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Building Cathedrals, Raising Children
My wife and I are both fond of a story told of a man who visited the site of a cathedral in progress. The man went up to one worker who asked what he was doing. “Are you blind!” The man snarled. “I’m cutting up these enormous rocks in the blazing sun. They’re insanely heavy, my back is killing me, and I’m sweating buckets, what do you think I’m doing?” Startled and taken aback, his visitor left him and moved on to another worker. With some trepidation, he asked the second worker what he was doing. The second worker, however, responded more calmly: “I’m cutting these large stones according to the mason’s specifications, then preparing them to be moved to their next location. It’s difficult work and quite warm, but it’s honest work and supports the wife and kids too.” More encouraged, his visitor moved on to a third man and asked him what he was doing. “Can’t you see, man!” The third worker asked with a broad smile on his face as he waved his hand at his work, “I’m building a Cathedral!”
I don’t remember where I first heard the parable, but it is an old one and one that always struck a chord with me. It speaks of the joy of work, the importance of perspective, and the way a clear focus on the goal can give meaning to the entire process. I thought of it again after reading a recent post by a guest writer for us (link), Louisie Merrie, who wrote of her visits to two of her friends’ families and how they helped her take the time to relax, slow down, and pray more. Her reflection on their family life was a charming and welcome reminder of some of the joys of family life.
The reminder is an important one, for families, perhaps especially parents with young children, can easily let themselves become overwhelmed in the immediate challenges and struggles of family life. The struggles of toilet training, managing children in public or getting them--especially toddlers and preschoolers-- ready and through mass, the feeling one can barely keep the house presentable can all feel overwhelming at times. We can feel perpetually short on sleep, or spent and ready to sit down and rest just as some new problem demands our attention.
We may often feel like the first man in the parable, focused on the immediate task and the difficulties it poses. This is entirely understandable. Certainly, parenting today carries with it significant challenges. This is all the more the case in the modern world where even the decision to have children, let alone a commitment to raising them, can be radically countercultural. Indeed, G.K. Chesterton once commented that “the most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” Modern culture is more against us than perhaps at any point in history. People have fewer children and smaller families, and there is less family and community support than there have probably ever been for raising families. Indeed, we may often feel like the first man in the story.
At other, more calm times, we may feel like the second man. Tired, conscious of the fact that we are working hard, but understanding that we are doing good and honest work like our parents and grandparents before us. Indeed, hopefully we feel like the second more often than we feel like the first man in the story.
But, better still to be like the third man. “What am I doing? Can’t you see? I’m building a Cathedral.” Every parent is building a cathedral. Every diaper changed, every nighttime story read, every tantrum dealt with, every time struggling through Sunday mass or evening prayers, stress of schooling, family vacations that seem more work than vacation, and forming one’s children are not only about the things themselves. They are about building the Cathedral, or rather, raising children to be saints. It is important not to lose that perspective during difficult or trying times. We are raising saints. Of course the task will not be easy; building Cathedrals could take well over 100 years. An architect could begin one knowing he would die before he saw his work completed. Most parents will too. Of course family life isn’t always easy (though certainly it has its rewards); we are raising saints. Of course, we may sometimes feel discouraged and tired– the devil wants us to.
To avoid that discouragement, we should try, as much as possible, to be like the third man in the story. We maintain our sense of perspective, looking not only at the immediate challenges, but at the purpose and goal for which we are aiming. Then, like the third man in the story, we will be able to say, “what am I doing? I’m raising a saint!”
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