Do you want to be a paper plate or fine china?


“In a large household there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for lofty and others for humble use.  If anyone cleanses himself of these things, he will be a vessel for lofty use, dedicated, beneficial to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart.” (2 Timothy 2:20-22)

“Paper or real plates, Mom?” This was a frequent question asked at the Mongan household. Why? As a M.O.M. (Mother of Many) it was not uncommon to have fifteen or more at the dinner table. Cleaning the dishes was the after dinner chore for the children. Need I say more? I rejoiced in the philosophy of “the more the merrier,” whereas they counted the cost. My seven blessings they saw doing the dishes as “W-O-R-K!”

Running what seemed like a small restaurant for family and friends did not bother me. Since I loved to cook it was no problem to add a few more to our “quiver full” table each night. How did we add to our numbers? First, we believed in extended family and for a season my husband’s parents even moved in with us, making our home almost a dozen residents. In addition, early in our marriage we adopted an open heart and open home mentality that was kid-friendly. We extended hospitality to all who entered. Whoever was still at our home at 5:00 P.M. was expected to contribute to our household by choosing a chore. Whoever was still there at 6:00 P.M. was welcome to dine with us.

We always lit a candle before every meal began, symbolizing the light of Christ, while my husband led the blessing. The hungry crew then proceeded through the food line, which was buffet style. Once all found a place at the table, the dinner conversation began.

The dinner table was my husband’s first platform to preach, before he became a deacon. He, like Jesus, instructed his “disciples,” our seven offspring in addition to their friends, using current events. Together we made sure they were formed in the Catholic faith and in virtues such as righteousness, love, and peace. We encouraged each child to grow in wisdom, humility, and Christian maturity, age-appropriate, of course. No matter if the meal was served on a paper plate or a fine china dish, it was a rich experience in family bonding and growth in faith. It was the “little church!”

How did I make the decision as to which plates to set for the dinner table? It depended on the occasion. Daily life, like ordinary times, was usually paper plates, and my children cheered. “Paper plates, yeah!” However on holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, or St. Patrick’s Day we went all out, setting the table with the good china. We always pulled out all the stops and sometimes even decorated the entire room with streamers and balloons. On someone’s birthday they were honored with the Special Plate to eat off of, and treated as the star of the day. On these holiday celebrations we looked forward to a special meal which everyone helped prepare. The result was a feast fit for a king. After all, we were honoring Jesus the King who was the center of our family life. The “fine china” symbolized the importance of the occasion.

The scripture 2 Timothy 2:20-22 reminded me of my choices when setting the family dinner table. As I read this scripture the other day I could not help but write this article in my mind. God had already written it on my heart. The cheerleader in me wanted to shout out, “Who wants to be a paper plate?” Or would you rather be a gold plate fit for the Master’s use?

Now those of us who have raised children know that most children want to be first, take all the turns, be honored, and even be the parent someday. Along the way they learn that it is a journey to maturity; it doesn’t happen overnight. Parents teach their children to learn to defer, be patient, rejoice when others are honored, and bear with one another patiently. As families, we need to practice virtue and grow in character. The journey from being a “paper plate” to accept being tried by the fire of God to become a gold one, takes time, right choices, and fervent prayer. They say, “Change is inevitable, but maturity is optional.” It is our choice. This is what separates the lambs from the sheep.

One day I was on grandmother duty with one-year-old Elle. Her parents were at the hospital welcoming their brand-new baby girl, Lauren Grace. Elle, with a toddler’s language skills, conveyed to me what it was to live a day in her life. Arts and crafts were a favorite as she pulled out the paper plates and instructed me without words how to trace her hand, just like mommy did. This activity was done over and over again throughout my stay, followed by squeals, showing her joy of learning. Soon Elle was tracing her own hand. Elle now teaches the younger children in her life those arts and crafts skills that her mother taught her.

It is the same way with the spiritual walk. If we let Jesus take our hand and instruct us in His ways, like the disciples of old, soon we will be living a mature faith. Later we will be sheep passing our faith down to the lambs that follow after us. Thus the disciple becomes the teacher!

Jesus gave the invitation often, “Come follow me!” The disciples immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus. The journey may have not been what they expected, but on it they got to know God by the hand of the Master. Did it cost anything?  It cost everything.

“My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days. Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.” (Sirach 2:1-5)

In the same way that my children’s complained about doing the nightly dishes, because it was too much  “W-O-R-K,” discipleship is hard “W-O-R-K.” It takes prayer, obedience, sacrifice and sometimes suffering. To become refined in Christ, purified and growing toward maturity is a work of God, but we must cooperate with him. Follow the voice of the Shepherd and He will lead you the way He led His disciples. What better time than Lent to take Jesus’ nail-scarred hand each day and follow in His ways by listening to His instructions? The choice is yours; you always are given a choice.

So, who wants be a paper plate? Who will choose to be purified by Christ?

“If anyone cleanses himself of these things, he will be a vessel for lofty use, dedicated, beneficial to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

Remember little Elle learning at her mommy’s hand? Do the same with the Master, learn from Him. Remember without God you are just a handprint. Let him mold you into the handprint of God. It is then that He can use you to make His mark on this world.

Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan


About Author

Ellen Mongan, a Catholic writer and speaker, has been married more than 40 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a host of WOW Radio Podcasts, a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry, and Women-Fests.


  1. This was very inspiring as I am a Mom of Many and we use paper plates:). This speaks to my heart about becoming a disciple and teaching our children the same:)

  2. Ellen Mongan on

    Thanks so much! My hat is off to moms of many. I walked in their high heels so, know what is in the job description.

    Children do what we do and not what we say! Training our children in the way of the Lord is work but worth the effort. Now my children all grown are an example of the fruit of my labor.

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