, cooking, etc.
• She wakes early and goes to bed late to keep things in order
• She contributes where she can, is resourceful, prudent and thrifty
• She is generous to the needy and sees her children are dressed appropriately, and presentably
• She dresses herself and her children so her husband can be pleased
• She is hopeful for the future and speaks wisely and teaches kindness
• She is a good manager of her home and idleness is not acceptable
• Because she obeys her duty, her children will bless her
• Her husband believes he has a wife that excels above all others
• She fears the Lord.

Becoming a Proverbs 31 woman is a very noble goal for each of us.  It is also what God expects of us.  So how do we do this?

First we need to fully grasp the gravity of our role in God’s plan for our salvation; our vocation. When I was working outside the home, I had no problem getting up at 4:30 AM to get to work, so I could get home earlier.  I had pulled all-nighters on big projects in the past.  I had never thought about doing this for my family.  However, I learned, this job, my vocation is far more important in the eyes of God, than my previous employment or any other job.  I needed to make an even greater commitment to my new job, my vocation, only with different goals and a way bigger boss. 

We will need our priorities in order, if we hope to glorify God in our vocation. I read a GREAT explanation of how to do this in the Bible Study, Women of Grace by Michaelann Martin.  Martin uses beans and rice to explain our priorities:

“¾ cup of beans and ¾ cup of rice will both fit into a one-cup container.  The trick is to put the beans into the cup first and then slowly pour the rice over the beans.  The rice will fill in the gaps and both will fit into the one-cup container.”  Try this when you get home, it really works.

"We all have ‘beans’ in our lives:  those high-priority items such as getting to Mass, daily prayer, and spending time with our spouse and children.  The ‘rice’ are items that don’t have as high priority, but we’d still like to get them done if we can.  The ‘rice’ in our life are the things like nightly soccer practice, organizing closets, and mowing the lawn. "

Martin encourages us to take time to evaluate the many activities in our daily schedule.  “When we do, we will soon see there is a hierarchy of importance, and our life can take on a new sense of order.”1  For awhile, after doing this bible study, I put my 1 cup of beans and rice on my window sill to remind me to keep my priorities in check, by keeping God first. 

Taking this a step further, I found, the book A Mother’s Rule of Life, by Holly Pierlot.  This gem really lays out the correct order to our lives nicely.  She calls them the 5 Priorities of the Married Vocation (or the 5 P’s).

The 5 P’s:
1.  First P = Prayer
2.  Second P = Person
3.  Third P = Partner
4.  Fourth P = Parent
5.  Fifth P = Provider

Our priorities “must be ranked according to importance.  Many marriages can get “out of order” when a lesser P is given priority over a higher P.” 4

1st P - Prayer – God calls us to get our personal life in order by establishing, as top priority, the care of our soul and body.  The use of Time is to reflect the importance of these activities.  Therefore, God comes first.  In lieu of never finding enough time for God in the midst of everything else, we have to work everything else around God. 4  When we put God first, by seeking Him and meeting Him through prayer, we build a strong foundation upon which our home, or Domestic Church, will be built. 
We are assured in 1 Corinthians 3:11 - For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

2nd P - Person – We need to care for ourselves, basic physical needs (sleep, exercise, food, vitamins, etc.) 4   Yes we are called to obey, to humble ourselves, but in order to do this effectively; we will need the graces we receive from time spent with God, a good night’s sleep, and good health.

3rd P - Partner – Our husbands come next.  A solid, loving marriage is the bedrock of family life, and so the next allotment of our time should be directed at our partners, our husbands.  We need to be available to them first and foremost, before all other activities. 4

4th P - Parent – We need to love our children in a conscious, consistent way. Try to be more available to them throughout the day.  Not just physically, but mentally available to them; laugh, talk and simply be with them. 4

5th P - Provider:  This constitutes a paycheck for some of us as well as caring for, maintaining, and repairing (as much as possible) our home and our resources, and, if time permits, earning extra income on a causal basis to help out financially (if we do not already work outside the home). 4

I have found, when my beans and rice and 5P’s are in order, God always makes things work, the way He intends it, and I am even able to find peace in His modifications to my plans.  When things are disordered, however, I find I am unsettled, anxious, short tempered and feeling like a failure. 

Our Vocation is not always a Vacation“The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the "feminine genius" and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.” 7

Our vocation is ordained by God, nevertheless, our duties are not always easy.  We are, however, called to serve God, by serving our families.  Jesus came for our salvation and also to be a living example of how to obtain salvation. 

How did Jesus live? 
Mark 10:45  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [a]life a ransom for many.” 

It is a good idea to remember to take a step outside of ourselves... to see what God sees as daily we go from duty to duty.  God is the only judge that we need to consider and He is the only person we truly want to impress in our home.  We need to serve God in each task and person in our family by keeping our eyes fixed on Heaven.  That way, we can please God and our families!  God has entrusted our family to our care and we are called to be obedient to His call.

