Years ago, a local newspaper columnist praised the fare of TV prime-time viewing. She supported modern examples of broken families as being the sitcom subject of choice. Betty, the columnist, cheered the portrayal of brokenness in place of idealistic programs such as “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” or the “Brady Bunch.” There were many such programs in the Fifties and Sixties where love and respect were key and there was a moral for each episode.
Betty pointed out that such positive examples left families that did not measure up feeling as though, well, that they did not measure up. So, she applauded TV’s dysfunctional family. According to her, people could finally watch TV and not feel so bad if their family was a mess. Instead, there would be support and camaraderie.
I’m not opposed to portraying all sorts of families because brokenness is not beyond God’s mercy. However, I found a critical error in Betty’s logic. She ultimately was saying that as a society, it’s best to lower the bar so that no one feels bad for not achieving the ideal. But in the process, goals and expectations are also lowered. I don’t like people to feel bad, but I do like people to see that there is an ideal; that if a family works to live a Christ-centered life, there is a better way.
My Dad grew up with his mother running a boarding house to support him and his three siblings. His own father was an alcoholic (there was no Alcoholics Anonymous for help back then). Yet, my dad was a wonderful, loving, respectful spouse and parent. Rather than resenting ideal families on TV, he saw what they looked like. I’m not crediting TV with making him the wonderful father he was (and still is at 87), but my Dad reached higher than his own family experience.
This is a long introduction for my suggestion of taking a Lenten journey with the aid of Lisa Hendey’s two books: A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul and The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. My reason for beginning as I did is because Lisa is doing exactly what the wholesome TV programs of old did— raising the bar and providing ideals. She does it in a very real and very Catholic way. Lisa’s books don’t pretend we are all sitting pretty in our perfect Catholic families. Instead, she takes us where we are and lifts us higher.
In the Handbook of Catholic Moms, Lisa shares her joy of having had wonderful parents, a loving husband, and two great kids. At first glance, a suffering soul might feel as Betty did about ideals: They make me feel bad when I compare myself with them. But Lisa shares her own shortcomings, such as the 15 years of her marriage in which she struggled. During those years, parts of her life were not the ideal she wanted, including a husband that was not Catholic.
“I was confounded by the fact that we weren’t one of those seemingly perfect couples I saw seated around me every Sunday at Mass,” she wrote. In time, she came to understand that marriage is not about control. “How very selfish of me to insert myself and my needs into the spiritual life of my husband, rather than seeing the situation for what it was—Greg’s unique journey toward a God who loves him unconditionally.” When Greg joined the Catholic Church after going through RCIA, (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults), they had been married 17 years. “I wish I had spent the first fifteen years of that initiation process praying more fervently for my husband, just as he was, than judging myself and not truly appreciating the depth of his quiet, unassuming spirituality.”
Lisa also shares the pain and feeling of failure when one of her sons kept getting his name on the board for talking in class. But along the way, Lisa learned that it’s not about perfection, it’s about reaching for God and reaching out to one another—something Lisa is an expert at. Her website CatholicMom.com is a virtual neighborhood of Catholic Mom’s.
The best part of this book is that it is not just Lisa’s insights (although those are very good) but she brings together a community of women who also share their struggles and insights. Divorce, disabled children, anxiety, health, fitness, housework, and the spiritual…. every issue, like the subtitle says: heart, mind, body and soul.
It’s a whole earth catalog of living well as we journey to heaven. The book includes personal testimonies, inspirations quotes throughout, “Mom’s Homework” (nah, it’s not really work, just helpful suggestions), and a list of resources at the end of each chapter.
Lisa’s second book, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart Mind, Body and Soul, is a PERFECT compliment to The Handbook for Moms. It’s not just a saint book, but it is a way of taking a saint with us through the day as our companion. Beginning with the Blessed Virgin Mary—the perfect saint above all others, and our Heavenly Mother—each of the 52 chapters tells of a saint, provides lessons and wisdom, explains traditions associated with the saint, daily scripture, saint-related activities for Mom and also for children, a prayer, and something to ponder in your heart. Whew! In other books, one learns about the saint, but in A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, saints become close companions for the week.
In both of Lisa’s books, she extends a “come as you are” invitation and invites every Mom to join her on the journey. Everyone needs support and help to do better—especially during Lent. Lisa gives us both, and like the old TV shows, she points us to the ideal—and all without commercials!