By Mark Piper, Mercy Associate

In August, my wife Regina (a Mercy Volunteer Corps alum) and I, both Mercy Associates, welcomed our second child into this world: George DeSales Piper. George and his big sister, Rachel Day, who was born on Mercy Day in 2014, present all the normal challenges one faces when becoming a parent, but because Regina and I are Mercy Associates there is an added challenge of living up to our covenant in light of raising our children.

How is that? I’m glad you asked.

Works of Mercy

You see, engaging in the Works of Mercy (like engaging in anything pre-children) becomes a bit more taxing with children as they seem to want our time and attention—and love—incessantly (please note my dry sense of humor). I will say, as a parent I get plenty of opportunities to engage in the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy—such as bearing patiently the troublesome.

Gospel Values

Though Christ said that his yolk was easy and his burden light, he did not say instilling Gospel values or upholding Mercy were not without difficulty or exhaustion—particularly as a parent. There are days I feel a lot like Jesus, like when I turn my back for a mere moment on my three-year-old and a somewhat-clean house turns into a level-three hazmat situation. All I want to do is shout, “Get behind me, Satan!” It worked on Saint Peter.  

Catherine McAuley, Adoptive Mother

Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, was the adoptive mother of no less than nine children. We know that there was a saintly level of integrity between Catherine’s words and deeds, and she wrote, “Don’t let crosses vex or tease … avoid all solemn declaration … [and] keep patience ever at your side.” I can barely manage that with two children; how Catherine could accomplish this with nine is a mystery as wrought and perplexing as the Trinity.

Care for Earth

The Piper Family
The Piper Family

There are some more practical ways in which I feel that I can uphold my duty as a Christian, as articulated in the Beatitudes, and as a Mercy Associate with children. For us as parents, we focus a lot of our efforts on caring for Earth. Sustainability starts at home. During the day, we used cloth diapers on Rachel and will do so with George. So while we may use more water and energy because of an increased use of our washing machine to clean them, we avoid putting hundreds of dirty, plastic/oil-based disposable diapers in landfills on a monthly basis.

My wife, a full-time nurse, is also in the middle of getting her licensure as a lactation consultant. Not all mothers are able to breastfeed. But if one is able, breastfeeding is the most environmentally friendly option to ensure infant children get the nutrition they need. Rachel was breastfed exclusively until she weaned at approximately two years old.

Additionally, since I have a natural tendency to frugality, transitioning to less meat in our meals has helped keep our grocery budget from increasing while having more mouths to feed. I am not a vegetarian, but between consuming less meat (particularly beef) and no longer purchasing milk, we hope we’re helping slow down soil degradation and deforestation as largescale cattle farms grow to keep up with demand at the expense of the environment. 

We also have some goals related to parenting in light of care of creation: substantial reduction in plastic use. We’re asking not to have straws if we go out to eat; we always leave reusable bags in our cars so that we never have to get plastic ones for groceries. And with kids who love to snack, we’ve invested in snack carriers so that we can avoid plastic snack-bags when we’re out and about.

Rejoice and Be Glad!

The beatitudes end with, “rejoice and be glad.” As a parent of young children I do that every night as soon as evening prayers are said and both kids are fast asleep! More seriously, I have hope for a deeper, more authentic “rejoicing and being glad” when my children mature in age and wisdom, incorporate the Gospel of Christ for themselves, and live lives that embrace the Mercy critical concerns: caring for the environment, treating all people, regardless of race or gender, with respect; practicing nonviolence, welcoming migrants, and acting in accord with the truth that God made all people of equal dignity and worth.