Our duty is repetitive, and at times, seemingly thankless.  Our days are filled with wiping noses, changing dirty diapers, house cleaning, spills, meal prep / cleanup, and the occasional 2:00 am laundry, made possibly by the flu virus, etc.

It would be far more fun to read a great book or check email, than iron a shirt or clean the ceiling fan blades. Nevertheless, we are called to obey within the duties of our vocation.  Acts of obedience glorify God and please Him greatly.  As Jesus told St. Faustina “My daughter, know that "You give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience, than by long prayers and [sacrifices].” Heaven knows we don't have the time for long prayers, but God has built into our day much opportunity for sacrifice!

In Hubert Van Zellar’s great work Holiness for Housewives and Other working Women, he states that “Religion is God.  Religion is recognizing God in His own setting. The setting is provided by God, not us…  So if God wills that you should be bowed over the sink instead of over the pew in your favorite church, then washing dishes is for you now, [and is] the most perfect thing you can possibly do.”  1 

Many of us long for daily Mass or more quiet time… but our duty just does not afford for this “alone” time.  That season may come for us, but it is not now.  As St. Francis of Rome says “A married woman must leave God at the altar to find Him in her domestic cares.” 

Right now, God wants us to find Him.  He is in our homes, in our children and our husband. 
We need to look for God in the midst of our duties.  If we leave our dishes, housekeeping, telephone calls, children’s everlasting questions, and ironing to take care of themselves while we go off and search for our Lord’s presence in prayer, we will discover nothing but self.” 1

I heard a great scenario that really helped me understand this, and embrace this truth.  Imagine, beautiful organ music in the background, a woman, peaceful, eyes closed, kneeling, contemplating Jesus at the Holy Mass.  Her face is illuminated with peace and joy as she ponders and celebrates this peaceful and quiet time with her Lord.  Now the camera cuts to home.  This woman’s husband has 4 screaming children, He is trying to get breakfast cleaned up so He can get an email sent to work about his 10:00 meeting, the phone is ringing and the baby had a poop-through, the toddler just hit the Kindergartner and they are both crying.  Is this woman really glorifying God?  Her duty is to serve God, in her home; to meet Him where He has placed her. 

It is in serving that we are served.  When I volunteered at Sharing & Caring Hands, serving those less fortunate, Mary Jo Copeland, as well as another man serving shared with me the beauty of serving these beautiful souls…  we are the hands and feet for Christ, “it is in serving that we are served.”  Right now, we are called to serve our families, in our homes…  when we do this with love, for love of God, we are being served tenfold for the love we give out.  He has placed us exactly where he wants us.  and it is here in the midst of our duty, the sicknesses, the messes, spills, hugs, kisses, stories, encouragement and character building, that we will find Him and He will meet us.  We are far from sisters in a contemplative cloister.  We are on the front lines of motherhood and wifedom…  “Once we really appreciate this truth, and act according to its implications, we save ourselves a lot of unnecessary heart-searching and resentment.” 1 

We are assured that if we can conquer ourselves and walk in the ways of God, in the vocation He has called us to; we will find our duties less difficult, which we thought so hard before.6  

I have learned so much from the wisdom-packed Volume Six, Direction for Our Times.  It provides a beautiful summation and consolation of the vocation to which God has called us as wives and mothers.
"June 9, 2004
Mary (an unknown saint) Speaks to Mothers
Dear mothers, you must serve tirelessly. Those who have not experienced motherhood cannot understand how hard it can be to work, performing the same tasks over and over. When you perform these tasks in love, great graces can be obtained for both your family and for the Kingdom. In this way you are directly contributing to the advancement of the cause of Heaven. Jesus is so pleased with this kind of cooperative service and He will reward you in countless ways. Cleaning your floors then becomes a divine service, as does washing your dishes, or cleaning the children’s clothes, or any of the hundreds of domestic chores you perform daily. I am in Heaven now and I have the benefit of such wisdom and knowledge. You would be overjoyed to see my reward, yet I was a simple housewife. I looked on my role of mother as a serious task." 3

Here is a great explanation of our vocation... made possible by my confessor, as told to his nephews... "...So if God calls you to the vocation of marriage and parent, you better be ready to die. Are you ready to die? You will die to yourself daily, only to let Jesus live in you, by serving Him in your family"

Our Vocation is Our Path to Holiness
God calls us to not look back, but to live in the present moment.  The grace we need to persevere, for love of God, in our vocation, can only be found in the present moment.   I am sure you understand, sometimes we take the day, a minute at a time, just to make it through.  That is the way God wants to meet us; not to get ahead of Him.  We should not look to the next duty, or even worry about it, until we have finished the task at hand, not saying a dirty diaper cannot interrupt our duty at hand because you know it will, but that again, is responding to God’s call, by living in the present moment and obeying God’s will for us.  The trick is to find God in it.

I have my own Mother’s Rule of Life, that I have prayerfully put in place to help me grow in holiness and maintain a level of sanity in our busy home.    I try to look at each task on my rule as my little offering or gift to God.  Now I will iron my husband’s shirts for You Lord, I’ll prepare supper for You, My Lord, I will sit with my children and read with them, for You, My Lord, I will was poop off the floor for You, My Lord.  You get the idea.

How do we understand God’s will for us in our day, or live in the present moment?  A wise confessor told me once, our vocation is not quite as simple as that of monastic living, but we can draw similarities.  He explained; there is such peace in a monastery.  The monks follow a rule which can be likened to a Mother’s Rule…  There are chimes throughout the day alerting them of prayer time, meal time, service time, etc.  When the bell chimes, they have 2 minutes to transition from the task at hand to the one before him.  Out of obedience to this rule, these monks are able to peacefully move from one duty to another, throughout the day, in absolute obedience and humble submission to God’s will.  Imagine the peace. 

It does not sound like our lives; or does it?  Our children and our husband are our chimes.  Our duty, or rule, if you will, is our chime.  I have found, when I follow my rule, each task becomes a gift for God, an act of obedience.  In the midst of a duty, a louder bell may chime (diaper, fight, or a necessary discipline).  I am called to move from the task at hand, as peacefully as possible, to that duty as directed by the chime, knowing that is God’s will for me at that moment.  Responding to our chimes, is responding to God’s will for us.  This response is selfless, and oftentimes asks of us a sacrifice.  This is our path to holiness, our path to Him.  Saying no to our chimes, is saying no go God.

We are assured in Romans 12:1-2   “1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.”

A friend shared with me a meeting she had with her confessor.  She confided that she did not believe she made enough sacrifices or fasted enough.  He responded, “You are a wife and mother.  Your sacrifices are built in; you need not seek them out.”

If we are open to God’s will, He will guide us clearly.  We will have absolute peace, even in the midst of trials.  It is an absolute truth that growing in holiness is laden in trials. 
Sirach 2:1-9 assures us  “My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity.
Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great.
Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him.
You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall.
You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.”
I know there are times when we all feel the heat of being “tested” like gold in the fire.  We are to trust God, and He will help us.

After confiding in my confessor, a day of perceived failure after failure in my vocation, he told me that there are some days in our vocation that the whole day will feel like a failure...  He said “we all suffer from the human condition, forgive yourself and begin again, tomorrow is another day.”
A good prayer in these situations is “Dear Jesus, please fill the gap of love I failed to meet in my children, today and every day.”

As Blessed Mother Teresa says:  “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful. 

Trusting God in our Vocatin, Our Faith
Philippians 4:13 –  St. Paul assures us “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
As I have shared in the past, I had a personal struggle before my 4th child was born,  Charlie…  I had worked outside the home up till that point.  After he was to be born, Nathan and I agreed that I was to no longer work outside the home and be a stay-at-home Mom.  I was afraid that I would not do a good job because I lacked patience.  I stopped in at the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at, on my way to my contract, and wept.  Imploring and entreating Jesus… I told Him, “I can’t do this; I am scared I will not do a good job with these precious gifts you have given me.”

I felt an absolute sense of peace and then Jesus laid his hands on my head and gently spoke.  He said “You are right, you cannot do it alone, but with Me you can.”   I have found His promise to be 100% true.  He is so faithful. 

But we can only receive the grace He has in store for us, if we are available to receive it; living in the present moment, responding to the need of the moment.  Oftentimes, He will change our plans.  We are called to adjust, and move forward. 

A great quote from Woody Allen “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

The book of  Jeremiah provides some wonderful encouragement,  I hope you will find this to be true, as we embrace this wonderful, God-given vocation!

Jeremiah 29:11-14 “ For I know the plans that I [a]have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your [b]fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ “

One last quote that I’d like each of us to embrace within and without our homes: 
“Never let anyone come to you without coming away better and happier. 
Everyone should see goodness in your eyes and your smile”

Kimberly Hahn has provided the most powerful witness to how, in our vocation, we are called to "Give it all to God."  Here is a link to the video.  Enjoy!

In the peace of Christ & His Blessed Mother,

[1] – Holiness for Housewives – and other working women,   Hubert Van Zeller
[2] – Proverbs 31: 10-31
[3] – Direction for Our Times, Volume I, Anne the Lay Apostle
[4] – Mother’s Rule of Life – Holly Pierlot
[5] – Women of Grace, Michaelann Martin
[6] – The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
[7] – Letter to Women – John Paul II, From the Vatican, 29 June 1995, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
[8] – Miriam

1 comment:

  1. BEAUTIFUL talk, Kristen! You have done such a great job of articulating the holiness of the vocation of wife and mother! Thank you, it's just what I needed this morning. :)