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: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.