Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
As the Minnesota winter lingered on in full force in February we found ourselves a second weekend in a row in the nearby conservatory. We wandered through the beautifully landscaped greenhouses breathing in the humid, oxygen-rich air, remembering what it is like to be surrounded by green things. As my children dangled over the edge of a fountain, reaching for the tricking water, a conservatory volunteer handed them each a penny, instructing each to make a wish and throw the penny in. My 2-year-old son flung his in with gusto, but the girls pondered over their wishes for a moment and tossed theirs in as well. As we were walking away from the fountain through the greenery, one of my daughters clasped my hand and said, “Do you know what I wished for, Mom? I wished that I would go to Heaven someday.”
My journey into motherhood has not been a smooth one. I have discovered many of my own failings as I have learned the sacrifices required of me. I have fought and fussed for my own way (much like a toddler) only to finally accept that God is more stubborn than I am and that His ways are better than mine. I know this is true for most of us when it comes to the spiritual life, but I want to look at what it means when it is applied to being a parent. You see there are so many things we can fuss about as parents. We worry about our children’s grades, their clothes, what they are eating, their health, their friends, how much sleep they get, whether they are quiet at church, whether they sit still long enough to do their school work well. We worry so much that we often forget that only “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42), that we give our children have the means to get to Heaven. Even that we have little control over. Even that we have to surrender to God, ultimately and firstly.
I became a godmother for the third time this past spring. I held the week-old baby in my arms, as his parents looked on, and heard him gasp as the Holy Spirit freed him from original sin. His mother had handed him to me, entrusting his future faith to God and the Church. From the very beginning of our children’s lives in our acts of choosing godparents and in presenting our children for Baptism we acknowledge that they are not ours, but God’s. That does not free us from the responsibility of raising them in the faith, but as our children get older we realize more and more that the ultimate choice to believe and to live as Catholics is theirs.
That is why it was so sweet to me when my daughter, given a chance to wish for anything, wished to go to Heaven. I pray daily that she and all of my children never lose the childlike faith that they exhibit now. I love when my youngest two pretend at Mass together, singing the snippets of hymns that they can remember. I love when my older children express to me their desires to pray a Rosary, read about saints and from Scripture, and go to adoration. I try to foster these desires and these habits of prayer: first, by modeling it in my own life, second, through teaching them about our faith, third, by reading Scripture with them, and fourth, by discussing times of day and ways that they can pray. Yet, even as I give them all this knowledge and encourage habits of prayer, I know that my children have the very same free will that lead to the First Sin. I realize that they are capable to turning away from all of these things, and if they do, all I can do is pray.
So, I do pray. I pray daily for them to always have and live our faith. I pray for them to grow in love of God. I place them in the hands of Our Blessed Mother to bring to God for me. I know that so many parents have had the heartache of seeing their children leave the faith, and even now, I encourage them to pray, pray, pray.
I find encouragement for prayer from St. Monica and her preserving intercession for her son St. Augustine of Hippo, who spent many years without faith. Yet, as a mother of younger, not-grown children, I look to the writings of St. Zélie Martin, the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She wrote in her many letters to her sister-in-law about how she took great joy in raising her children to love God. Her daughter Léonie Martin was the most difficult of her children. St. Zélie worried much about this daughter, who had been cured of a severe illness as a toddler. Zélie petitioned to her dying sister, who was a Visitation nun, to bring the intention of Léonie’s difficulties to with her to Heaven. She asked her:
The moment you’re in Heaven, go and find the Blessed Mother and tell her, ‘My good Mother, you played a joke on my sister by giving her poor Léonie. She’s not a child like the one she asked you for and you must fix this.’ Then go and find Blessed Margaret Mary and tell her, ‘Why did you miraculously cure her? It would have been much better to let her die [before the age of reason], and you are bound by conscience to repair this misfortune.’ (CF 182).
Shortly after her aunt’s death, miraculous changes happened in Léonie’s life, which put her on the path to sainthood. She still had many struggles, but she persevered in them to the end. She now is the fourth of Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin’s family to have a cause for canonization.
I go to Sts. Louis and Zélie daily petition for their prayers for my family and for my children. They were given great grace, and this is the grace for which I pray for my family. I see fruits of their prayers in my own family life, as my children tell me pious things, show a desire for and understanding of truth. My daughter reminds me of the holy Martin family when she wishes to go to Heaven, and when she tells me, “Mommy, I am praying everyday that I do not die before my First Reconciliation and my First Communion.” And that reminds me that, as the youngest Martin child St. Thérèse, is so famous for saying, “Everything is a grace.” If my children keep their faith and are brought into Heaven it will be because of grace.