"But, alas, what is there to the joys of this life? There is nothing solid in them and they pass away like a dream. I cannot understand how a heart that seeks God and wants to love Him can relish any pleasure outside of Him." ~St. Margaret Mary
My oldest son is now 18 years old. It's funny how those years raced by in a blur and I barely noticed what was going on-I just said my prayers and focused on the day to day details of raising a family. And then something changed. Just around five years ago, I started to notice the big picture more than just the day to day routine. Suddenly my time for God wasn't just limited to a few quick prayers in the early morning hours and a little bit of catechism sprinkled in for the good of my children, but now, He consumed my entire days; prayer became constant and my family's concerns seemed to take on a lesser importance than the time I devoted to God. I can no longer carry on a conversation without God being the focus of my words much to the chagrin of my sons who would rather have sports or school as the main topic of the family talk.
I often ask myself if my family now taking a back seat to God in my life? If I were to ask my children I'm sure they would say yes. My side of the dinner conversation is peppered with "I love Jesus" and "Let me tell you about the homily at daily Mass" and "Who wants to come with me to a Holy Hour?" and their side of the conversation is full of questions like "Mom, are you going to be a nun?" and "Why is it, Mom, that every time we talk to you, you respond with a homily?" and "Why must we have so many religious pictures in this house? I feel like I need to genuflect every time I walk into the living room!" and "Why should I go to a priest for confession when I could just tell you, that's almost the same thing, isn't it?" To which I respond with another homily and yet another trip to confession with a willful and defiant child in tow to beg penance for the sacrilege that resides in our household.
Just this past week my now 18-year-old and I were discussing his upcoming birthday when he casually mentioned that he has always enjoyed the fact that he was born on the feast of St. Margaret Mary, October 16th. It seemed as if bells began ringing in my nearly empty head. St. Margaret Mary is one of my favorite saints with her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and I often find myself tightly clutching her relic when worries and frustrations conquer my spirit. How did I miss the fact that my oldest son was born on her feast day? At the time of his birth I hadn't been aware of her feast day but thought it was awfully cute that he was born on Sweetest Day and was most determined to name him after the Pope because didn't every good Catholic name their first born son "John Paul" back then? So I gave my son an impressive and saintly name and then promptly put God back on his shelf with an occasional nod to his presence in my life, until the day when He finally demanded that I take Him down, dust Him off and gave Him the proper place as the center of my life.
I just finished reading The Nun by Margaret Trouncer. It is a factual novel about St. Margaret Mary. In the book, St. Margaret Mary's spiritual director and friend, St. Claude de la Columbierre, is quoted as saying in a homily:
"The jealousy of your Bridegroom reaches out to all who may inspire any feeling of friendship and of tenderness...Is there a friendship more praiseworthy, more apparently holy than the friendship you might have for a director showing you the path to heaven? However, if you have too much of an attachment to that director, if you desire his conversation, however holy, with too much eagerness, if you are not ready to leave him at the first command-that would be enough to grieve this Chaste Bridegroom. And what is more, He will sometimes be jealous of the very persons he orders you to love."
Reading this made me wonder, if God could be jealous of a nun's relationship with her spiritual director, couldn't he also be jealous of a wife and mother's relationship with her family, the very people that he created specifically for her life? Could it be that He was so tired of sitting on my shelf watching me devote myself entirely to my family with very little thought for Him beyond the obligatory requirements of Sunday Mass and mealtime prayer? Could He have been smarting from our occasional family rosaries knowing that it wasn't enough to take a firm and steady root in the hearts of my husband and children? Was He demanding more of this on again/off again Catholic?
St. Margaret Mary often snuck away from her horrifically abusive home life during her early years to spend time in natural surroundings where she felt the love of Christ, and during her years in the convent at Paray where many of the nuns treated her cruelly, it was her escape to the chapel alone with Christ that brought her comfort despite the fact that she suffered for it by poor treatment from her fellow nuns. Yet, even with her frequent forays alone with Christ, she never neglected her duties to family and obedience to the rule of the Visitation Order.
I know that the loving teasing which I occasionally endure from my children for placing Christ in His rightful place in the center of my heart is nothing at all compared to the taunting of the nuns who persecuted St. Margaret Mary for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and like St. Margaret Mary, I aim to never neglect the duties of my vocation as wife and mother. I hope to endure all suffering with the knowledge that the time I spend in prayer and the place of importance that Christ has in my life honors Him and keeps Him from jealously waiting for me to notice Him. My love and devotion to Him has the power to heal His broken Sacred Heart which continues to suffer from the lack of loving attention that is His rightful due from all of His children. I am His alone now and forever.
St. Margaret Mary Alocoque pray for us. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.
postscript to the above: Also found in The Nun about one of St. Margaret Mary's novices:
"She wrote the memoirs of her Mistress (the nuns ascribing the loss of all of her teeth to her excessive assiduity in writing."
I can only hope and pray that loss of teeth isn't a side-effect of excessive writing! It might be pride and vanity but I do hope to reach old age with all of my teeth intact! This quote made me think that Fr. James Martin, SJ would have had a good laugh over it and had he read it I'm sure he would have included it in his book Between Heaven and Mirth!