I presented a short, reflective talk at our Mothers Retreat the first weekend of February. The theme of the day was “Organizing Our Homes, Organizing Our Hearts”. Judy Lubowicki from Clutter Free Organizing gave a very energetic and inspiring pep talk on clutter free home organization for the Organizing Our Homes aspect of the retreat. Her hand outs are worth their weight in gold! I presented the following for the Organizing Our Hearts aspect. We enjoyed mass, wonderful fellowship, food, and many laughs with others “in the trenches”. Following is the talk I gave, I edited here to better fit the medium.
Organizing Our Hearts by Sanctifying the Moment
Now that we have ideas for keeping our homes in order, let’s turn to organizing our hearts. Let’s face it, even with the best laid dinner plans, filing systems, curriculum, and laundry organizers – life as a homeschooling mother, often with many children, is unpredictable. The temporal demands of managing a household can sometimes become so pressing and necessary that we are tempted to push spiritual matters off to the back burner – if we can even find the back burner under the stack of dirty dishes!
We have in the sacraments a firm backbone of an organized spiritual life – namely Holy Communion and Confession. We also have in our rich Catholic faith, the rhythm of the liturgical year to guide our devotions and meditations. We have many sacramentals and heavenly intercessors to aid us on our journey toward holiness. Then we have what the late Bishop Fulton Sheen called The University of the Moment, or simply The Now. This, I believe, is the key to organizing our hearts.
Let me share with you the “perfect” spiritual day in my family. It would be begin with me – mom – rising early to pray a morning offering and study a scripture passage. I would sit with my coffee and listen to Our Lord whisper to me in the cozy silence of the morning. The children would begin to wake and we would all gather around the table for a gospel reflection and morning prayers with Dad. The children and I would dress and head to St. Josephs for daily mass. We would stop our studies at noon to greet Mother Mary in the Angelus. We would learn about the saint of the day and observe their feast day with tea and a craft to illustrate a virtue. We would observe the hour of Mercy with the chaplet at three o’clock. We would end our day with the Rosary, family litany, and night prayers. I would thoroughly examine my conscience before climbing into bed. I would fall asleep reading the biography of a great saint while the children would drift off with visions of Joyful Mysteries in their heads. Oh how holy we would be!
Then there is reality – beautiful reality! As mothers we often hit the ground running each morning. My morning offering may be nothing more than a glance at the crucifix on my way out of the bedroom door. The baby needs nursing, the toddlers want oatmeal. There are clothes to iron, diapers to change, dishes to wash. Husbands rush out the door for early meetings; adolescents grudgingly drag themselves out of bed just about the time Father would be reading the gospel at mass. Some days, when we do make it to mass, I often think I should probably make a stop the confessional beforehand to confess the behavior I stooped to in order to get us all there in the first place!
Now don’t get me wrong, we should always aim high when it comes to prayer time and devotions. My vision of a ‘perfect’ spiritual day does actually happen from time to time, and usually at least few of those items are accomplished every day. But even in that ‘perfect’ scenario, there is a lot of time left in the day. As terribly romantic as it may seem to be able to spend our days deep in prayer, it’s simply not in our job description as mothers. In a nutshell, our job description is to serve
We are each created in the image and likeness of God. Christ lives in the soul of each baptized person around us. As mothers, we have the privilege of intimately knowing many faces of God right in our own homes. We have the opportunity to see, reflected in the faces of each of our children, another unique image of our own Creator. Through the adolescent boy with fuzz beginning to grow above his lip, Christ asks, “Listen to Me” Through the toddler with peanut butter smeared in her hair, Christ asks, “Tenderly wash me” Through the baby with a gaping smile and milk dripping off his chin, Christ asks, “Hold me.” It is in this reality, this present moment that we are given the opportunity to truly grow in holiness.
But what do we do when the requests seem to us more like nagging demands, or they are fired at us one after the other, or even all at the same time? We can sigh in exasperation “Calgon take me away”, but that only works in commercials. (Ask me how I know!) We can fulfill each request with the slamming of doors we feel they deserve, or we can do the ever so tempting: shut it all out and retreat to a book, television, or computer. In doing any (or all!) of the above, we are giving up moment after moment of sanctification. We are ‘skipping classes’ in the University of the Moment.
What exactly is “The University of the Moment”? While contemplating this phrase, I thought of how much sense it makes to us as mothers concerned with our children’s education. The University of the Moment is the unique curriculum tailored to each individual by God’s perfect Love. As mothers, we pray, research, discuss, and sometimes even agonize over education choices for our children. We take each child and examine their strengths, weaknesses, learning abilities, temperaments, and interests. We may decide to homeschool from a boxed curriculum, we may choose a parochial school, public school, or an eclectic homeschool. (, or Montessori, boarding school, classical curriculum, the choices alone are enough to exhaust us!) And there is no doubt that whatever choice we make, it is done out of our love for that child. -An imperfect love. As much time as we may spend with our children, as intimately as we may known them, our love for them is imperfect. Only God Loves with a Perfect Love. In His perfect Love, he tailors a unique curriculum to each and every one of us and that curriculum is the present moment – the Now. This curriculum is laid out before us only moment by moment, in each trial, setback, and obstacle we face. This is what Bishop Sheen said about our ‘unique curriculum’ designed by God:
“Every moment brings us more treasures than we can gather. The great value of the Now, spiritually viewed, is that it carries a message God has directed personally to us. Books, sermons, and broadcasts on a religious theme have the appearance of being circular letters, meant for everyone. Sometimes, when such general appeals do appear to have a personal application, the soul gets angry and writes vicious letters to allay its uneasy conscience. Excuses can always be found for ignoring the divine law. But though moral and spiritual appeals carry God’s identical message message to all who listen, this is not true of the Now-moment; no one else but I am in exactly these circumstances; no one else has to carry the same burden, whether it be sickness, the death of a loved one , or some other adversity. Nothing is more individually tailored to our spiritual needs than the Now-moment; for that reason it is an occasion of knowledge that can come to no one else. This moment is my school, my textbook, my lesson.”
When it comes to managing a household and raising children, discerning the “Now” takes some serious on the spot prioritizing. What exactly is my ‘NOW” when many things are being asked of me at once? The nitty-gritty of this is, of course, up to each of us to individually discern. I personally look to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a guideline. Just the other day when my oldest son was studying his catechism, he remarked to me how many of these works of mercy I accomplish each and every day! A few of these are obvious such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and admonishing the sinner. As I was reading through these again while preparing for this talk, instructing the ignorant really jumped out at me. Now, before you think I am calling my children ignorant, bear with me, this can be applied in a very practical way while discerning exactly how to meet everyones needs justly and with charity. An example of this may be when your four year old is just begging you to color with him and you are nursing the baby. Dinner still needs to be made, and then it will be bath time, prayer time, and bed time. It is quite obvious to you that coloring is simply not a possibility, it would be very easy and tempting to say No, and don’t ask me again! Instead you could look at this “Now” moment, as an opportunity to practice a spiritual work of mercy. You could say something along the lines of “Sam, I would really like to color with you, but Markie needs to nurse right now, then Daddy will be home and we will all be hungry for dinner, so we need to make dinner, maybe we can color tomorrow.” In this case, the four year old was ignorant to the needs of the rest of the family, and you instructed him. Both of you have learned a lesson from the University of the Moment! Of course this is a very simplified example and we will often be faced with many bigger, constant, and not so clear demands. But if we practice these things in small matters, they will come easy and natural in big matters. Like Our Lord said in Luke (Lk 16:10) “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.
We have to keep in mind that sanctifying the moment goes beyond the practical. It is a lot more than just plopping oatmeal into bowls, wiping bottoms, and teaching multiplication tables. We need to be truly present in the moment. When we serve Christ by serving our family members, do they, in turn see Christ in us? Do they see someone who is welcoming the opportunity to serve them, with warmth, love, and a genuine interest for their well-being?
It never ceases to amaze me, when I am kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, in a chapel full of people that God is there, present to me. He is concerned with nothing more than what is best for me, and at the same time, He is concerned with nothing more than what is best for the person beside me – all at the same time! This is only possible because God is outside of time and we live very much under time constraints, but there is still a lesson for us in this. We can imitate Him by being fully present to our individual children in even the most fleeting moments throughout the day. We need to learn to truly stop what we are doing, turn off the background noise in our heads, and focus on the person we are serving. This elevates our service from obligation to Love. It is certainly not our first inclination, and in reality is it not possible 100% of the time. (There is that pesky little “T” word again!) It is tempting though, to go on auto-pilot for the sake of efficiency. But when it comes to relationships, we should be aiming much higher than mere efficiency, the goal should be sanctity! And sanctity is possible, moment by moment…
I would like to wrap this up with the following beautiful thoughts from my dear friend Holly at Seeking Faithfulness:
What will they see?
Infant of mine,
What will you see,
As I wash your skin and change your clothes?
Eyes that are focused on the next task or eyes filled with the wonder of you?
Toddler of mine,
What will you see,
As my head bends over yours and we brush your teeth?
Will you see a mouth turned down, a brow furrowed with thought,
Or a quick smile, just for you?
Little boys of mine,
What will you hear?
Words that seep with tiredness and frustration,
Or encouragement that you really can be the good boys
You want to be?
Daughters of mine,
What will you learn?
That mothering is a chore, a burden, a list,
Or a fulfilling, joyful job, worthy of your life’s attention?
Strapping sons of mine,
What will you observe?
A woman eager to control, to keep you under her thumb,
Or a mentor eager to disciple by example, a helping hand?
Husband of mine,
What will you find?
A spirit that is hard to please, a distant soul,
Or warm arms to welcome you as you walk in the door?
It is humbling, frightening of sorts, to realize that I create the majority of the memories that my family will carry with them regarding home. How have I framed that memory for each individual? Will their childhood have been filled with one of love and warmth, or of mommy simply “doing her job?” Will their adolescent years be full of good times, or will they be years of bad recollections? Will they grow up to desire a family for themselves, or will they believe that the cost of a child is much too high in terms of time, work, and finances? And my husband, if I were to be called home tomorrow, what would his memories of me be?
Have I, through the help of the Holy Spirit, given my best for these I love?
Isn’t it good to know that we do not walk this path alone?
His mercies are new every morning!