A Pope Nails Parenthood: “The Kingdom of Irrationality”

“Nooooooo!” I couldn’t help but cry out as the three year old began to pour the container of salt – the giant Costco container of salt, moreover – all over the kitchen floor.  He smiled gleefully despite my dismay, then scurried off as his older brother and sister chased each other through the kitchen, knocking the four-dollar cup of coffee off the counter to spread its sticky sweetness into the dunes of salt on the tile.

There went my plans of sipping coffee while reading and preparing for my upcoming women’s study.  I was supposed to be delving into St. Edith Stein’s contributions to Pope St. John Paul’s genius of women.  Instead, I was on my knees mopping up this mess. And I was tired, to top it off.  The tears tumbled out, mingling with the mixture on the floor.

I sat back on my knees, brushed the hair out of my eyes, and caught my breath.  That’s when the words pressed upon me.  A phrase that had struck me like a bolt of lightning when I had first read it, months ago.  “The kingdom of irrationality.”  It referred to a life of a mom with littles.  How perfectly it captured these moments of craziness, of days of dizzying activity yet seemingly devoid of any rhyme or reason.  Of coffee-stained to-do lists I can’t find.  Of laundry that mysteriously seems to multiply on its own.  Of pantry cupboards that have the opposite problem.  Of tears and tantrums and teenagers.  Of afternoons carefully orchestrated around naps that never happen.  Of days and nights that blur together sometimes into one long stretch of weary.

“The kingdom of irrationality.”  Thought up by a mom, right?  Probably one with a bunch of kids.  Wrong.  That phrase was coined by our own Pope John Paul II, written before his rise to the papacy, to a young mother, a long-time friend of his who was struggling to get enough sleep after giving birth to twins.  It is reproduced in George Weigel’s Witness to Hope:

Dear Teresa:

You were afraid that I wouldn’t be able to read your letter to the end.  Well, I not only finished it but I carried its meaning within me for several days, thinking about what to reply.  Today, these thoughts crystallized when I was receiving the vows of some sisters. I sense tiredness in your letter, which is easy to understand…On top of this, you always wanted to plan and do everything rationally.  And here is the kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough; you need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and simply, patience – especially since there are two.  I realized that, on the one hand, there is always a price we pay for love.  On the other, thanks to God, love is returned in that price.  What I mean is, the concrete challenge of love cannot be separated from Him; it is always in Him. (215)

JohannesPaul2-portraitI mean, wow.  How did he GET it?  I really couldn’t have said it better if I spent a lifetime trying.  How many books and articles on time management, rules of life, and make-ahead meal planning had I read eagerly?  How many plastic bins and labelled containers littered our home from long-ago efforts at organizing?  How many schedules had been adopted and abandoned?  How many books waited to be read, how many plans filled my head, how many hopes in my heart?  And yet here I was, sweeping salt.  I want rationality, but I live with kids.  I live in a kingdom called “Irrationality.”  And this saint, who lived in the palace of Peter, seemed to know it so well that he named it.  He nailed it.  HOW?

Because he loved people, and he shared their life.  What I have read about Pope John Paul II is that, beginning as a young priest, he practiced something called “accompaniment.”  He believed a priest’s presence “couldn’t be limited to the sanctuary and the confessional”  (Weigel, 100).  He wanted to journey through life with those entrusted to him, and he did.  He studied with them, prayed with them, attended their parties.  He camped, hiked, sang, laughed with them.  He celebrated masses, weddings, baptisms.  I love this: for those expectant mothers in his circle of friends, he would give her a day of recollection before she delivered.  Not to mention, he heard their confessions, which could last an hour or longer.  In other words, he knew them, and he knew their lives, even the life of marriage and family that he had given up in order to serve them, to serve Christ.  And he walked that life with them. “The duty of a priest,” he wrote in 1957, “is to live with the people, everywhere they are, to be with them in everything but sin.” (Weigel 104)  “‘Accompaniment’ was a way of ‘walking with’ young adults, of helping them unveil their humanity by living through their problems with them.” (106)  The earliest group of friends sought out and formed by the young Fr. Wojyla called itself Rodzinka, which translates as “little family.”

