I have a deep respect for those who have taken on the role of parent, of being a mother or father. Even in the best of circumstances it is not easy. I am well aware of the daily pressures that go with the calling and the incredible amount of strain put on your schedules. I know the demands put on your time, energy, and resources. I know that things don't always go right and that you are well aware that you are not the only entity vying for your children's affection and obedience. I know that there is great joy in seeing them succeed and rise to new challenges. I know there are moments: birth, first step, first word, first day of school, graduations, and such which sit forever etched in your minds and hearts. I know some have had the unimaginable trauma of losing a child. I know some hearts ache as their children go down paths that lead to very dark places. I know that your job is at times thankless. I know that if you are doing it right, being a parent means giving of yourself and pushing yourself selflessly for the good of your children. I also know that when you see your child verge off onto a harmful path, you bravely and lovingly know you have to have a heart to heart talk.
I know this, because, first I listen to you...I actually hear what you say; secondly, let's just say that being called 'father' isn't just a job title, but a constant reminder of what my task to serve is about. My calling to this parish is what your calling is to your family. The same selfless love, the same desire for the good of those placed in your care, the same rejoicing in the good, and the same agonizing over wayward steps are a part of my everyday life. As a good parent , I desperately not only want to see each of my parishioners succeed in life, but I deeply desire to share eternal life with them in heaven.
I wish to share with a moment with you my paternal joys and worries. I would imagine my vantage point is much the same as any parent: some of my children are doing well, some are not, some have wandered off altogether. Anyone who knows me knows that this pains me. It is why we have started a concerted effort at engaging in the new evangelization. Our Lord refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd...this does mean He a good shepherd (as in good person...although He is), but the Greek word used means 'good at' shepherding. He makes clear that being good at shepherding means reaching out for those who have left the safety of the flock to navigate a world full of wolves. These are those of my parish family that worry me the most.
To begin with, for those of my parents who are trying to raise their children in the ways of the faith. Kudos! You are doing the job you said you would do at your child's baptism. I realize it is difficult and a constant swerving path of juggling commitments and establishing priorities that one can hope to pleasingly present to God. I know it isn't always appreciated by your children and you have to endure the 'it's too churchy' nonsense. You are what keeps us running. I know sometimes your children rebel anyway, especially when they leave your home. I know the heart ache it causes. I know you persevere. Thank you. You did this with minimal help, unfortunately, from those who were supposed to spiritually guide you within the Church.
That is a point that needs to be expanded upon. I cannot condemn parents who fall below this measure because for 5 decades we have not done well in either teaching the faith or evangelizing through our parishes. It wasn't for lack of dedicated volunteers. It wasn't for lack of dedicated teachers. The materials we gave them to do their job were substandard, watered down, and sometimes just outright wrong. Many of those who should have known better did not reverse this trend. Too many hid behind not wanting to offend and simply did nothing but complain about the eventual outcome. Too many spiritual 'fathers' forgot a lesson that any good parent knows: the calling of being a parent is not to be your child's buddy (they have those elsewhere), but to be their parent...even when doing so angers. Any parent who failed at that job knows that when they finally do start being the parent...well, there is going to be a lot of blow back. The Church in this country is awakening to the fact that we have failed the flock (which means we failed Christ Himself) and that if we are going to do our calling, we need to act as parents who love their children.
This said, I now address my parents who struggle with raising their children in the fullness of the Catholic life. What I write is not going to be easy to read, but believe me, it is said our of desperate longing and love for you...I want to see you home. Every Mass I don't see you or your family has the same bitter sting as a parent looking at an empty chair where their child should be at the dinner table. Knowing that the relationship isn't what it should be has the same heart break as a parent estranged from a child. The parish is meant to a family of faith that is connected with our extended family through the world and in heaven. I know we have failed to drive home this point, but being a Catholic is first and foremost about relationship: relationship with God and with His family.
We have many children who show up either steadily or periodically to our parish education programs. We have trying hard to upgrade them and teach better what we believe. However, all we can do is supplemental to what is being done at home. If we teach them the Eucharist is important, that keeping holy the Sabbath is an actual commandment, that we must be reconciled when the division of sin has entered the picture, that the relationship with God and His people is a primary relationship...but this is not modeled by their parents, the lessons are lost and even negated. If we can disregard these things, then what of faith do we actually need to follow? Does being honest, kind, respectful, and such also become optional? Does even believing in God become optional? For a child's mind it does. Left unchallenged, that disbelief becomes set. A mixed message is being sent and the answer isn't to just simply abandon the faith altogether. It leads to a disbelief which has been come to one compromise at a time. I am not saying you are a bad person if this is your situation...no...only that you can be better and that we want to help you. Why? Because I am not going to be a different kind of parent that what I am asking you to be.
As some of you know, I am what is called a revert. That means that at one time in my life I left the Catholic faith. I was a practical agnostic. I know the difficulty of coming home. I was that prodigal son who wandered from the safety of the home. I know the challenge of changing set ways. I know the fear of what were people going to think. I know the fear of wondering what if I couldn't follow through. I know the frustration of false starts and failing. All I can tell you is that it is worth it. I can promise that if you are willing to dig deeper, we are willing to give support and help you be the kind of parent that God calls you to be. We are engaging in the new evangelization specifically because I want all of my spiritual children home...all of them. Those of you reading this who have been engaged, you will be needed as help and support. I cannot do this alone. God gives us all the grace to be the parents we promised we would be...let us give ourselves to that grace and even if we have not been that parent, let's start anew.