Soccer season is upon us, and while I was sitting at my daughters’ first game of the season, I was talking with some of the other moms. One mom and I got into a discussion about holiness, specifically what holiness looks like for a wife and mother. She was commenting on how it seems like some people have a very specific idea of what it is to be holy (daily rosary, daily Mass, perfectly behaved kids who are all either homeschooled or in Catholic school, etc.) and how discouraging that can be for the average mother.
And so, I shared with her this story.
Your Sacrifice and Mine
My husband usually wakes up early and goes to daily Mass before my daughters are up for the day. The other day he was getting ready to go to Mass when I woke up. I realized that our youngest daughter hadn’t woken up to nurse yet, and I was feeling guilty about the simple luxury of getting to lay in bed for a few extra minutes.
Then, I thought of a conversation that I had had with one of my seminarian friends the previous day. He was talking about how tired he is, every day, because he’s usually up before 6:00 a.m. (for his holy hour, morning prayer, Mass, etc.). He was talking about how sometimes, in his holy hour, he just has to offer that tiredness to God.
I realized that, at that early hour, he was already awake and offering his sacrifice to God, just like my husband. Then I thought of all my priest friends, rising and preparing to say Mass that morning. They were preparing to make their sacrifice to God.
I thought of a song on my phone, “Christ in Me Arise” (based on the prayer commonly called the prayer of St. Patrick). “Christ in me arise…and dispel all the darkness.” As each of these men rose for the day, their sacrifice (offered to Christ) was dispelling the darkness.
I felt guilty going back to sleep, and wondered, “What is my sacrifice? Should I stay awake and pray my morning prayers? What do I have to offer?”
Then, from the next room, I heard a little voice say, “Mommy! Moooommmy!!”
I jumped out of bed. Christ in me arise. I opened the door into her room, and my little toddler jumped with joy in her crib, her crying instantly ceased. And dispel all the darkness.
I took her into my room to nurse, and as I fed her, I was reminded of the words of Christ, the words that was being prayed by my friends and husband, as they offered their sacrifices up at Mass. This is my body, given up for you. I looked at the little child in my arms, being fed by my body, as she has been for her entire life. I thought of her sisters – obviously already weaned, but still requiring me to feed their hearts and minds with the actions I did each day.
And in that moment, I saw with renewed clarity: this is my sacrifice. This is the sacrifice pleasing to Christ.
What God Asks
A friend I was talking to has a child with some special needs, and we were talking about how hard it is to accept that sometimes God isn’t calling you to go to daily Mass every day with your children. I would love to go to daily Mass every day, but it isn’t what God is asking of me right now. He’s asking for me to give myself — my whole self — in a very different way.
So, what does God ask?
God asks us to take up our cross, every day, and follow him. He asks us to love as he loves, to the point of laying down our lives for others.
For some, that is the vocation to the priesthood, offering the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the altar.
For some, it is physical fatherhood, rising early to pray, working late to provide for your family, or staying home to care for your children if your wife is the one who works, and sacrificing some of your own “freedom” in order to serve your family.
For some, that is embracing a life that isn’t what they dreamed of. It may be the loneliness of not having found a spouse, despite feeling called to marriage. It might be the heartbreak of infertility, when longing for a large family. Or, it may be getting woken up early in the morning or in the middle of the night, to comfort a crying child.
Holiness looks different for each of us. God does not call us to be St. Francis or St. Clare of St. Teresa of Calcutta. He calls us to be ourselves.
But for many of us, that struggle will be a hidden one. No one will ever see the countless ways that we lay down our lives for Christ each day. To the outside world, it may not even look like we are that holy. The parents of only one child on earth (with a miscarried child or with secondary infertility) may look like they’re practicing contraception. The single young adult may look like she’s just focused on her career or he’s just immature. The father with the unruly child at Mass (who was recently been diagnosed with anxiety or some other special needs) may look like he doesn’t know how to discipline his children. The mother who sleeps late instead of going to daily Mass (because the baby woke up every two hours all night long) may look like she is too lazy to pray.
These crosses and so many others are hidden from the eyes of the world, but they are not hidden from the eyes of Christ.
When faced with these hidden (sometimes very heavy crosses) we may feel alone. But, if we lay them at the feet of Christ in the Eucharist, we can rest assured — we are not alone. We are never alone. The cross we bear is not our own. It is a sharing in his.