Spirituality of Family Life

There were two stone masons, each doing the same job. The first, a melancholy man, was asked what he was doing. “I lay stones,” he replied, looking sullen. “Every day, stones and mortar. No difference from one day to the next. I lay stones, I get paid.” His was a dreary life.

His colleague was asked the same question. His eyes brightened as he carried the next stone and laid it upon the others he’d laid. “I’m building a cathedral!” he exclaimed.

The difference between living a spirituality of family and going through the tedious motions of work and parenting is a vision of the big picture, the cathedral-building. To the extent that I can see the cleaning up, the doing chores, the driving children around, the to-do lists, the time for family and in-laws, and so on, as the stones in a cathedral, it is easy to have a spirituality of family life.

The early Jesuits saw themselves as contemplatives in action. (So did the early Franciscans and Dominicans, for that matter.) Their work in the world was to “help souls.” Parents and spouses are similarly invited to be contemplatives in action, rooting themselves ever deeper in the life of Christ so that they might bear fruit in the joys and struggles of family life. Each family is a “domestic church,” a small example of a place where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name to manifest Christ’s presence. We too can see our daily work as helping souls–those of our immediate and extended families, our schools and communities.

Christ gives each family member a unique mission: to be a saint building not only a cathedral, but a palace in which will unfold the kingdom of God. And that mission will unfold one diaper at a time, one act of forgiveness at a time, one chore at a time, one stressful day of balancing work and family at a time. No mission is easy; but the struggles that make its execution difficult are also what make the mission glorious. And the glory is all God’s. And the joy that emerges, sometimes only in retrospect, is all ours.


  1. Looking at our five grownups (3 sons and 2 daughters), four of whom are married and parents of seven kids in all, I can only marvel with much graciousness how we navigated the seemingly endless days ( backbreaking, many times mind boggling days) of growing five robust kids with differing personalities. But seeing them as God’s priceless gifts to us allowed us to watch the unfolding of human consciousness in them and respect who they have become. Together we were and still are (though struggling differently) the little church that thrives in this complex almost secular world. Would it that our grandchildren find their own places in the sun with God’s blessing.

  2. I love observing families who are visiting DC and checking out the sights. Sometimes after giving directions, I can engage them in conversation. Next time I get that priceless opportunity, I will remember this “Spirituality of Family Life” post.
    “[The mission will unfold] one diaper at a time….” Yep, that’s why this childless woman prays for families.

  3. I recently had a conversation with a friend who has decided not to have children. She said that although she feels completely at peace with this decision, she still feels saddened for parents who do not seem to find joy in parenting (or in their children). We talked about the kinds of pressures – poverty, stress, etc. – that can keep people from finding joy in this work/vocation. But it strikes me that an openness to grace is where the joy can spring from. The work can be grueling, but if I take the cathedral view, the long view, God’s view, then I find joy through grace.

  4. This was great. I agree wholeheartedly that the attitude with which we take up our role as family member will determine whether the experience is endless drudgery or grace-filled opportunity. this is the fundamental option of being a parent. I can even recall a day back when my daughters were little when that option became crystal clear for me. It was a Saturday morning and I was exhausted. They, on the other hand, were eager to play and they desperately wanted me to join them. Sprawled out on the sofa I had a choice–put down the morning paper, gather my energy, unleash the little kid in me and join the fun, or resist the invitation to offer my real presence to my children. I’m glad to say we had so much fun that day it looked like a tornado had blown through our living room. As Tim says, every calling in life has its challenges, but what can make parenting miserable for some is not what is required, but whatever resistance we have to putting our whole selves in.


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