For me, last month brought not April showers but two intense periods of reading. One involved a lengthy papal text and the other a mountain of children’s drawings and writings, but both dealt with the intersection of our Catholic faith and family life.
Both form a natural lead-in to this year’s Mother’s Day.
I sandwiched my reading of Pope Francis’ document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, on a long weekend flight to and from Park City, Utah, where I attended my twin nephews’ Confirmation. My wife Carol and our 9-year-old son Matt joined me.
Ironically, I was too engrossed in Pope Francis’s writing – which stresses the importance of spouses communicating with each other – to talk with my wife of 23 years and the mother of our three children seated beside me on the plane. (This being the Year of Mercy, I think she’s forgiven me.)
A couple weeks later, I again found myself racing to read a lot of pages, but this time, from Catholic elementary school and religious education students who had contributed to the “Junior Saints” section of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, where I work as editor.
What I found so touching about the children’s reflections is how much they synchronized with Pope Francis’s document. The pope wrote about the real-life challenges families face in today’s culture, and the kids did, too.
The pope writes about children distracted by playing with electronic gadgets, and parents coming home from work too tired to talk with their families at the dinner table. He encourages family members always to remember to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry,” and take time to pray together.
“In all families, the Good News needs to resound, in good times and bad, as a source of light along the way,” Francis writes.
The children expressed that same spirit as they reflected on what they admired most about Mary or their own mothers. Hailing from many different backgrounds, and attending Catholic schools both along city streets in Washington, D.C., and in suburban neighborhoods and country roads in Maryland, the children touched on some of the same family situations that Francis wrote about.
A fifth grade girl from rural Maryland wrote, “My mom is the reason I know Jesus and live for him every day.” An eighth grader from Maryland wrote, “What I love most about my mother is that she never stopped believing in me. She always told me I could do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This encourages me to follow my dreams and to do the best I can do in everything I try.”
“My mom believing in me,” she wrote, “has helped me to believe in myself.”
Several children wrote about their mothers’ everyday selflessness.
A seventh grader from another Maryland school noted, “What I love most about my mom is how strong she is. My mom is a single mom with two kids, and she will do anything for us. When people tell her she can’t do something, she proves to them that she can! I could not have asked for a better mom.”
Working mothers were the topic of many children’s gratitude and admiration.
A fifth grade girl from Maryland wrote, “My mom is an amazing woman… She helps me with my homework, and works more than eight hours a day as a nurse. She makes me feel better when I am sad. She inspires me…”
A fourth grade girl from Washington drew a picture of her mother taking care of things at home while working on her law degree.
The pope wrote about adoption, and so did a fourth grade girl from rural Maryland, who noted, “My mom is important to me because she took me in, adopted me and took care of me… I love my mom to the end of the universe and back.”
A second grade boy from suburban Maryland expressed wonderment about how his mother takes care of seven kids at once, including a baby. An eighth grade girl noted,
“My mom is very inspirational to me and many other people. She is a breast cancer survivor with a huge heart and will to help others.”
Many children found inspiration in their earthly mothers and the Blessed Mother.
A seventh grade boy from rural Maryland noted, “My mom and Mary are very much the same. They both love me and will do anything to help me get to heaven.”
The example of motherhood and love demonstrated by Mary and their moms was another frequent topic of the children’s writings.
An eighth grade girl, also from Maryland, noted, “The Blessed Virgin Mary stood by her son even in the hard times,” a point echoed by another girl that age who wrote, “A mother is a person who will love you no matter what. Mary is exactly that… She is a great example of what I want to be.”
This Mother’s Day, as I reflect with gratitude on the love and faith of my own mother and that of my wife, I’ll also try to take to heart what both Pope Francis and the Catholic schoolchildren wrote about – “The Joy of Love” unfolding right before me in my own marriage and family life, and even try to take time to talk with my wife now and then.
(Zimmermann writes for Crux out of Washington, where he also serves as editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper and website of the Archdiocese of Washington.)