Bringing Up Baby—with Mercy: Part II
August 30, 2019
By Mark and Regina Piper, Mercy Associates
In the fall of 2017, mere weeks after our second child was born, we shared how we—two young-ish Mercy Associates—were trying to rear our children in the ways of Mercy.
We focused on the works of mercy, Gospel values, care for the Earth, and the spirit of Catherine McAuley. Now, as our children are two and five years old, we’d like to revisit these themes.
Additionally, we (Mark and Regina) have renewed our covenants as Mercy Associates in the last two years, so it’s a good time to see if we’re living them out amidst the diaper explosions, the car rides with kids belting out the ABCs on repeat, the dinners with fish that they won’t touch until we tell them it’s not really fish but chicken of the sea, and the random melt-down tantrums that recede just in time for calm cuddles and adorable, unprompted “I-love-yous” from our children.
Works of Mercy
We have discovered the secret to a clean house: don’t let children in it.
As we reported two years ago, we continue to get ample opportunities to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy, such as patiently bearing the troublesome. There are days that our kitchen may have had more Cheerios strewn about than a General Mills factory at the end of a shift. More seriously, especially over the past year with our five-year-old daughter, there is a lot of “counseling the doubtful,” and “comforting the afflicted.” Of course, the amount of comfort needed for a scraped knee doesn’t always seem proportional. Our children have a flare for the dramatic.
This July, on three successive Sundays (weeks 15, 16 and 17 of Ordinary Time) the Gospels summed up Christian parenting, with the flavor of Mercy. It may not seem like it, but going from the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the story of Martha and Mary and ending with an instruction on praying was an invitation and realization that parenting incorporates action and service with presence and listening, together with prayer.
It can be challenging to live out the commands of Jesus in these three Gospels, especially as parents with active, growing children. Showing mercy can be refreshing for the spirit but showing mercy day-in-and-day out to children can be taxing. So, too, can it be difficult to simply sit and be present with children—especially if they ask you to color, then inform you that you’re not doing it right. Cell phones down. TV off. Attentive listening to one’s child, even after a long-and-not-so-good day at the office, is just as important as showing mercy by taking action.
We end each day with family prayers. Sometimes our daughter wants “short prayers,” but short or long, the Our Father as Jesus prayed it is always included. And certainly between our two kids—who get along well—there’s still a most basic need for them to forgive each other, as the prayer says, when one forgets to ask permission to take the toy of the other.
Care for the Earth
Mercy, as we understand it, “responds at once” and has the dual nature of performing direct works of charity, while also addressing the long-range, systemic issues. Over the past two years, we have learned of new issues related to the care of the Earth. We hope we’re teaching our children about this Mercy Critical Concern through prayer, attention to personal and communal choices, and the need for advocacy and engagement with corporate or legislative leaders.
In early 2019, we switched from dropping our son off at an in-home sitter to dropping him off at a daycare facility. When we made the change, we were no longer able to use cloth diapers, but instead had to buy disposable diapers, which are not so good for our environment. This was a great disappointment to us. We also discovered that many daycares do not allow for breastmilk to be given. That makes it hard to boycott companies like Nestle (as the Sisters of Mercy of the UK have done). Thankfully, the daycare we selected allowed us to bring in breastmilk. From this, we see the need as parents for prayer and advocacy around systemic issues that could improve the lot of families and of our common home, the Earth.
Concluding with Catherine
We go to mass every Sunday, but that’s only part of how we try to keep holy the Sabbath and keep Mercy a living reality in our family, not just an intangible idea referenced now and again. Catherine McAuley said, “attend to one thing at a time: you’ve fifteen hours from six til nine.” She made her days holy not just by formal works of mercy, planned service and direct action, but also be ensuring her sisters danced in the evening and had comfortable cups of tea.
Mercy—parenthood—responds at once, not just to action-oriented-need, as shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but by stopping what you’re doing to listen and be present to those around you, especially one’s children. Whether doing or being, working or listening, if we are truly centered in God, we’ll be engaged in constant, fervent prayer. When our children grow up, we hope they will be like Catherine. Heck, whenever it is that we get around to growing up, we want to be like Catherine, too!
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