And even when his life was transformed by the papacy and his friends had to share him with the world, I’m sure he took their intentions with him, and ours as well.  Until finally he not only walked with us, he carried us.  I think for all his worldly and spiritual accomplishments I’ll like this one best: that he managed as a busy priest to enter into the life of a mother, to ponder her words and worries “for several days” and that he took the time to write to her, encourage her, understand her, perhaps better than she understood herself.  So gently, he managed to remind her, without the faintest hint of “preachiness,” that of course love comes with suffering, but joined to God, it is given weight and meaning and is finally returned back to us.  As if to say, “I know this is really, really hard.  But it’s your vocation now.  And if you can hang in there, and hang onto God, He’ll wrap you up in Himself and make it beautiful.”

If Pope John Paul II longed to accompany his friends then, how much more urgent and perfect must be that desire now.  How much more real must be his longing to share our life, for the sake of drawing us with him into Christ, from that side of heaven.  With his humor, wit, wisdom, warm and pressing affection, now he is ours more than ever.  If there is a word that can best sum up our understanding of devotion to the saints, maybe it is “accompaniment.”  For although they have completed this part of life, we know they have no desire to leave us behind.  Indeed, as we profess, we are part of a communion.  Padre Pio said, “I will stand at the gates of heaven until all my spiritual children have entered.”  St Therese the Little Flower declared, ” I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

Sometimes we want a saint for a cause, an intention, a miracle.  But maybe we just need one for the journey.  Maybe we should allow them to accompany us, so see and share our little glimmering joys and stabs of sorrow.  To sense our tiredness, as Pope John Paul did with Teresa, and to understand it.  To enter into our everyday.  Isn’t there a beauty in that?  Today in his homily, our priest suggested that we don’t find the saints.  They find us.  They adopt us.  I guess you could think of it as bringing us into their own…Rodzinka.  A family that always shares in the everyday, the hum-drum, the sticky side of things.

Let’s gather them up then, this vast, varied collection of friends, more numerous than the stars.  A Catholic galaxy.  They may not always be able to make our lives more “rational,” but they offer us their unseen presence, sympathy, prayers, love.  They understand us and our wayward lives better than we realize and want to accompany us through them.  Let’s sweep them into our day, our prayer, our little spills and spoiled plans.  Like so many grains of…salt.

Who are some of your favorite saints – and how did they “adopt” you?

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23 thoughts on “A Pope Nails Parenthood: “The Kingdom of Irrationality”

  1. That was a truly stunning read! Loved it from top to bottom!!! St. Maria Faustina adopted me. In a Catholic book bookstore for some strange reason I bought a medal/ necklace that came with a card. Her diary is a wonderful read in this year of mercy.

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  2. St. Catherine of Genoa. I thought myself to be pretty knowledgeable of the saints, but this dear saint found me! I read a short biography and said, “Wow! We have so much in common!” I found a sweet confirmation of this when a priest friend and i were talking about death, heaven, hell, purgatory. He mentioned her writings and I got excited. (Apparently she wrote on purgatory.) He was surprised to find I not only had heard of her, but had a devotion to her. I keep adding the saints by reading Lisa Hendley’s A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

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    1. Hi Emily! What a small world. I first came to know St. Catherine of Genoa last year in the Women of Grace study; her life is highlighted in one of the lessons. I think she is such a great patroness for faithfulness in marriage. And….an added bonus, her feast day is on my birthday, Sept. 15th, although overshadowed by Our Lady of Sorrows. Thanks for sharing!!!

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      1. We wanted the Feast of the Assumption for our wedding day in 1990. Glorious, right? The Parish was booked that so by default we were blessed with Our Lady of Sorrows. Our firstborn was born 11 months to the day after we were married. Feast of the Assumption. She was baptized at our parish, OL of the Assumption. God is so funny and has a lovely sense of humor.

