Pope John Paul II gave mothers some poignant words to ponder. He told us that prayer is related to our very humanity and the first condition for authentic freedom of spirit. Specifically, he said, “It should never be forgotten that prayer constitutes an essential part of the Christian life, understood in its fullness and centrality. Indeed, prayer is an important part of our very humanity; it is ‘the first expression of man’s inner truth, the first condition for authentic freedom of spirit’” (Pope John Paul II, Address at the Mentorella Shrine, October 29, 1978).
How can we as mothers improve our prayer lives? How can we come closer to Our Lord? Is it possible for a busy mother to do so? We learn in John’s Gospel that in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus, we must meet Jesus at the “well” for living water on a regular basis so that our thirst will be satiated. We are told: “But those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). I believe that we find that “well” in prayer; whether it be before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, within the Sacraments, or within the walls of our “domestic churches” where we are busy raising our families.
As Christians, we are also instructed: “Pray constantly…always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (1 Thess. 5:17; Eph. 5:20). How does a mother in the trenches with diaper changes, feedings, and overfilled laundry hampers pray constantly? Well, a faithful mother finds that she absolutely needs to develop a deep prayer life for strength and guidance for rearing her family along with her husband within a culture that undermines and contradicts their Christian beliefs.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are reminded to, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” The Catechism tells us that, “Every joy and suffering, every event and need can become the matter for thanksgiving which, sharing in that of Christ, should fill one’s whole life” (CCC no. 2648). Consequently, we see that we can and should make use of the unlimited occasions throughout our daily lives for giving thanks in prayer; every joy, event, and suffering, can become opportunities for prayer. In short, we can transform our daily lives into prayers, even while we are so busy with our mothering by beseeching our Lord for His grace and blessings, asking for guidance and giving thanks always.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.” This is a challenging task for a worn out mother, yet it surely is the secret to happiness in our families. We must consistently give with love and forgiveness to know real peace in our hearts and to see God at work in our homes.
Food for the Soul
Mothers, as we know have been entrusted with the care and nurturing of their children. However, equally as important as the food for their children’s stomachs is the food for their souls. Sadly there are mothers all around our world who neglect to feed this hunger in their families. Let’s pray for them. Let’s be a loving example to them. In order for a mother to form her children in the faith and in prayer, she must be sure to form it within herself first. She must draw closer to God through a deep and constant prayer life.
A mother may struggle to find specific dedicated prayer times throughout her busy days because she is at the service of her children who constantly need her attention in one way or another. Throughout her mothering, she may not have much opportunity to break away from her routine. Since a mother fully realizes that her days are filled to capacity with the care of others, she finds that she should dedicate her entire day to the Lord beginning the first thing in the morning; offering all of her prayers, works, joys, and sufferings as her morning offering to God and asking that they become a means to her salvation and of her family, as well. She then knows that she has offered her Lord everything—craziness and all, and has asked Him to bless every part of it. Her day has then started off on the right foot. She realizes that there might not be many occasions, particularly when her children are very young and requiring a lot of hands-on care, when she can get down on her knees to pray, hence she offers to God all of her many loving acts of service to her family from where she has been called to serve from the heart of her home.
A mother will undoubtedly grow in holiness as she strives to keep her heart and mind lifted to Heaven whenever she is able, while she is going about her duties in the home. A mother strives to find the opportunities for her dedicated prayer time, as well as being sure to dedicate her entire day to the Lord so that all of her actions will be blessed and a means to her sanctification and for the sanctification of her family. I love that mothers are provided by God with this amazing opportunity for sanctification for their families.
Perhaps we can learn from St. John Vianney, Cure of Ars, who so beautifully and passionately expressed his love for God in a prayer he wrote. “I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally…My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.” His words give mothers a cause to pause and ponder. Can I also courageously and with complete trust, offer every beat of my heart for love of my Lord? Yes, I believe we can!
Love is the certain source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit of prayer. (Adapted from CCC 2658) When a mother’s heart is burning with love for her God and her family, she too can ask our Lord if her every breath can become a prayer of love to Him. She can ask if her acts of loving service within her family can be transformed into prayers of love to Him.
We learn about a parent’s dignity and mission and very specific responsibility to guide their children in the faith from Familiaris Consortio, “By reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to personal dialogue with Him: ‘It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and the office of the sacrament of matrimony, that from the earliest years children should be taught, according to the faith received in Baptism, to have a knowledge of God, worship Him and love their neighbor.”
Mothers should call upon the grace from the sacrament of matrimony which is available for the asking! Our Lord will provide much grace to facilitate the lessons in prayer within the walls of the home. A mother can and should pray in her children’s presence. She can offer little prayers of aspiration to our Lord and His Blessed Mother as she feeds her infants and cares for her children. They will learn by her example. As they grow, she teaches them to bless themselves with the sign of the Cross and encourages them to enter into a dialogue with Jesus and His Blessed Mother. These will be the formative building blocks of prayer instilled in her children’s hearts that they will draw upon throughout life.
Transforming and Hopeful Domestic Prayer
Christian mothers have three areas in which to develop their prayer lives: 1) they need to shape a strong prayer life of their own, 2) teach their children to cultivate their own personal prayer lives, 3) as well as to encourage and facilitate family prayer. A mother needs a strong foundation of personal prayer to stand strong at the center of the heart of her home where she cares for her family. She should teach her children to pray each day, encouraging them to pray with her as well as on their own. They will learn that prayer is a very beautiful thing – it is a conversation with God! Family prayer is necessary to keep the family unit intact. Blessed Teresa always said, “A family that prays together stays together.”
There may be times throughout the tapestry of motherhood when a Christian mother may be required to trust in our Lord’s mercy and His promises while she relates to St. Monica’s pleadings in prayer for her wayward son, Augustine. Even when a very strong foundation of prayer is laid down in the family, our older children may go astray temporarily, getting side tracked off the narrow path; searching to find their own way. It is then when we double up on our prayers and sacrifices and trust that our Lord hears the prayers of a faithful mother and that the words to St. Monica from her bishop regarding her son, St. Augustine apply to all mothers. “God will never turn His ear from a woman of all those tears.” We should know that the foundation of prayer that we have built for our children will undoubtedly remain with them, holding them up “and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface,” as Pope John Paul II has told us. We must never give up on hope! We must be faithful in prayer for our families always! Our Lord is counting on us. A mother’s work for the sanctification of her children is never finished until all of her children are safe in Heaven! She prays constantly for them, no matter how old they are. She prays for them even after she has gone to her Heavenly reward where her prayers are even more powerful. Amazing!
[This article previously appeared on the TORCH website. It focuses on a few highlights from Donna-Marie’s book: The Domestic Church: Room By Room: A Mother’s Study Guide (Servant Books, 2011).]
By Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle