It was one of those infamous rabbit trails that can bear great fruit in prayer. Pope Benedict has declared the Year for Priests to begin June 19. Additionally, he has said that St. Jean Vianney is to be patron of the world’s priests. So, I began to dig up St. Jean Vianney quotes to toss out to my children over the next year.
Often, when I look for ways to inspire virtue in my children, I find instead that virtue is inspired in me first. This one hit me between the eyes. St. Jean Vianney piqued my interest immediately by pointing to the example of a favorite saint. He wrote, “St. Francis de Sales, that great saint, would leave off writing with the letter of a word half-formed in order to reply to an interruption.” Hey, Elizabeth, saints don’t say “just a minute” and then finish writing the sentence or the paragraph or the entire post or project while toddlers melt down and little boys wrestle. They leave the letters half-formed.
Since neither St. Jean Vianney nor St. John Bosco was a mother who worked at home, it probably wasn’t little girls with big blue eyes and crazy curls who interrupted them. No, they probably put their pen down for older people, people who really could wait. People who pretty much didn’t depend on them for the whole world. But my small people depend on me for everything and still I sometimes see them as interruptions.
Surely children must learn to wait; I don’t dispute that fact. Often, though, adults must learn to stop and see the child and to respond with careful attention and thoughtful gentleness. Children can teach us to be present in the moment. They can require us to slow down and truly listen, because, frankly, no one can readily understand a two-year-old without focusing and looking at context and listening carefully and asking clarifying questions. No one can listen to a two-year-old with absentminded attention while attempting to multi-task and really understand what the child is saying. And neither mother nor child grows in virtue if interruptions are met with anger.
Children can teach us gentleness, if only we have teachable spirits. Gentle mothers make an effort to speak softly and less often, to listen carefully and more often. Mothers who are able to permeate the atmosphere of their homes with gentleness can see God’s hand when a child interrupts her work. As the monastery bell calls a monk, the child calls Mother to service and her work with the child becomes a prayer. If she is wise, she will see opportunity to grow in holiness in every interruption. She will count every call to gentleness over exasperation a blessing.
Father John Hardon reminded us, “Gentleness is the virtue that restrains the passion of anger. Over the centuries it has been variously described. Sometimes poetically, sometimes theologically. Where anger flares up, gentleness calms down. Where anger is a bursting flame, gentleness is a gentle rain. Where anger asserts itself and crushes, gentleness embraces and quiets and soothes — yet as we hear these and similar descriptions of gentleness we are liable to make the mistake as I dare say so much of the modern world makes the mistake of identifying gentleness with weakness.”
It is not a weak woman who is gentle when her home is bustling with activity and several people are dependent upon her for their very existence. It is a strong woman who gathers the grace necessary to respond with goodness and gentleness and brings peace to her family. This summer, I pray for the strength to be gentle.