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  3. St Gemma Galgani! A friend, who has since entered a Carmelite Monastery, brought me a picture and relic of St Gemma from Italy almost 20 years ago. I found it again, providentially, a couple of weeks ago, and started to read more about her. She was a victim soul who suffered greatly and willingly for our Lord, and she is the patroness of those with back pain. At present, I have been housebound and in pain due to rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc pain in my back. Although I didn’t enter into this suffering willingly, St Gemma has been such a comfort to me.

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    1. Guess what, Andrea? My daughter Gemma is named after that lovely saint! I read her biography while pregnant and it seemed like a no-brainer to choose her for a namesake. I’m so sorry about your pain; what a gift, though, that your faith is strong and you know the redemptive value in suffering. I will pray for you, too.

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  4. Lovely piece! I just found you through CatholicMom.com this morning, while seeking how best to prepare a daily reflection for that site since I’ll have the privilege of doing one for next year. I’m still fairly new to Catholicism (it’s been 7 years since my Confirmation), so I don’t have much knowledge of the saints. But having read your post, I’m eager to read George Weigel’s book. John Paul II was an extraordinary man, but as believers we know he didn’t become that way through force of will. He was transformed by Christ. I’ll be following you! Thank you so much.

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  5. Hi Claire, Thank you for this post. Reading the beginning, I felt like you’d been in my kitchen watching my youngest son, only with him, it was 5 pounds of sugar he gleefully played in! Fortunately, I didn’t have the coffee to compound matters.

    I was five months pregnant with our fifth little boy (surprise!) when my husband left suddenly. I know I could not have made it had it not been for the Holy Spirit which is an almost tangible presence in my life. Saint Faustian and Jesus’ message of lukewarm faith was a HUGE, life changing wake up call to me.

    Much more recently, I’ve been drawn to Saint Michael the ArchAngel to defend us in battle, the battles we face in terrorism, the battles our country faces in morality, and the battles being a single Mom of five amazing boys faces. I’ve also felt more drawn to Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was my chosen Confirmation Saint 30+ years ago but whom I’ve been neglecting. I admire her intelligence, determination, courage, and chastity, none of which would be possible without her Faith, Hope, and Love for the Trinity.

    I’m joining Allison Gringas’ Reconciled to You #SnapAdvent linkup and am so glad yours is the first blog link I clicked on. We Moms of Many have to stick together! 🙂

    Also, just in case anyone was wondering…My littlest guy is six now, and I thank The Lord every day that I am profile. He is living proof that God’s plans are greater than our own.

    Thanks for sharing and God Bless…

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  6. Claire, please keep writing! I loved this post. I came to your site after I saw two different friends of mine share your article on Facebook. After reading, I shared your post as well. You may get a lot of readers!

    For saints, I’ve felt like a few saints have picked me out over the years. Saint Faustina and St. Margaret Mary Alocoque were phenomenal. I felt like they spoke directly to my heart. I feel like St. Faustina taught me how to pray in a very difficult time in my life.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  7. A friend whose faith and mothering I greatly admire shared this on FB, and I’m so thankful. A great read!

    St. Michael found me a couple yrs ago. I recently named my third son after him. Sweet Mary found my daughter. Her middle name is Elizabeth so we always asked St Elizabeth to pray for her. Last yr, at age 3, my daughter informed me her patron saint is Mary. I love her devotion to our Mother.

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  8. St. Zelle Martin. I was really struggling with discerning my vocation. I’d already gotten engaged, but I was really, really struggling with scruples, wondering if I’d spent enough time discerning, if God actually wanted me to be a nun instead, etc. I was suffering a lot of anxiety over it. I found a book about her over my Christmas break and found out she had gone through something similar. Then, a year after I got married, she was canonized and her and her husband’s feast day landed on our wedding anniversary. 🙂

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