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.