Our baptism makes us holy, but that’s just the first step. We need God’s sanctifying grace, a gift he grants us through our children.
It wasn’t until my third child was born that the reality of my obligation hit home. I didn’t just have to feed and water these little people.
I also had to get them into heaven.
This mothering gig is rough.
On the proper care and and feeding of small humans, I’ve had some near misses. The six-year-old insists she will not live by bread alone, but by every chocolate and pizza that comes from a box. The ten-year-old makes entire meals of Sun Chips and graham crackers, punctuated by tall glasses of chocolate milk. The two-year-old has a penchant for playground bark and azalea leaves.
And I haven’t changed their sheets in over a month. Maybe longer.
But hey. They’re growing. They still like me (I think), which is pretty much a miracle. And most of the time, I can take them out in public without causing too much of a scene.
Lord, your love is eternal, and your mercy knows no bounds
I’m gobsmacked he chose me to raise these children. What did he see in me, a sinner, that would launch them toward eternal life? My prayer life is lukewarm. My Bible is dusty. My default temperament is one of selfishness and self-pity. Yet here they are, under my roof, watching my example and following my lead.
It is nothing short of mysterious, until you recognize this:
I may be the shepherd of this tiny fold, but my sheep are part and parcel of my own salvation.
Children as sanctifying grace
To clarify what I mean here, let me start at the beginning. Each one of us is born with the stain of original sin. Our baptism provides our justification, or initial restoration to the state of grace. The sacrament enables our participation in the life of Christ, bringing us ever closer to his holy, sacred heart (Catechism 1997).
Truthfully, though, baptism is just a step. We are continually made holy through the gift of sanctifying grace, a constant “disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love” (2000). Through this sanctification, we are able to achieve an intimate union with the Trinity, the mystical Body of Christ.
This sanctifying grace is freely given to us, habitually over the course of our lives. God’s hand “precedes, prepares, and elicits” our free response (2022), so that even though we must actively work to accept his sanctifying grace, we are given the strength to pursue it.
Why do we need that strength? Because the road to holiness is not easy. As the Catechism points out, “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (2015). Therefore we must take up our cross, give of ourselves, and seek God’s healing grace in the most physical of ways.
What better opportunity exists for this than motherhood?
Before kids, our days and nights were our own. We could sit down and read a book uninterrupted. We could sleep without thought of visitors. We could eat the last of the pizza without guilt. From the moment that spark of life takes hold within the womb, or the instant that tiny bundle is placed in our arms, we must deny ourselves the desires of the flesh and open our hearts to the needs of our children.
God uses our children as instruments of his grace. Through them, we are perfected in virtue:
In Faith, when we entrust their safety to the Lord
In Hope, when we entrust their spirit to his grace
In Charity, when we love them with ferocity, reflecting his love for us
In Prudence, when we discern our parenting choices through prayer
In Justice, when we love and provide for them equally
In Fortitude, when we hold firm to a decision they do not understand
In Temperance, when we match repeated frustration with gentleness and love
Yes, it is our job as mothers to get our babies into heaven. But we are also called to let them sanctify us, embracing the sacrifices, the irritations, and the challenges of motherhood as a pathway to holiness.
So maybe, like me, you’re still gobsmacked he chose you to raise these children. What does he see in you, a sinner, that would propel them forward on the way to eternal life?
He sees you, his daughter, eager and willing to accept his holy grace. And in his good and perfect mercy, you have been abundantly blessed.
How do your children sanctify you? How do they bring you closer to the heart of Christ?
I’m giving away one hardback copy of The Mothers’ Manual: Prayers and Advice for Catholic Mothers. You can enter on my blog through Tuesday, January 31, 2017.
Copyright 2017 Ginny Kochis