When I was studying theology, I became friends with an Italian Jesuit named Ferdinando. Nando was funny, a great conversationalist and he always had a glint in his eye that made you wonder what he was really up to. We were coming back from Mass one Sunday, when I told him I went to Mass daily. “Wow,” he said, “You are so pious!” and laughed at me kindheartedly, while I complained that the problem was that he wasn’t pious enough!
In our culture, piety tends to be a pejorative term. It conjures up showy displays of religious fervor by a hypocritical person who prays, but then ignores his neighbor. This, of course, is false piety. True piety is a way of life, born of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the truth that we are children of God. The Spirit enables us to pray and cry out, Abba! Father! (Rom 8:14). True piety then, fuels prayer and commitment to God out of love and not show, “For your heavenly father who sees in secret will reward you.” In family life, I’ve noticed some serious obstacles to the gift of piety.
The first obstacle is busyness. Haven’t we all said things like, “When things slow down, I’ll get back to prayer” or “There isn’t time in my day for one more thing!”? Given modern family life—we are torn between work and family—what time is left for God? Instead of wasting energy on guilt, my response is, Take back the ship! Be still enough to think and pray even though it doesn’t result in some tangible product or a list of accomplishments. Our time has been high-jacked: Earn! Buy! Sell! Eat! Drink! Buy more! Have garage sales! While it is perfectly normal to engage in these activities, if we could simplify in some way, we could then invite God into the space left by activity we don’t really need. Piety-as-a-way-of-life, avoids putting our love for God into a box of “devotions.” It means if we pray in the morning, we let it last all day long, let it influence our words, actions, intentions and decisions. It will be impossible for this kind of piety to produce the kind of person who ignores his or her neighbor.
Another obstacle to piety is anger. I used to be patient as a lamb before I became a mother. Now I can roar like a lioness. But it does neither me nor my kids any good. When I am angry and give in to that anger, I may give my husband the silent treatment, or slam doors around the house (of course, I tell my kids not to this when they are angry!) Anger is a natural emotion. Have you ever noticed that sometimes your body gets angry before your mind registers the fact? That’s why those doors can slam without us meaning them to! Anger gets in the way of piety, because, how can we love the God we cannot see while we are unloving to our neighbor whom we do see? My response to anger is to simply ask forgiveness after I’ve blown my lid and pray that mother’s prayer that takes one second: “Help!” Mothers, more than most, are justified in becoming angry at times, but that is beside the point. The point is that as followers of Christ, we are called to live in the Holy Spirit, whose fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23a). Anger isn’t in there. I checked several times.
If we are to live in piety, we must do several things. We must make time to pray daily. Say a psalm. It takes about one minute. And next we must offer our whole day as a prayer of praise to the Lord. The more we see our dignity as daughters of God, the more natural it will seem for us to be in continuous communion with the God who is our Father, but also a forgiving and patient Mother to us all.
Copyright 2010 Julie Paavola