Our Lady of Tenderness
My husband and I recently had the joy of discovering that God has blessed us with a little one, whom we will welcome in late October. To celebrate, some dear friends presented us with an icon of the Marian image that is similar to the 0ne shown above. We love it; as we venture forward in our vocation as spouses and parents, there is no clearer reminder that the Church's greatest saints, and our Lord Himself, lived a family life, and that to consent to this calling is to be nearer to who He is.
Today is the feast of St. John of God, a sixteenth century soldier who founded a religious order; and it is perhaps in juxtaposition to such a calling that I often felt perplexed about the meaning and value of family life. After all, the family vocation is ideally centered around such cozy, comfortable themes as the hearth and the table, the abundance and stability that are so often not possible for so many in our wounded world. And it would often seem to me that the only way to live the Christian life in its proper radicality was through the renunciation of hearth and home, and I spent a lot of good time in prayer and reflection as to whether I should be a nun instead of a wife and a mother. In God's grace, the understanding only deepened that the baptized are not called to renunciation or militant expansion of the Kingdom ipso facto; we are called to be the true members of the true Church, which is a family. Yes, she is an army terrible with her banners; yes, she is a sentinel who stands guard over the truth, armed against invaders. But in her first member, our Lord's own mother, the Church is foremostly the nurturing place where the creation is re-born for the glad things that the Father intended in the first place, and as such she is the life of a family, who lives her life in her various families. And as such, in the humility of a family, she bears witness to the truth that her life is not a matter of mission merely. Rather, the Church is in herself, in her very existence, witness to the great consummation of all things, of the provision of the life, the joy, the bounty that constitutes Heaven and the grace of being that our God began. The appointed Kingdom has been given to the Son, and He hands it on to His Church, here and now; and perhaps there is no greater instantiation of the absolute givenness of this joyful truth than the audacious, humble, human act of forming households (whether domestic or religious) and welcoming children (whether through birth or through spiritual formation). To form a family in a seemingly war-torn environment is to say boldly in faith that, appearances to the contrary, our battles are won, our work is accomplished, the joy to come is given already, and it has only to grow.
In this way, there need be no dichotomy between the Church's invasive battles and the nurturing life of the family in our times, because as the saints remind us, the Church's territories are not marked and defended in terms of space and time; rather, the frontiers of the Church pass through ourselves. It is through mothers and fathers, sons and daughters that the lines which divide good and evil pass; these borders, and not those of an alien territory, are the lines which separate the "with God" from the "without God," the "for God" from all that is against Him, as the servant of God Madeleine Delbrel put it. It is in ourselves and through one another that we open up space for God's life to pass through; nothing else will carry us into the inner reality of the Church, and nothing else will extend God to the waiting world. For His life within us, we ought to be waiting- with a hearth, and a table, and the attitude of nurturing kinship. Our Lady of Tenderness, pray for us.