Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

It Takes a Village To Shape a Christian Heart

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 17, 2009

“Watch his head!” These are my words of wisdom to my niece, a new mother, as she hands her 3-week-old son to his Uncle Jef, my husband, so he can hold the infant for the first time. We are visiting family in Oklahoma City, and the baby is the center of attention, as well he should be, for he is the essence of cuteness.

But the whole visit I am nearly paralyzed with anxiety because my mother taught me, long ago, the vital importance of supporting a newborn baby’s head. And no one seems to be doing it according to my standards.

Keep in mind I have no children of my own, so you would probably think I would not be an expert on this topic. But I certainly have a wealth of information to share with my niece—and even though I have vowed to keep my mouth shut, it isn’t happening.

When my niece mentions taking the baby into the shower with her, for example, I can just hear my mother going crazy in my head: “You don’t shower with babies; you bathe them!” At least on this score, I remain calm, murmuring about how babies do much better when they have a bath.

The entire visit, I find myself breaking all my resolutions about being an ideal aunt. In my book, that person is nonjudgmental. She does not constantly offer unasked-for advice. And she certainly does not cringe when she doesn’t get her way.

In short, she is a good, Christ-like person.

But the visit mirrors my life journey and surely that of other Catholics as well. We have this ideal vision of how we should act. We want to be charitable to others, even those who at times grate on our nerves. We want to be humble, and we want to be infinitely patient. We want to be like Jesus.

In Romans 8:35, St. Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

For many, the modern-day version of St. Paul’s tribulation and distress is a week or two with one’s relatives.

Somehow chaos starts breaking loose, as you notice that so and so is still smoking, despite all the advice you have doled out over the years. A little boy is making weird noises with his new whoopee cushion, a teenager is plugged into an i-Pod and someone’s husband is checking e-mail at the supper table.

Still, we will forgive our family members their trespasses, especially because we suspect that we are doing things that are driving them mad as well. It seems that being a Christian is easy when you spend the day relatively alone, or just with one other person. The challenge increases exponentially as you add more people.

Some people say that it takes a village to raise a child, but in my book it takes a village—no, make that an entire city—to create a true Christian. The more we are thrown together with other people, the more we have to bite our tongues rather than deliver a smug lecture. The more time we spend with family, the more we have to eat foods that we hate and watch TV shows we can’t stand.

In fact, the more tightly we control our own lives, the less opportunities we have for sanctity.

St. Paul reminds us that nothing shall separate from the love of God, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come … nor anything else in all creation.” And that, of course, includes our families as well.

In the presence of family we have the chance to be slowly molded into beings that are more attuned to Christ’s love. We can become people who are less selfish, less demanding and less insistent on getting our own way. In the presence of family we can, with God’s grace, stop fixating on the baby’s head and reflect on our own hearts instead. We can become just a little bit more like Christ.

Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set at a church in Decatur. Her Web site is Artwork is by her husband, Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays by e-mailing