23 August 2018
World Meeting of Families

Bairbre Cahill (Ireland), “Holiness in the family also passes through a pile of dirty dishes to be washed”

“Holiness in the family also passes through a pile of dirty dishes to be washed.” This is the holiness of daily life proposed by the Irish author and speaker on spirituality Bairbre Cahill, who took the floor on the third day of the Pastoral Congress at the Dublin World Meeting of Families (21-26 August). Married to Danny, she gave her testimony as a mother of four children, who today are between 18 and 24 years old. “When the children were small,” she recalls, “we had a role-sheet attached to the refrigerator that indicated, day after day, who had to dry the dishes, clear the table, sweep the floor, or do all the other daily tasks that had to be accomplished. With this system we avoided overlaps.” Of course, even today, the question: “Who is washing dishes today?” can still cause some murmuring, even in the home of Bairbre and Danny. “Everyone would like to go home and relax, have fun cooking with their mom, rest,” she comments, “but that’s not how family life works. What Danny and I have learned in recent years, and what we have tried to teach our children, is that family life is a joint venture, something we build together. Family life is something to work on every day, and we do it in many very practical and ordinary ways.” Cahill recalls that everyone has their own talents and making them available to others allows us to “share the cares and take care of each other, showing mutual love.” “If a person is carrying the burden with too much responsibility,” she adds, “then there is an imbalance in the relationship, and this has an impact on the couple and within the family. The family is always evolving and, so, we need to be aware of how easy it is to lose balance. Cahill warns against a Hollywood image of love. “In reality,” she says, “the true height and depth, length and breadth of love are lived in the fragments of family life. The family is one of the most sacred places that can exist. Pope Francis reminds us that God must be found right in the middle of the ordinariness of our lives. Where there is love and tenderness, goodness and compassion, courage and hope, we see God present. Holiness is experienced in the fragments of family life (preparing dinner, giving a child a bath, crawling on the floor with your child, talking with a teenager, and even washing dishes. Love is embodied in that.” Referring to Amoris Laetitia, Cahill took up the image of the family gathered around the table for the meal, an image that Pope Francis chose to open the Apostolic Exhortation. A few pages later, he sees this image as an icon of the Trinity. “The Pope reminds us how the family puts the relationship at the center,” comments Cahill, “We are created for the relationship, we live in relationship. When we take on the commitments of marriage and family life, we find ourselves invited into the very heart of God.” It is not necessary to go to special places to meet God, says Cahill: “As St Teresa of Avila would say, ‘God is among the pots’.” “We meet God through our relationships, through the created world, and through our community of faith, the Church. We are called,” she explains, “to a love that is articulated in simple gestures and everyday tasks. We are not always on the level of this love and, therefore, we rely on the love of God and our families to help us start again.” The kitchen is the center of Bairbre’s and Danny’s home. “We have a large wooden table that can comfortably accommodate six people and when extended up to twelve,” says Bairbre, “in an era where people are increasingly busy, distracted by cell phones and the social media, it becomes ever more vital for families to put everything aside and sit down together to share a meal. We gather around this table, and, there, share food and our lives; we listen to the stories of the day, the projects, and the challenges. Nourished and strengthened by food and a sense of belonging, we are ready to go back to face our many daily activities. While we are having dinner (which is perfectly normal and ordinary), we are, however, doing something deeper, more sacred. The sacraments of reconciliation, of the Eucharist, and of healing are rooted and grow in the daily experience of family life.” Referring to an advertising slogan of a famous Swedish furniture chain, Cahill recalls that “there is something wonderful in the heart of our family life; that wonder is the encounter with God.” Cahill matured that conviction when her children were still small. “Through giving birth to our children and breastfeeding them,” she says, “I understood Jesus’ words: ‘This is my body broken for you; this is my blood poured out for you,’ words that, for me, have taken on a much more powerful meaning. At that moment, the theory of my studies in theology became reality, and in my ordinary experience of motherhood I met Jesus’ gift of himself so profoundly that he transformed my way of understanding the Eucharist.” “Our mutual love lived daily in the task of ironing stacks of clothes and feeding adolescents who are always hungry,” she added, “is the sacramental presence of God’s love for us. I think that we can rightly say that God’s love has been incarnated in family life.” “As Christian families,” underlines Cahill, “we need, more than ever, to become aware of our experience of God. Something powerful happens when we have the courage to talk about faith. This gives life and strength to couples and families.” Of course, it’s not all roses and flowers. “We can all be frustrated and tired of washing dishes and doing laundry,” continues Cahill, “and seeing to it that all the tasks that must be repeated day after day get done. Pope Francis, in the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, urges us to pay attention to details, to recognize the small acts of love that we encounter during our days. Who is washing the dishes? Who is cleaning the bathroom, reading fairy tales or taking out the garbage? These tasks and many others are the threads that make up the tapestry of family life.” A family life, which after the pomp of marriage, is built through “every little act of generosity, compassion, courage, tenderness, hope, solidarity, love” in which God’s presence is intertwined in our lives. Here, then, “holiness in the family also passes through a pile of dirty dishes to be washed.”