They said that I should have an apostolate if I wanted my kids to grow in faith. That I should build up the kingdom. Use my skills. Be a leader. Be salt and light to the world. They said that it wasn't enough to love my kids... that God made me for more.
They were wrong.
My family is my apostolate. My home is my headquarters. My husband my fundraiser. If God calls me to do some further outreach, it will only be that which does not leave my family unloved, uncared for, or with only the leftovers of who I am.
My apostolic works have often been excuses... distractions... ways of feeling like a productive Christian while avoiding the harder work. A way of breaking up the boredom of sacrificial work done without devotion.
I would have been a better woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and homeschooler over the last 20 years if I hadn't bought into the idea that I needed to become some kind of minister to the world. Some moms have the gift of being high energy. I am not one of them. And I have expended myself in so many different directions and I was convinced that my outreaches and apostolic works were the moral equivalent of what I was doing at home. I now believe I was wrong.
I once printed out the words of Pope St. John Paul II to recall them in my daily work. He said:
"You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table."
I fancied myself a real winner because I thought I understood his message which was to care for the poor of the world in a way that costs something. I knew what it meant to be on the receiving end of Christ-like sacrificial love and I knew the power of the mercy of Jesus and I wanted to be that for others. My problem was that I didn't see the hypocrisy of leaving the crumbs for my own children while I fed strangers.
I didn't see them as guests.
I didn't see them as the poor.
I didn't see them.
Not through the lens of Christ anyway, but only as a shallow mom.
Oh, how the narcissism of our age seeps into the cracks of our ships!
As we approach Mother Teresa's canonization, I hear her words with a new intensity because I realize that I never fully understood her even though she was bold and simple in her message. I was too busy patting myself on the back for being apostolic.
Her words became placards to console myself that I was doing just fine. Point to Jesus. Love all the people. I did. But... it was shallow. It was the easy way out. Kind of like buying pretty trinkets at the Dollar Tree to feel good about saving money instead of showing up for work to pay the bills. An apparent good that distracts from the hard work to which we are really called.
We are all called to spread the Gospel, but you cannot tell me that spreading the Gospel to my children is not enough. The Church has enough apostolates. What she needs is a revival of sacrificial hardcore love in the domestic church. Not just a put 'em in a good Sunday school so the experts can do it kind of revival but real transformation. It has always been that way because it is not about numbers... it is about souls.
As parents, we ARE the experts designated by God and by virtue of our vocation and our sacramental graces. And it IS our apostolic work to raise our children to know the love of Jesus Christ. If we have been faithful in that mentorship of love, perhaps someday we will see our children go out and give Gospel witness to all the world - and to the souls with whom they have been entrusted.
They will carry the fire.
They will witness through their lives.
Others will ask your family the cause of your hope and the reason for your joy.
And that is how true apostolic work begins.
We hear the truth over and over again. Go home and love your families. And yet we are always seeking elsewhere... as if our path to holiness can ever be found elsewhere than in loving God and the souls He places in our paths. Those little hearts need us as badly as our neighbor does. And they have been given specifically to us. They are our poor and it is for them that our hearts should burn with compassion.
It's not an either/or when it comes to loving family and neighbor. It's a both/and. And yet... and yet... one must take priority in the order of love.
The truth is that we only need fund-raising, event-holding apostolates because our shepherds have wavered, Christians have sold their inheritance, and our families have abdicated their roles as the domestic church (ecclesia domestica). It's a truth that stings and I take responsibility for my part. I repent...
If I bless another soul, let it never again be at the expense of the ones with whom I have been entrusted.
I am not saying that we should never engage in any apostolic work apart from our home and families. But I assure you that there are plenty of people who have led neighboring souls into the Church while their own families were starved for love. God will always work where people are seeking Him. But those families can tell you about the lie they bought at the price of their children's hearts. It is a painful lesson to learn. Let it not be said of us that our families were left starving while we worked for the Church... or that our families flourished in spite of us.
If I were asked for advice about whether a mother or father should start an apostolic work in addition to their labors at home, I would say: Yes, do it if it is God's will. But don't ever do it in such a way that Mother Teresa has to call you out on the lie. Mea culpa.