Learning from Nazareth

It seems that one can never fully plumb the depths of inspiration provided by marriage and motherhood, and yet with all the fodder they provide, there is the fear as a writer of becoming stale.

That’s my super fancy way of saying I began February with writers block. Then I got hit with food poisoning and wonky naptimes and life, meaning this post has been in the works for about 2 weeks. Being a wife and mom means that my life is always changing and so the view I have of the world changes with them.

I still went looking for some fresh inspiration. This is where I love being Catholic. In addition to the liturgical seasons, the Church has dedicated entire months to different devotions. My recent search led me to discover that February is dedicated to the Holy Family.

It seems fitting to focus on the family this month, when last month we were focused on speaking out for the most vulnerable, and one state so far has decided that they are not worth any protection, while others are threatening it in equally evil ways. It’s easy to feel defeated when after so much work to change the course of this rhetoric, the tide seems next to impossible to turn.

In times such as these, many feel the need to act. Having worked in the activist world briefly, and now being confined to my very tiny world as a SAHM, I can much more easily understand that the actions that will change this involve proactively loving those that God has put in our care FIRST. Activism absolutely has it’s time and place, but it can easily devolve into pursuing goals (ie Facebook likes and retweets) that merely rob us of peace and contribute very little towards the goals we seek to accomplish.

It’s fitting and arguably far more efficacious to take a moment and learn from from that Holy Family in Nazareth. It is after all the family that is the training ground for faith and morals, manners and character, respect and dignity, where parents instill in their children the ideologies that would make such threats as abortion, opioid epidemics and sex trafficking unthinkable.

The problem is this solution does not increase social media followings, appeal to donors, or worst of all, produce immediate results. It requires a lifetime of investment and an acceptance of responsibility and sacrifice all without a guarantee of success.

I always wished that Scripture gave us more when it came to describing the home life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We only have two stories from Jesus’ childhood we can read in Luke and both take place in the temple, not in their home. The first is when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented at the temple. The second is when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days and found him again.

There are three lessons from these two stories that offer an antidote to some of our contemporary problems, and they are very much intertwined. First, Mary ponders the events in her heart. Second, Christ lives with His parents in obedience. Third, accomplishing God’s mission for their lives would require great sacrifice.

First, Mary ponders. Here we learn from Mary the importance of silence in producing peace. If I were Mary, I would have hit Simeon with one million follow up questions, each of which if I was honest would have come from fear of the unknown and lack of trust in God. But in the face of such odd and troubling news, Mary is silent. She takes these things, doesn’t fret, but continues to trust in the God who preserved her virginity while granting her motherhood. We mothers are easily accosted with new worries and fears from the moment we wake up. These are exacerbated when the needs of our kids take up every functional moment and silence remains an ideal we can never achieve. Cultivating silence is a discipline, and we may have to get very creative in finding ways to incorporate it into our days, perhaps when we’re in the shower (even if that doesn’t happen until 2pm), or washing dishes while the kids are playing. Here too we can learn from Mary. Her life didn’t stop because she was told a sword would pierce her heart. Even when she was surrounded by noise, she was able to continue her work as mom because she had a place of silence she created had within.

Second, Christ lived in obedience. Scripture tells us that obedience teaches wisdom, and it is obedience Christ demands as the sign of our love. Obedience is so important to God that He spent the first 30 years of earthly His life in hidden practice of it before He began His mission. As Bishop Sheen noted, He spent 30 years obeying, 3 years teaching, 3 hours redeeming. As moms, we have learned how obedience teaches wisdom when we tell our toddlers not to play with the gas stove or run out into the street. We know these things are dangerous, and we demand obedience until they can learn the truth for themselves to keep them, you know, alive. It is the same with us and God. God asks things of us that we may not like or understand (NFP anyone?), and while we may rebel or become angry at His mandates, very often through time and practice – through obedience – we learn the goodness of the law that has been imposed.

Third, the mission of God would require great sacrifice. I always found it odd that the Presentation of the Temple is fourth of the Joyful Mysteries, because Simeon foretold Christ’ death (“a sign to be contradicted” meaning the cross) and told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. What makes this news joyful is that Mary and Jesus are told of the purpose for which they were created. Nowhere have I experienced this more profoundly than when I became a wife and mother. Wedding days are often described as the happiest of our lives (and they are), but they are also the day where we take up our biggest cross who is our spouse. The birth of a child is an indescribable mixture of joy and pain, of elation and fear. These two missions offer us both our greatest sorrows and our greatest joys. Love demands death, the death of what is not good within ourselves so that we may become someone better. Without a cross, there is no resurrection.

If we want to make a difference, if we want to change the way things are, we don’t have to look far. Conversion starts within. It starts with you, and it starts with me. It starts with loving discipline when your toddler acts up. It starts with listening to your spouse instead of becoming angry in the heat of a moment. It starts with offering tea to a friend. It starts with giving a smile to a stranger. It starts with closing out of Facebook or Twitter instead of responding with a zinger. It starts small.

Within these three – silence, obedience, and sacrifice – we can find all the virtues that produce peace. Peace first within our homes and families, and as a result in the world. In short, the answer to the troubles of our modern world are for each one of us to work towards the same reckless abandon we find at Nazareth that proceeds from a great trust in and love of God.

Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely, right where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in homes and in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta