How often are we tempted to render judgment on whether someone we know is a “good” Catholic, based on how that person’s outward deeds appear to us? How often do we look at our own lives and wonder how God sees us, not only according to our deeds, but according to our inner dispositions? The command of Jesus to “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) should guide us in addressing these questions. After all, Christian charity demands that we “remove the beam from your eye first” before tending to the “splinter” in another’s eye (Matthew 7:5).
As I raise these issues, I have a particular set of circumstances in mind.
In many young families, both spouses work during the week. The reasons for doing so vary. For better and for worse, such reasons touch deep – perhaps even raw – nerves, both between the spouses and in relation to those in the older generation. Yet both older and younger generations still see the importance of working hard during week to provide for the temporal needs of their loved ones and to guarantee that weekends are as free as possible to spend time as a family. The stamina required for the women involved to achieve such a standard should stagger the male mind, and cause us to honor and respect the efforts of a working mom. Our society demands that females succeed as efficient, productive workers. Our faith calls the women we love to fulfill their vocation as a faithful wife and loving mother.
Today it is a blessing for all when a young wife and mother who needs to work finds the rare opportunity to drop her children off at school. She gets to hold small hands that still want to be held, give kisses to cheeks that still seek them, and receive smiles from tiny faces that look forward to learning new things. For generations mothers monopolized this blessing. Now, thankfully, more fathers get to experience it, too.
So what do we do when that working mother finds herself on the receiving end of a snide remark made by a stay-at-home mother, to the effect that the over-stressed working mom doesn’t quite measure up to “good” Catholic standards? The one making the remark probably sees herself as the “better” mother. But one can also see how the working mom might be moved to tears over the criticism. The fact that it is happening more and more between individuals who profess themselves to be Christians should sadden us all.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that lay Christians have “the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ” (CCC, 900).
Men of faith, it seems to me, must thank the young, working wives and mothers whenever they see them carrying out their vocation with strength and humility, and should defend them when they are unfairly ridiculed. We should thank them for witnessing to their Christian vocation, laboring selflessly at work to provide all they can for their families at home – even when faced with unthinking remarks.
This week look very closely when returning to the pews after Communion. Ask yourself why so many of the men and women walking out early have young faces and young children. Thankfully, they came to Mass seeking strength from the source and summit of the Catholic faith – the Holy Eucharist – in a world increasingly without much faith at all. Sadly, perhaps they leave early prepared not just to combat expected attacks from secular foes, but also by choice to avoid encounters with “friendly fire” from fellow parishioners who imagine themselves the “good” Catholics.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.