Lent and the vocation of motherhood

In today’s Gospel the mother of the sons of Zebedee has a request of Jesus: “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

We may read with a “tsk, tsk” on our lips because, who does she think she is anyway? The ultimate stage mom, right? But let’s look a little closer. This woman doesn’t even have a name. Her boys, James and John are referred to as the “sons of Zebedee” no matter how long she was in labor with them or how well she mothered them to adulthood.

And let’s also consider how the followers of Jesus believed he was going to overthrow the Roman rule and establish a kingdom for the Jewish people. Their hope was a bit more of a concrete kingdom than the Kingdom of God that Jesus had in mind. So can we be more understanding of this nameless woman who just wanted her boys to succeed? Let’s be forgiving of her and remember the times we have pushed our kids to the front of the line to be noticed or cringed in fear when our kid played goalie on the soccer team.

We want our children to do well, that comes very naturally to moms. But “doing well” means being kind to others, sharing nicely, encouraging the success of others, not just our own kids. Our kids look to us to see how to behave, and that is the best gift we can give them, the gift of a good example. So, dear Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John, we understand you wanting your sons to be successful; please pray for us that we can be good examples for our kids!

To ponder: Can we think of times we unfairly or unwisely pushed our kids to make ourselves proud? Can we think of times we have shown a good example for our kids and taught them how to treat others?

Gracious God, this vocation of motherhood can be so difficult at times! Help us to teach our kids, through our good example, to treat others with kindness and love…the greatest lesson of all!


Heidi Gainan is the mom of three grown and very wonderful kids! She has worked in the blind rehabilitation field for more years than she can count (37!) She recently completed a Spiritual Direction training program, which has been a lovely journey of faith. Please give her blog a peek at The (Almost) Daily Heidi-Gram. This post is reprinted with permission from


5 Ways Your Parish Can Be More Welcoming

For many Catholics, our parish is our second home. We worship there, we socialize, we lift each other up in prayer. We sing in the choir or serve on the parish picnic committee. Our kids go to Vacation Bible School and religious education. Yep, it’s a very comfortable and welcoming place.

Except when it isn’t. If you’re new, it can be strange. There are no familiar faces. Where is the nursery? Where is the bathroom? Do I really want to stick around for coffee after Mass if I don’t know anyone?

We need to work all the time to make sure our parish is welcoming. We can’t hold a “new parishioner” coffee after Mass once or twice a year and call it good. Remember, we Catholics belong to the Universal Church. That means any Catholic Church in the world is “our” church, and we should never feel unwanted or unwelcome. Here are 5 ideas to help make your parish more welcoming.

  1. Make sure your greeters actually greet people. Sometimes, our greeters forget that what they are doing is absolutely vital to parish hospitality. Open the door as people walk in. If they know the person, greet them by name. Say, “Thank you for joining us today. We’re glad you’re here.” It may not seem like much, but a couple of friendly faces as a person walks in goes a long way in making someone feel “at home.”
  2. No “stink eye.” It’s one of the hardest things for parents. They are trying to teach their young children how to behave at Mass, only to be given the stink eye by someone in the pews around them. Kids are kids. They are going to be squirmy. They will talk when they are not supposed to. However, short of a screaming fit or something equally disruptive, children must be welcome in church. If you see a dad struggling in the pew next to you, whisper a word of encouragement: “You’re doing just fine.” Offer to hold an infant while Mom gets an unruly preschooler under control. Even a warm smile is encouraging. The best way for parishes to thrive and grow is to make sure young families are welcomed.
  3. Move over. When the pews start to fill up, move over. Don’t make the elderly couple crawl over  you and your three kids to get into the pew. Yes, everyone sort of has “their” spot, the place they like to sit. But, honestly, does it make any difference? You hear the same homily if you’re sitting in the middle of the pew or the end. Of course, sometimes there are legitimate reasons to sit at the end; for instance, there is an older person with a cane or walker that needs that space on the aisle. If you can, though, move over. And be cheerful about it.
  4. Make parish registration a truly welcoming experience. (This one is for the parish staff.) If you are new to the area, and you head over to the church to register, it is incredibly disheartening to be handed a piece of paper to fill out and a box of contribution envelopes and be sent on your way. Sit down with the person or family. Tell them they are welcome. Have they been away from the church? Ask if they have any sacramental needs (a baby that needs to be baptized, or a marriage that needs to be validated, for instance.) See if they have any questions, not just about the church, but the area, if they’ve just moved. A welcoming gift is great: a parish directory and a crucifix are always nice.
  5. Work hard to make single people and those without children feel welcome. Let’s face it, most families with children find a way to fit in. They start to meet others with kids in the same grade as theirs, or they volunteer for the religious ed. program. A young mother can join the weekly Bible study. But it can be much harder for single adults or those without kids to find their place to “fit” in a new parish. Encourage them to share their gifts and talents: lectoring, joining the choir, or helping with hospitality after Mass. Even sitting down with them after Mass over a cup of coffee and taking the time to introduce yourself is a wonderful and welcoming gesture.

