I had a desk then, and I ordered a new office chair. Life was grand. Now both have been commandeered by my 15-year-old, who sets up shop there three times a week for his online classes. And now I’m a nomad, seeking a soft, quiet spot wherever and whenever I can. I mostly shuffle my work between the kitchen table, the recliner and our bedroom, which is where I began writing this column before I got kicked out so our 18-month-old roommate could sleep in the peace and quiet we both crave.
As I retreated down the stairs, hoping that the chaos was being kept to a minimum, I turned the corner to see our 5-year-old, Dominic, stripping the cover off of one of the couch cushions. This is not a normal activity in our home; it’s not one of his nightly chores; and none of our kids has ever decided to do his or her parents the kindness of cleaning couch cushions at 8:30 on a school night. But I didn’t yell — not yet. Before he got a chance to defend himself with an opening argument, his brother gleefully ratted him out. Turns out, the evidence he was trying to hide was the contents of a raw egg, because apparently my 5-year-old’s idea of a prank involved busting one over the head of his 11-year-old brother. On our previously clean couch. That’s when the yelling started.
I handed Dominic a wet, soapy dish cloth and had him scrub awhile before sitting him down and explaining to him that he’s a smart kid who certainly knew better. I was mad, and I let him know it. When I was done with my lecture, he looked at me through his tear-filled eyes and said, sadly, “Dad, I’m just a little kid. I’m only 5.” I don’t know which of us felt worse.
But every day there’s a broken egg, so to speak. Or a broken glass. Or missing homework. Or a fit at bedtime. Or lost shoes. Or a messy room. Or faces buried in phones or tablets or computers. Or a spilled whatever. Our house is loud, and it is chaotic, and most times, as we prepare to celebrate the solemnity of All Saints, it feels like an impossible place to raise saints.
When we think of the saints in heaven, we assume that they came into the world with their hands folded perfectly in prayer. We assume that they never rolled their eyes at their mother, or lost their shoes, or broke a plate — or an egg over their sibling’s head — or spilled whatever. But we’re wrong.
In 2017, during his Angelus message on the solemnity, Pope Francis said that “All Saints is our celebration: not because we are good, but because the sanctity of God has touched our life. The saints are not perfect models, but people through whom God has passed.”
In his message at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia five years ago, Pope Francis said that “families have difficulties. Families, we quarrel, and sometimes plates can fly. And children bring headaches. … In the family, indeed, there are difficulties. But those difficulties are overcome with love. Hatred is not capable of dealing with any difficulty and overcoming any difficulty. Division of hearts cannot overcome any difficulty. Only love. Only love is able to overcome. Love is about celebration, love is joy, love is moving forward.”
Pope Francis is suggesting that I’ve been looking at the chaos all wrong. Holiness isn’t achieved by strolling through life without a care. It isn’t achieved in a perfectly quiet home with perfectly quiet children; it’s achieved by bearing the messiness of life with love, by responding to the spills and broken plates and broken eggs with patience and understanding.
Holiness is achieved by remembering that Dominic is just a little kid, that he is only 5, that he is not only my son, but the son of the Father — and a saint in the making.
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.