I traipsed up the aisle with a baby on my hip and four little ducklings waggling behind just before the choir belted the first verse of Sing Ye To The Lord. We stopped at the entrance of a pew and my Sunday-dressed brood filed into their seats. I followed them in, dropped my overstuffed diaper bag, knelt and surveyed the land. In the pew over sat a sea of 20 Missionaries of Charity — all wearing their beautiful Saris, their dark skin a deep brown next to their white cloth, their heads bowed and their rosary beads clinking against pews and kneelers.
“This ought be good,” I thought. “These ladies are trying to pray and we’ve just brought the traveling carnival.”
Lucky for all of us, Christopher, my toddler at the time, was in particularly rare form on this solemn Sabbath day. One of the Bishops, whoever he was, was celebrating his 50th anniversary of his ordination, which meant everyone who was anyone was present — a Cardinal, a few other bishops and at least 30 priests were around the altar.
It was when Christopher tried to grab the feathered hat off the Knight of Columbus sitting in front of him, I decided it was time to remove my son. But his toddler antics worsened in the Narthex, so I wandered back and forth from our pew most of Mass. I don’t mind telling you, when the priest concluded, “The Mass has ended let us go in peace,” my “Amen!” was heartfelt.
Afterwards, my older children spotted the beautiful sisters and rushed over to say hello to them. With sparkling eyes and big smiles, the Sisters gave hugs and asked questions. Before saying good-bye, they shoved holy cards of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta into chubby hands.
And then one of the Missionaries walked over to me.
“More children means more joy. Keep having children,” she instructed, her words thick with Indian accent.
I threw my head back and laughed out loud.
“You’re right, Sister, but did you just see how hard Mass was for me? This is tough work.”
I think I had temporarily forgotten to whom I was speaking.
Mother Teresa’s Sisters are the Marines of religious life. They don’t mess around and take their vows seriously. They are poor, chaste, and obedient which is more than I can say about myself. So why did I feel compelled to tell this sweet Sister my life is hard?
Because I had to wrestle with a two-year-old Hercules for 60 minutes?
Because I wanted pity?
Because I was desperate for a few words of encouragement?
If I’m honest, all of the above applies, but it was insensitive nonetheless.
Sister has her own crosses in her vocation and she wasn’t standing there sharing them with me. Maybe she gets lonely, maybe she would like to drive through the McDonald’s window every once and again to have someone serve her instead of always acting the servant, maybe she would like to see her family — or even just talk to them — more than once every couple of years. Or maybe her crosses are so deeply spiritual my carnal-minded self can’t even wrap my brain around them.
I don’t know, but I do know she wasn’t standing there griping to me, a complete stranger, about them.
Saint Francis de Sales said, “Suffer and offer up those trifling injuries, those petty inconveniences, that daily befall you. This toothache, this headache, this cold, this contempt, or that scorn. All these small sacrifices, being accepted and embraced with love, are highly pleasing to the Divine Goodness, who for a single cup of cold water has promised a sea of perfect bliss for His faithful.”
(I would include in his list of ‘trifling injuries’ managing tenacious toddlers during Mass, but I digress.)
Complaining to Sister that day about the irritations I face raising children–and why those irritations might be a potential obstacle to welcoming additional children — was a wasted opportunity to joyfully sacrifice for the Lord. It’s typically the little stuff Jesus wants me to surrender — the wiggle worm sitting next to me, the request for one more cup of water, or reading the same picture book for the 1000th time. These are the things He wants, the things that make Him happy.
A few years ago, I flopped onto my son’s bed so crowded with books and toys I wonder how he sleeps, to chat before lights out. Patrick, 7-years-old at the time, is on a strict diet and can’t eat most of the foods the rest of us enjoy. Our conversation meandered until he looked at me seriously and said,
“Mom, sometimes my diet is a heavy cross. Like when we go to restaurants and I look at what everyone else is having and I can’t eat it. Then it gets really heavy, Mom, and I get weighed down.”
“But other times,” he started again, “I think about my diet in a different way. I think about what I can eat at the restaurant and how I’m going to have fun and then my cross gets lighter.”
He concluded his teaching moment with, “It’s when I fight my cross, Mom, I have the hardest time.”
Tears dripped down my face as I smothered my boy in kisses.
Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” which is a fact the Missionaries of Charity and my little Patrick have tried to willingly embrace. If I could only follow their lead and learn to love those small crosses of mine instead of fighting them, I suspect my burdens would feel lighter too.
Colleen Duggan is a popular writer for Catholic media and holds a Master in Education from the University of Notre Dame. She has spent the last 12 years teaching religious education classes, running Bible studies, and giving talks on Catholic spirituality at the parish level.
Visit Colleen’s website: http://www.colleenduggan.net/
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