Being a welcoming, hospitable parish takes work. Yet, when every member of that parish takes responsibility and does their part, a church really does feel welcoming to that new parishioner, a visitor or stranger. Most of all, it is an imperative of our faith to be welcoming: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Heb. 13:2)

joy of family

10 Great Quotes From “The Joy of Love”

We’ve spent the last few days examining sections of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)Pope Francis’ recently released apostolic exhortation. This “love letter to families” has so much rich material; it deserves far more in-depth study than we can afford here. However, here are 10 great quotes that we hope will spur you to pick up the document and prayerfully read over it.

  1.  The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour.
  2. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work.
  3. The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since “their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church.”
  4. The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.
  5. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.
  6. If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
  7. In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
  8. Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: “they help and serve each other”.
  9. Large families are a joy for the Church. They are an expression of the fruitfulness of love.
  10. Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face. The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to families and “to help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters”.
male and female

Male And Female He Created Them

We return today to the Holy Father’s apostolic letter, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love.) Pope Francis, following the groundwork laid by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity, but are distinct in the gifts they offer the world. It is a primary tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition that humanity was created male and female and as with all God’s creation, both are fundamentally good.

This apostolic letter addresses many current issues and problems in the world that, even 50 years ago, would have been thought outlandish or impossible. The scourge of drug abuse and its burden on families, the idea that one can choose to “identify” as a different gender and the scientific advances that have made procreation outside of the conjugal act possible are all discussed.

It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created. Para. 56

The letter expounds further that women, in the role of motherhood, are indispensable to children and families:

[W]e cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, “the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world”. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. Para. 173

The pope laments that fathers, in so many cases, are absent in today’s family. This leaves an enormous hole in the heart of the family and of a child.

God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’, I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop”. Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”. It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready. Para. 177

In the day-to-day life of our homes, we rarely think of the “grandeur” of the feminine or the “gifts of masculinity.” Nor does every family follow traditional roles; in some families, the father is at home with the children while the mother works outside the home, the father is the one who cooks and cleans and the mother is the one who maintains the car. The point made in this letter from Pope Francis is not that men and women should do certain things, but rather that men and women are different beings. We know we must care for the created world: we recycle, are careful with our use of water and so on. Yet many of us never give a thought to how we respect the masculine and feminine, the man and woman God created. Pope Francis, in this apostolic letter, gives us the opportunity to reflect on this.

God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. 

God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.

And so it happened God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Gen. 1:27-31


Family: A School Of Love And Tenderness

Pope Francis has just released his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitiaor “The Joy of Love” An apostolic exhortation is a type of letter a pope uses to explain conclusions reached following a Synod of Bishops. While this particular exhortation is far too long to discuss in whole here, we can find a few sections to consider.

Pope Francis reminds us that the family is the “domestic church,” the first place we learn the faith, and where God’s presence is always felt.

A family’s living space could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table. We can never forget the image found in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). Here we see a home filled with the presence of God, common prayer and every blessing. This is the meaning of the conclusion of Psalm 128, which we cited above: “Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion!” (Ps 128:4-5) Para. 15

The Holy Father gives societies and cultures an important admonition: children are not property. While they are under the charge of their parents, children have their own “lives to lead,” and parents are charged with helping their children find that path. In today’s world, we must remember we are not “owed” children nor should children be bought and sold (either through such things as surrogacy or in the more horrible means of human trafficking.)

The pope is under no illusion that families are idyllic. However, we do have a standard we must hold ourselves to as Christians. Pope Francis speaks to this quite clearly:

Against this backdrop of love so central to the Christian experience of marriage and the family, another virtue stands out, one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial relationships. It is tenderness. Let us consider the moving words of Psalm 131. As in other biblical texts (e.g., Ex 4:22; Is 49:15; Ps 27:10), the union between the Lord and his faithful ones is expressed in terms of parental love. Here we see a delicate and tender intimacy between mother and child: the image is that of a babe sleeping in his mother’s arms after being nursed. As the Hebrew word gamûl suggests, the infant is now fed and clings to his mother, who takes him to her bosom. There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological… Para. 29

No matter our faith or beliefs, the pope’s words ring true: our world needs tenderness. We need it most especially in our homes, our refuges from a world that can be chaotic, mean-spirited, ruthless and dispiriting. The tenderness of Mary holding the infant Jesus, the tenderness of Joseph as he taught the Child Jesus a trade, the tenderness of Christ as He cared for His earthly parents: all of these should be our icons, our examples, our prayers-in-action within the walls of our own homes.

We will contemplate more of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation this week, but for today, let tenderness be our prayer and our manner of being.