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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

Last time I introduced how, what the Catholic church calls the Corporal Works of Mercy, are very much what we do all the time as moms.

Today I’m sharing how the first Corporal work, Feeding the Hungry, plays itself out in our lives as mothers. Since the beginning of time we mothers have been providing meals for our children. From the first moments our children come into our lives we are the ones who feed them. If others feed our children (caregivers or school) we're usually the ones to check the menus, make sure they're meals are paid for, check that their meals are allergy free, etc. Most often it's mom who does most of the planning, and shopping for groceries, and cooking when home. As our children leave the nest, food is usually part of our reunions with them, as we cook for holidays, birthdays and other occasions. It's a lot ladies!

On the one hand, feeding our families is a real privilege that binds us together with our own families and also with each other as women. I felt this strongly this past Holy Week. I'm fortunate to belong to an online baking group that was created to celebrate the baking history of our local area. As the week progressed, mothers and grandmothers posted pictures of the the beautiful things they were baking to celebrate the religious and ethnic traditions that had been past on to them for Easter or Passover, that they were now creating and sharing again with their families. A love of God and family shone out of every picture. Seeing hundreds of us, and knowing millions more, were serving and loving at the same time, in the same way, and have been for generations, lifted my heart and brought deeper meaning and renewed energy to my own tasks that week.

On the other hand, being responsible for three meals a day plus snacks -  on top of everything else you have to do - can really be exhausting and draining. For many of us feeding our children brings moments of stress with everything from worrying about health and nutrition, the cost of food, hassles with picky eaters, providing something everyone will eat, even, for some, dealing with battles with weight and body image (our children’s and our own). On top of that there is a lot of pressure on moms to “get it right” and there are a million different voices intruding into your life telling you what “right” is. All this can seem like anything but a Mercy for us or our kids.

When we get caught up in all the stressors of feeding our hungry families, we often miss the most important point of this Corporal work of Mercy. The nourishment of the body is imperative of course, but just as vital is the feeding of our children's souls, hearts, and minds through connection with each other while we share food. Consider the fact that it is considered a vial punishment to isolate a prisoner from all human contact and just push a plate of food through a slot to them. Their bodies may be minimally sustained by it, but their souls certainly are not.

Our children hunger for connection with us. This is a biological fact. They can only emotionally, spiritually, and even physically thrive when they experience connection to us. When we don't take advantage of the opportunity meal times create to connect and enjoy being with our children, we are missing a tremendous opportunity to capture their hearts, guide them, form them, create memories, and enliven the love between us.

If we look at the New Testament scriptures we see so many times when Jesus connected with people over food. When he shared meals with them he knew people would pause, eat, make eye contact, listen, talk and share their hearts.

For years I struggled with the story of  one particular time Jesus shared a meal with people. The story of Mary and Martha (Luke Chapter 10) tells us of Jesus being welcomed into Martha's house. She busies herself as anyone would when having guests for dinner, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him. Eventually Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn't helping her and tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Now I know Jesus wasn't an ingrate and that they did all share in the meal Martha worked so hard on, so I struggled with his reproach of Martha. I understood Martha.  After all, as a mom, if I don't do this particular work of motherhood, we're all going to be starving in a filthy house pretty quickly! I was sure Jesus wasn't telling us to just sit around talking all day and never attend to these tasks.

Then one day in prayer a different emphasis struck me. The words “you are worried and upset” leapt off the page at me. I suddenly wondered if it was Martha’s negative, frustrated, put upon attitude that Jesus was correcting. After all, Jesus used food as a means of connection. Mary was engaged in connection, while Martha's attitude and words were threatening it. So often we end up undermining our connection with those we love by using mealtimes as a time to discipline the kids, argue about food, or discuss tense topics, or complain about each other's shortcomings. When we do this we lose so many of the benefits family meals are supposed to give us, and make our families less likely to enjoy each other, trust each other, or want to be together.

In a future blog/podcast I will talk more about how to deepen our spiritual lives, and the well being of our families, through this Corporal Work and how deal with some of the practicalities of feeding your hungry people. But I would like to offer this suggestion to begin: Discontinue negativity when you share food with your family. Make it a new rule with your family that  whenever you share food -weather that's an extended meal, a snack, or nuggets in the car before the next after school activity -  you will all work on being pleasant, and up building, focusing on being together and enjoying your time together.

Save conversations about difficult topics, correction, schedules, school performance, etc. for a time, when you're not sharing food. You can still catch up on the day. But make sure you talk about the positive things, as well as the struggles of the day. One way to do this is to use the Thorn and Roses game, where each person gets a bit of time to share a struggle of that day (a thorn), but also a positive part of the day (a rose), while the others listen attentively, support and encourage the person who is sharing. At the very least it will be better for your digestion. But it will also ease a lot of the dread and anxiety many families have internalized about family meals and even food in general.

This one practice may help you all draw closer, connect with each other more deeply, bring you more peace and even make pleasant memories that will make your family want to gather for family meals for generations to come.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in the world, to make it a better place?

I talk to many people who wish they could have a big effect on the world, but feel frustrated and hobbled by the confines of their day to day lives. They day dream about having the resources to build schools for underprivileged children, or being able to dig wells in areas without drinking water. They wish they could join organizations like Doctors without Borders to help heal suffering, or open restaurants that also  give meals to the poor. I've been blessed in my life to know a few people who actually make these things happen in their lives. Yet most people I talk to must deal with the constraints of their daily lives and responsibilities, and are left feeling that they can't do big things in the world.

All of these meritorious actions, and more, are categorized in Catholicism as corporal works of Mercy. They include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, and burying the dead. They are a set of guidelines to help us behave as our highest selves in order to treat others as our brothers and sisters created in the image of God.

Years ago, my oldest child was preparing for his First Holy Communion. I was making breakfast for the family as we talked about his lesson reviewing these works of Mercy. As he listed them, he interrupted himself and said, “You do this stuff every day. They should call these the Corporal works of Mommy.” I was about to correct him and start talking about all the times we see Jesus, or great men or women of God, do these things, after all this was a religion lesson right?! But then it dawned on me…he was right!

All of this stuff we moms do all day really matters!

When people dig wells, or build schools, or serve in orphanages, or volunteer to rock and comfort addicted babies, etc. they are doing great works, but they are doing them because someone, or some group fell short of meeting that need for some reason. This isn't a judgement, just a fact.

People who are willing to stand in that gap and help are lauded for doing great things, and they should be. But what about those of us who do the same things every day on a seemingly smaller and more private scale?  By doing the daily work of mothering, we endeavor to ensure against the creation of those gaps in the first place.

We are often told, and tell ourselves, that the work we do is mundane and unimportant. Why should it be considered any more important to feed a hundred strangers at a soup kitchen, than it is to feed the souls around our table, or to dig a well for a village than to pay our family's water bill or get our little one a cup of water at night? It shouldn't be. When we do these things we are serving their bodies and nurturing their hearts and souls, filling them with the knowledge that they are loved and showing them how to love others as well.

After my son said that to me, it changed my entire attitude about the work of motherhood. It gave me a deeper sense of God dwelling in my family relationships. Daily tasks became an opportunity to see and cultivate the Divine in my home and manifest the servant love of Christ in my own character.

St. Therese had a very similar revelation, that we can all share in. She had always wanted to be a missionary and do great things for God,  but God called her to a cloistered monastery life. Yet she change the world by living her “little way of holiness” showing love to everyone with whom she shared her life through every task and interaction of her day.

However, every mom knows that these repetitive tasks can often be draining and discouraging at times, especially when the people we do them for don’t seem appreciative. Over the next few posts,  I invite you to join me in exploring each of the Corporal Works of Mercy, and how we can ease the burden of these tasks while allowing our spiritual lives and our relationships with our children to be elevated by them.

You, my fellow mom, are the most important and powerful person in the world to your child, and you are a huge part in healing a hurting world when you tend the hearts, minds and souls of the children God has placed in your care. Rest in that knowledge and let it give you renewed purpose, energy, and peace.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

This years Lenten centerpiece, adapted from an image I found on Pinterest, allows us to see how God lights our way -one step at a time - from the tomb to the Resurrection.

As a mother, I have often thought about what I want to pass on to my children in the way of character, and virtue. At the heart of all that I dream and hope for them is the hope that they will have a deep and guiding faith in God.

Interestingly, studies have shown that when faith is perceived as the cause of a warm and loving home, children are far more likely to own their faith into their adulthood. Conversely, if a child experiences faith as just a set of rules to follow, or as something that causes strife in the home, that child is more likely to leave the faith in adulthood.

I've always wanted to create a warm, loving, nurturing home where both my family and God can dwell. This information just put a finer point on the importance and meaningfulness of that. So, as a mom I really do try to intentionally create a peaceful, loving atmosphere and warm memories with my family. The connections we make through this don’t just serve my family, they also make me feel empowered as a parent, and inspire me to go deeper and wider with the people I love, and with God. Together we catch a bit of His creative spirit and it inspires us to more.

Most seasons, either natural or liturgical, bring opportunities to do this in various ways.

Christmas can be easy to engage my family in. The whole atmosphere is inviting: the lights, carols, yummy food, presents, and the coming of the baby Jesus. Our family has intentionally created so many traditions to gather around - from finding our tree, to decorating gingerbread, to special meals, to participating in Christmas Mass- it is always a time we look forward to sharing together.

Easter is about resurrection, salvation and new life. Again such a celebratory setting! Entering the church on Easter Sunday is a feast for the senses as well as the soul. Our spirits lift at the amazing scent of Easter flowers, with their brilliant colors, filling the church. We rejoice at the sound of Easter song, filled with alleluias and promise of resurrection. We've always loved sharing Easter as a family at church. At home we continue the celebration by creating a lovely meal together with favorite foods that have become traditions as well. At each person's place at the table is a small chocolate bunny. The decor of our home gets a lift with Easter flowers, and light, colorful touches placed here and there,  reminding us that the long darkness is over and the light has come.

But that's a season that has sometimes given me pause. While I can personally benefit from the time set aside to grow spiritually, it does not present itself as an easily shareable family season. The pain and suffering of Christ, and the call for us to sacrifice and repent can be hard to share with children. It is easy to present the Lenten images in a way that can be frightening and off putting to children of any age. I have also witnessed parents go to extremes in imposing Lenten sacrifices on children to the point where they cause resentment, and bitterness between them. It can seem challenging to create warm family memories during Lent, and yet it is a season so pivotal to my family's faith that I cannot let it be neglected.

In order to make such a challenging season more inviting and memorable for my family I do several things:

  • Every year I take the season to God and ask Him to guide me in helping to shape Lent into a time that will draw us closer to Him and to each other.

  • I evaluate the ages, and emotional, and spiritual stages of each of my children, and consider to what degree they can embrace the Lenten journey this year. (The church herself requires and suggests very different levels of participation depending on age, health, etc. so of course we work within that.)

  • I consider how I can create an environment that gently reminds us and helps us enter into the season. So I might use pussy-willow branches, or pre-blooming forsythia branches in places where I would usually put flowers. Giving us a reminder of the journey from death to life. (Waiting until Easter to bring in Hyacinth, Tulips, and Lilies is one of my tiny Lenten sacrifices because it's so hard for me to pass them by when I see them for sale in the grocery store on a cold and dreary day. I have to steal myself to wait out the Lenten journey until Easter. A small reflection of what I must do spiritually.) I've also taken to creating different centerpieces that sit on our table and draw our thoughts together as we share a meal.

  • I pray about what books or movies about this story would be appropriate for us as a family this year. This of course changes with age, and sometimes means allowing older children to stay up a little later than younger siblings to watch a depiction of Christ’s sacrifice that's only appropriate as they've gained the ability to process it with us.

  • I look for engaging activities that we can do as a family that help us enter together into the sacrificial nature of the season.

  • And I always discuss my ideas with my family, listen to theirs, and make sure everyone is willing to participate. If one of my children is reluctant in any way, we will discuss their concerns and modify our ideas so that everyone can commit to our Lenten journey together.

Lent, while it requires sacrifice, is a journey of love and I want to do all I can to help each member of my family experience it as such and remember it that way always.

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