A recent Friday morning found me at the funeral Mass for a friend’s mother, and I had to take the two youngest with me. We lasted only a few minutes in the main church. My three year old, his toddler voice echoing during the quiet and solemn service, sent us into the vestible. I could hear the readings from the speakers back there, and listened while the kids sprawled at my feet. It was Matthew’s Gospel of the final judgement, where Christ tells of separating the sheep from the goats. I felt my stomach knotting up as I listened.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’”
Ugh. I worried that I was going to be a goat. After all, I never visited anyone in prison. I racked my brain. I wrote a letter to someone in jail once, did that count? And it had been a long, long time since I had shadowed the entrance to a soup kitchen. Although, hey – there was that Gatorade I gave to a guy looking for change in the Costco parking lot. Hmmm….I delivered some outgrown clothes to the parish rummage sale last month. Not quite the same as clothing the naked, though. This wasn’t looking good. I hung my head.
And then, as if on cue, I felt a sticky hand tugging on my black skirt. “Mommy, can I have some water? I’m thirsty.”
I absently handed him the water bottle, and then, as I looked at the little face, everything became clear. As if God himself had turned the lens and put my life back into focus.
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Of course. I knew then what the King himself was trying to tell me. This was the time in my life when the “least” were my little ones. (Although now some of my little ones are taller than their mother!) Six times I had welcomed tiny strangers to this new, bright world, clothed them in pink and blue hats and blankets, fed them, and nursed them through countless nights of fevers and tummy aches. Twice I had welcomed new life, and had to give it back again before I could do any of those things.
And still now, all the grocery shopping, mac and cheese making, loading of endless piles of t-shirts and basketball jerseys into the washing machine…teaching them their prayers, taking them to Mass – I was doing what God wanted me to do. I was taking care of him, of him living and dwelling in the souls of those he had deliberately entrusted to me.
Yes, I could do more. I should do more. I recalled singing Christmas carols with my kids at a nursing home, or visiting elderly relatives on the weekends. We needed to do more of that as a family. But the reality is, I don’t have a lot of time to take from this precious bunch of kids to put into outside service right now. It would be an injustice to take too much of what is theirs – my time and attention – and give it away.
For now, I had to be a missionary into the heart of my family.
There are no shortages of quotes from Blessed Mother Teresa about this very reality. People would want to do what she did, to care for the poorest of the poor in the farthest corners of the earth. But she would always point them back to their own families first. One of her quotes that comes to mind is this one:
“Do you know the poor of your own home first? Maybe in your home there is somebody who is feeling lonely, very unwanted, very handicapped. Maybe your husband, your wife, or your child is lonely. Do you know that?”
If you are caring for his lambs, you are one of the sheep.
For the full message of Mother Teresa’s entitled “God Has Sent the Family to be His Love” please see the pro-family website here.
Claire Dwyer is a wife and mom of 6, mothering through the joys and challenges of teenager and toddler years, and delighting in the sacramentality of daily life. She graduated with a degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and now enjoys leading women’s studies and writing – when she can come up for air between loads of laundry. She also writes at eventhesparrow.com and Catholicmom.com.
copyright 2015 Claire Dwyer
Photo of Mother Teresa by Manfredo Ferrari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons, Photo of lamb by Donald Macleod from Stornoway, Scotland (Cheviot Lamb) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons