When I was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, I began to feel that God was nudging my heart in the direction of the married vocation. I wanted to be sure of one thing, though – could this vocation truly lead me to holiness? During study breaks, I would pour over the library shelves, trying to find a book on married saints. The names of married saints were few and far between (and some new ones have been added since then!) and it wasn’t until I was a mother that I discovered St. Frances of Rome.
St. Frances of Rome was a wife and mother. In the early days of her marriage she devoted herself to ministry to the poor, but she found herself needing to care more for her own family once she had children. Although she accomplished much for the Church outside the confines of her home (including founding a society of women dedicated to serving the poor and those in need), what is most striking about Frances is her understanding of the sanctity of the home.
In the early days of my motherhood, I encountered the quote famously attributed to St. Frances, “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.”
As a young, single woman (and in particular as a student at a Catholic college) I loved praying in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. I loved going to daily Mass. One of the most difficult parts of my transition to married life and motherhood was no longer being able to drop everything to go pray in a church. Thankfully, I’ve found adoration chapels and unlocked churches over the years, and have been able to pray with the Eucharistic Jesus on countless occasions. But there have been many times that it simply hasn’t been possible.
Most memorably, I remember a time when I was at Mass with my daughters, not long after my second was born. The poor child was terribly colicky, and I couldn’t get her to stop crying. For the first time in my life, I had to leave in the middle of Mass and take my girls home. On the drive home, I remember being in tears, because I longed so much to be with Jesus at Mass.
Frances surely experienced moments like this. As a young girl, she desperately longed for religious life. Instead, her parents arranged a marriage for her. Although it wasn’t her first choice, her marriage and motherhood became a source of growth in holiness for her, and – as the above quote conveys – she discovered that God works in all vocations.
However, there is another layer to St. Frances’s words. Not only can a housewife (or anyone, for that matter) find God in daily work, but sometimes we are compelled to do so. If we take our faith seriously, we will undoubtedly find ourselves longing to go to Mass or adoration, and to spend more time in prayer. Unfortunately, in this fallen world of ours, sometimes it isn’t possible – and sometimes God is calling us to encounter him in a less traditional way.
In classic movie The Bells of St. Mary’s, Fr. O’Malley advises one of the other main characters to remind himself that he shall, “Pass this way but once…” and to do whatever good he could do in that moment. Along those same lines, I remember a homily that my childhood pastor gave at Mass one day. He told the story of an elderly woman who went to daily Mass faithfully, and who, one day, passed someone in desperate need. Instead of stopping to help them, she brushed the person aside, saying, “I have to get to Mass!” On the way home, the woman was in an accident and died. When she saw God at heaven’s gate, he asked her, “Why wouldn’t you help me on your way to Mass?” Although daily Mass seemed like the obvious good, God was calling her to encounter him in a particular way that day, but she refused to be open to that encounter.
If we are living a holy life, we are going to long for God. We are going to want to spend time in prayer. We are going to enjoy beautiful liturgy, beautiful hymns, and incense drenched adoration sessions. But the reality is that for many of us (even for those in monasteries) we simply can’t spend all of our time in ecstatic prayer. However, we can live our lives in such a way that we never cease praying. We can look for God in our “housekeeping,” or in whatever our daily work may be.
The challenge is, like Frances of Rome, to be open to finding God in the little and unexpected moments. In the dishes, in the checking of our inboxes, in the conference calls, in the laundry, in the meetings, in the diaper changes…he is there. He is always there.
We need only look and be surprised by the ways he reveals himself.
image: Saint Frances and Saint Antony in the Saint Roch chapel at Fonteklaus by Wolfgang Moroder / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)