There was a mountain of laundry.
“What a cliché,” I thought as I begrudgingly grabbed some little-boy pants and started to fold. I stood there, barefoot, pregnant with our fifth child, and supremely irritated at the mundane task before me.
“I’m a cliche,” I thought bitterly as I continued to fold and form large piles of the clothing I’d washed for my family. The negative thoughts about housewifery and motherhood continued to spiral around me as I experienced what I now realize was one of the lowest moments of pre-natal depression.
Then, as I progressed through little pairs of jeans and t-shirts and mismatched socks, I started to uncover a piece of paper I’d stuck to the laundry room wall months before: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,” read the Memorare in my own handwriting, “that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided…” I might have dropped an expletive. I was not having a receptive moment. Probably I was more of a Zachariah, liable to be struck dumb for my doubt than like a Blessed Virgin, who immediately opened her womb up to God, proclaiming herself the handmaid of the Lord.
I prayed the Memorare that day with the laundry, feeling a bit sheepish about my initial reaction. However, that’s exactly why I have placed that card in the laundry room, because I know that it is during loathed tasks that I need reminding of God’s grace. I ran and got the statue of Mary that had been my great-grandmother’s and decided she might do more good there instead of on my dresser upstairs.
Sacred Art at the Dinner Table
The texts, statues and images I have around my home are attempts to redirect my focus back to the heart of God, and I can’t help but think of the art of the churches I’ve visited throughout my life. As I am distracted at Mass by any number of things that might befall a mother of five, I see the vivid depictions of the Stations of the Cross and my mind is bounced back to the holy.
Afterall, that is the purpose of Sacred Art – our statues, paintings and other works that can be found not only in church, but in our homes – which the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “draws man to adoration, to prayer and to the love of God.” (CCC 2502)
Growing up, my mom shared her love of beautiful art with us. As a convert to Catholicism, her appreciation for depictions of Christ or beautiful images of the Holy Family or the Blessed Virgin translated into incorporation of sacred art into our décor. The collection grew to the point where even an unobservant stranger couldn’t walk into our house and miss the fact that we were Catholics. Years later, I realized I’d followed in the tradition of my parents. A young friend of my oldest child sitting at the dinner table looked around at the décor, which includes two crucifixes, images of the Good Shepherd and the Annunciation, and a chalkboard featuring a quote from a saint or the Bible, and remarked, “You guys have lots of Catholic stuff here.”
That might be one of the moments that I realized that our home could be a place not only of welcoming, but of evangelism too, and if not that, at least a place where our visitors can see visible signs of the faith we try to live.
Our Lady of the Backyard
We are not unique of course, as Catholics worldwide “advertise” their faith with sacred imagery inside or outside the home or business or in their vehicle. From the art inside Rome’s catacombs, to traditional Byzantine iconography, and some more modern interpretations, faithful Catholics have created and displayed sacred art for centuries. Outside of many churches, you can find examples of statues of Christ, Mary, and the saints providing us with beautiful places to stop and pray.
As I reflect on that, I think about the perception of people of faith throughout the world. Non-Christians express that the Church is to them an antiquated and sinking ship; feminists look at us as a sign of a patriarchy they want to demolish, and people of all kinds see our statues and art as signs of misplaced authority and abusive power. Though we want these misconceptions to be cleared up, I think we know that it isn’t enough to simply display sacred art, we need to be pointing with our very lives to the love of God.
In the meantime, perhaps we may become bolder in our use of the images that point to our love of God. When we moved to our home nine years ago, I shared the dream of a little Marian shrine and garden modelled after little grottos I’d seen in other people’s yards. Finally, when the Covid-19 pandemic had us all at home, my husband Joseph got to work building our now much-loved stone grotto, complete with a handmade wooden version of Our Lady.
Our Lady of the Assumption and of Our Hearts
With the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming up on August 15, this has me thinking of ways we can celebrate this new space as a family. We’ve braved the mosquitos to pray a rosary there, and also a few family prayer sessions on particularly hot evenings. In times of unrest, that is where I’ve gone this summer instead of my bedroom. To highlight the summer of newfound worship space, perhaps a crowning of our statue is in order, with the kids processing in song along with something simple like angel food cake or some other favourite celebratory food.
Though I’m sure our neighbours understood that we were Catholics before, this permanent fixture that can be spied over the fence has given us a few small opportunities to confirm it. Now, because we’ve overtly announced it, I am conscious of the path I must follow to strengthen my faith and the faith of my children so that our neighbours don’t see a statue signifying our devotion but also see a bunch of hypocrites. This is not to say we act perfectly all the time, and certainly we don’t need to put on a show of perfection for our neighbourhood (don’t worry – we’ve shattered any grand illusions with our boisterous crew and hot tempers), but the overt sign inspires me to make efforts to strive for our faith to flourish inside our home too.
Through this writing, I am humbled to realize how far I have yet to go. Certainly, I’ve padded the image of myself as a faithful church-lady with art and statues but be assured that this church-lady needs all the grace she can get. In these times of pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, a little wavering and questioning is to be expected, but I’ll confess that sometimes I have utterly failed to point the way to Christ in my own family. Without airing too much dirty laundry, I am reminded that Our Lady probably didn’t have tantrums demanding that St. Joseph “just take Jesus and go!” This is exactly why I need the reminders all around me, because even when I am failing, God is not. He is faithful, and in spite of my frequent need to stalk out to my garden lately to air my grievances, I know deep down that Our Blessed Mother only wants me to know His faithfulness too.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully. Jessica is a mom of five who attends St. Bernard’s parish in Calgary, AB.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers