Holy Water and Humble Pie: How Visits to the Convent Help Me
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Catholic Digest. We thank them for their kind permission to reprint Colleen’s article and encourage you to visit their website and “like” them on Facebook. LMH
Once a year my family visits my sister, a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia’s, a lovely group of religious who espouse both a deep love for Christ and the Church. Admittedly, whenever we visit, I always feel pressure to present my brood as Catholic all-stars. I want to dazzle these devout and pious women with my holy little saints, to get a pat on the head for my efforts as a Catholic mom. I figure if they can’t appreciate the battle I’m fighting, then no one can. So, I hunt and peck for compliments, for a few ‘atta girls’ before I head out the door. Like the Pharisee who pridefully recounts to God all his tithing and praying, I’m tempted to share our many virtuous family activities with them. I showcase my children as proof I really am doing a good job in raising them in the Catholic faith.
Inevitably, I walk away with pie on my face.
It’s amazing how God uses simple visits with a bunch of Catholic nuns to reveal my deeply ingrained need for human respect. Here’s just a few ways He chipped away at my vanity during recent visits:
- No matter how much time and energy I spend dressing my children in their Sunday best, they will inevitably arrive to the Motherhouse with a big blob of something on their peter pan collars. When asked how it got there, they will confess to smacking on gigantic lolly pops slipped to them by their father to keep them quiet.
- One child will spend the better part of the afternoon walking around the convent barefoot because we quickly grabbed shoes that no longer fit properly.
- At dinner, four of my children will boisterously use every potty word they’ve ever learned as a means of keeping the conversation real.
- When being introduced to the Mother Superior, the cranky and overtired toddler will choose that exact moment to throw a temper tantrum. His fit will culminate in a slap to the Mother Superior’s face.
- When visiting the chapel, the preschooler will scale the steps closest to the tabernacle while shouting, “Where’s Jesus, Mama?”
- The inquisitive, energetic four year old will not resist the temptation to pull on the veil of a beautiful, young sister, exposing parts of her head that have not seen the light of day in years.
- Intrigued by the fifteen decade rosary hanging from their belts, all of the children will pull on the long strand of beads inevitably causing a necessary repair.
- After discovering the keyboard in the recreation room, the children will begin to imitate a a silly booty dance performed in the confines of our home by a nameless parent. (Hint: it’s not my husband.)
- Four out of five children will fall into tearful hysterics as the Sisters attempt to buckle them into their car seats before our departure.
- As we pull away from the curb, my husband and I will knowingly shake our heads in agreement, convinced we helped cement the good Sisters’ vocations.
See what I mean?
No chance for any Catholic all-star awards here.
Granted, the behavior exhibited by my precious darlings was completely normal. I have five children ages 7 and under; they were acting their age. The goofiness, the silly talk, and the loud conversation is totally typical. While John and I have the responsibility of teaching them appropriate behavior in formal settings, I shouldn’t consistently walk away from certain situations so embarrassed.
So what’s my problem?
The feelings of inadequacy I sometimes have about myself and my family are the result of nasty, unrealistic expectations. Since I incorrectly believe perfection is possible, I work hard to achieve it and I expect my kids to do so as well! When I’m in a Catholic settings, say like a convent, I attempt to uphold a lie that I’m a perfect Catholic parent producing perfect Catholic children.
Alas, none of this is true or even possible.
I don’t have my act together. I’m impatient, opinionated and easily wounded. Perfect? Not even close.
And I don’t need to give the laundry list of my family’s imperfections, either. My kids and my husband are awesome people with distinct and colorful personalities. But perfect? It ain’t a description I’m gonna use anytime soon.
Some really smart person once said, “ Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.” How helpful it would be if I could check my perfect expectations at the door and just enjoy my kids for the cool people they really are? How helpful would it be if I could enjoy myself, with all my zany idiosyncrasies, as the cool person God created?
I’d be a lot less stressed out, that’s for sure.
I’d be a lot happier, too.
And more grateful…
The thing is, one of the reasons I love the Sisters so much is I feel accepted by them, loved by them. Even though I definitely don’t have this parenting thing figured out and my kids like to say words like ‘poo-poo’ and ‘underwear’ in front of them, they still like us. They want to be around us (at least I think they do) and they strive to see the good in us just as our Heavenly Father does.
The good Dominican Sisters possess a deep reverence for human life at all stages, from little kids to big ones. As educators, they understand the human person; they’re well aware that four, five, and six year olds enjoy potty humor (which is good because they got a heavy dose of it the day we visited). The silly antics of my children did not scandalize them. In fact, I spotted a couple of them hiding giggles behind hands when the kids did something outrageously funny.
The Sisters were also warm and encouraging to John and I in our vocations. One of them reminded us to have confidence in our abilities as parents because we experience great graces from the Sacrament of Marriage. “You are working with the Holy Spirit; He is guiding you and helping you to know what is right in dealing with your kids,” she told me. Her words have helped me tremendously.
John F. Kennedy once said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” How true this is when it comes to Catholic family life. There is no perfect Catholic family, no perfect mother, father, or kids. The functional family is a myth–a persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic one, too!
But there is one truth that we as Catholics can hold onto: We have a perfect God.
I can breathe easy because I don’t need to expect perfection from myself or my kids.
This is a very, very good thing.
We’re not doing such a good job pretending, anyway.
Copyright 2011 Colleen Duggan