Motherhood and the sanctuary of the home

Jared Staudt

We’ve all been spending more time at home than usual, and, even as we’re all anxious to return to normal life, there have been blessings in our confinement. One of them is discovering the power of the domestic church. The word “church” means assembly or gathering, and the Catholic Church is the gathering that God intends for all people. Families are small groups of the faithful gathered in the home, expressing love in prayer, learning, food, and fun, in the middle of plenty of challenges.

One recent book captures the essence of the home as a sanctuary, Theology of the Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday (TAN, 2019), co-authored by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber. It’s not a practical “how to” book, but a contemplative reflection on the beauty of home life. “Catholic daily living — with all its imperfections and struggles, its mercy and its joys, not to mention aesthetic and hospitable beauty, and nourishing food (and hopefully some good red wine) — can be an intoxicating inducement to the reality that is fuller, more secure, more exciting, and more fulfilling when lived in the context of the divine. To step inside this context is a foretaste of heaven, and sometimes, mysteriously, this experience can be even more profound for a stranger than being inside a church. For in the liturgy he may not know the ‘language,’ but the language of the home is universal” (4).

Theology of the Home explores themes such as the experience of entering within, the role of remembering, the importance of light, the nobility of building, the centrality of nourishment, engaging nature, the need for order, the place of comfort, the offer of hospitality, how to balance it all, and even the importance of leaving. It certainly requires hard work, but also creativity, shaped by prayer to make the home a place of Christian encounter: “Marsilio Ficino, a 15th century Florentine thinker, once said, ‘Poets and makers of beautiful things share in the same desire to achieve virtue through their creative powers. And through their love of beauty, they draw themselves closer to God.’ Ultimately, our creativity doesn’t depend solely upon everything around us going exactly as we would like — with floor swept, breakfast dishes done, and dinner in the slow cooker. Order is certainly important. But it depends much more upon our openness to God — the Creator, and beauty’s source” (118).

We know, however, that family life is not always peaceful and easy. It is an adventure! A local author and former youth minister, Allison Auth, describes her own adventure of discovering motherhood in Baby and Beyond: Overcoming Those Post-Childbearing Woes (Sophia, 2019). The heart of the home stems from relationship, and Auth plumbs the beauty and struggles that shape the contours of parenting. As a father of six, I resonated with many of her stories, as the experiences of childbirth (much different for a father, of course!) and the bumps of the postpartum life are full of surprises and unexpected challenges. Auth’s goal is to shed light on the postpartum experience, as she noticed that so many books skip over it, leaving many moms, struggling after birth, feeling “alone, overwhelmed, tired, and guilty.” In response, her book wants to tell those with these feelings that they are not alone: “Whether you have full-blown postpartum depression, or simply a roller coaster of other emotions, there is a place for those feelings here. The experiences in this book are mine, but my hope is that in sharing my story, I can offer you some hope and peace for your journey” (6).

Baby and Beyond addresses helpful details about postpartum depression, physical recovery, natural family planning, the spiritual life, and community. Having a lot of children in quick succession, I can attest, is challenging. Expressing this natural frustration at the challenges that come with it, Auth also points to God’s work in perfecting us through the self-sacrifice that it requires. “When God allows us to go through trials in our marriage, it is because, in His wisdom, He knows it can ultimately bring about good in us, provided we accept His grace” (69). The difficult moments subside, and, after being stretched to the limit, we begin to see interior growth and also fruits in the family. Auth offers much good advice, but, most of all, important encouragement in staying devoted to what is most important. “Postpartum motherhood requires getting back to basics and ordering priorities. I may not be as adventurous as I was before having children, but I am more courageous in other ways and a lot less selfish than I used to be. I am the most influential person in my children’s lives, not only by meeting their basic needs but also forming their characters and introducing them to God. I also know God’s love in a deeper way that I used to. I value community and strive to build authentic relationships. I’m more grateful to the little blessings in life that I was before” (123).

In the midst of our current difficulties, let’s be grateful for our blessings, invest in our family and friends, and trust in God even more.

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.