A different “brick by brick” account

A friend sent me this.

I think it applies to many spheres of life.  It even applies to our "brick by brick" approach to rebuilding Catholic identity, one little move in obscurity at a time.

Mostly, this applies to moms, the real point of this piece.

My emphases

The Invisible Mom

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England .. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe .

I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals we have no record of their names.

[1] These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. [2] They made great sacrifices and [3] expected no credit.  [4] The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.’ And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make everyday, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. [!]

When I really think about it, I don’t want my child to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, ‘You’re gonna love it there.’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.


In addition to the indispensable work of mothers, I am sure you could add many other vocations, sacred and temporal.

I have in mind also the lives of faithful women religious, not so much those who threw off their habits and said "look at me!" and tried to get ahead in the world, but those who fended off disaster in the world and enriched countless lives by spending time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, educating children and nursing the sick.  

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Nuggen says:

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. A really wonderful letter! There still are such women. I know one myself, a wonderful wife annd mother. The western world needs a lot more of them.

  3. Maureen says:

    Huh. An interesting counterargument against works like “The Women Men Don’t See”.

    The thing is, there’s an idea in the modern world that if people don’t see and follow everything you do, you’re nothing. You’re oppressed. People will do bad things to you in the darkness.

    But there’s also the older idea that you might want to be under people’s radar, unbothered by the glare of the paparazzi. That it’s a good thing not to be on display all the time.

    Of course, the postmodern version of this is not that being unnoticed can be restful, but that someone else’s gaze upon you is necessarily a sort of rape. Which is just as weird as the “Look at me or you’re oppressing me!” meme.

  4. Erin says:

    Here’s the video – it’s great…


  5. Anne-France says:

    Didn’t know today was Mother’s Day? Thank you. Since I don’t get up at 4am to bake cakes, I think of the forgotten nuns and monks in monestaries who pray- and have prayed- endlessly and suffer for us daily, invisible to the eyes of the world, even to our eyes and thoughts. If it were not for their prayers, where would we be? Don’t they hold Jesus’ arm…?

  6. Timbot says:

    Reminds me of the scene from “A Man for All Seasons” where Richard Rich asks “and if I [become a teacher], who shall know of it?” to which Thomas More replied “You, your students, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that.”

  7. Gravitas says:

    This is wonderful Father. Sending it to my wife now — a stay at home mom with a law degree!

  8. Diana says:

    And there is another forgotten group of women- Traditional Catholic mothers who do have to work for basic family survival. They are Worse than not seen, because they are subject to constant criticism from non-working “conservative Catholic” mothers. No one considers the fact that the vast majority of working mothers would a thousand times rather be with their children and not have to commute in to a job and be subject all day to bosses and co-workers who are likely not similar- minded in faith and morality. Of course they do not want to be there, but life can sometimes require this sacrifice. Of course the ideal would be for the mother to stay home; but this is sometimes not possible and those stay-at home mothers should be more careful in their criticisms. Pardon me for the griping, but salt is rubbed in my wounds all the time.— A working, Traditional Catholic mother.

  9. Lee says:

    Well, I followed up the link and saw the video, and the associated videos from http://www.freshbrewedlife.com I think, but do not know for certain, that this woman is probably an evangelical. All I can say is that she and her videos and presentations would probably be an incredible resource for Catholic women, too- like Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family are for the family as a whole.

  10. mrsmontoya says:

    YES! It’s not just me! Thank you for posting this. I am not alone! Blessings on you for posting this and all who read it. Now go listen to your mother.

  11. Nerina says:

    Diana, thanks for the reminder.

    Father, thank you for posting this much-needed reminder. I’m building 5 “cathedrals” of my own and can use all the support I can get.

  12. tradone says:

    As Diana reminds us, we have been victimized by the femanist movement and modernism. Our families suffer more than we know, the children have an aching in their hearts that they don’t understand, & we go unnoticed. All I can hope for is that God sees.

  13. Sal says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  14. Matt says:

    Thank you father! I’m gonna try and let my wife discover this article…she is a stay at home mom with her doctorate in Pharmacy!



  15. cathomommy says:

    Thank you, Father. Our fifth baby cathedral (I guess he/she starts as a humble chapel?) is due any day, and I needed to hear this today. :)

  16. Fr. James says:

    Fr. Z. Thanks for the treat. As the 11th (eleventh) of 13 (thirteen) children, I got choked up. Mom has had a year of health setbacks and is not the indestructible pillar she used to be. I am sending this to her now.

  17. irishgirl says:

    I’m not married and I’m not a mother-but that was a great article, Fr. Z!

  18. Derik says:

    Spiritual maternity of priests is also very important.

  19. Sandy says:

    This is beautiful. I often tell the Lord that I’ll spend my life praying as long as He allows me to, if it helps my family spend eternity with Him. That’s really all that matters. Thank you, Lord, for the children You give us. If only the world realized what a gift all children are.

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