Friday, August 27, 2021

The 4th Commandment

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Monica. The mother of St. Augustine, who played a pivotal role in the conversions of both her son and her husband, represents a powerful model for parents and families.

Pray for our children. Ardently. Consistently. Constantly.  

As a parent, this is one of the most important parts of my vocation: to help my children come to know Jesus and enter into relationship with Him. 

A few years ago, as a member of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Vocation Enrichment Team, I attended a meeting with Catholics from around the diocese to focus on enriching, enhancing and promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The theme for the day: Family - The First Home of Vocations - centered on the role of the family in fostering a sense and acceptance of vocation.

Fr. Alfredo Hernandez, the keynote speaker for the event, retold pieces of his own vocation story, including the simple prayer of his mother for him to discern what God was calling him to do and that if it was priesthood that he would be a good priest.

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2221 - 2231), Fr. Alfredo mentioned that the role of parents involves moral formation in addition to physical and intellectual nurturing:
The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. (2221)
Parents must recognize their role in this spiritual formation and they must accept that it is "almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." Such is the important role of parents in the faith lives of their children!

At times, though, this task can seem overwhelming. Given the magnitude of decisions that parents make on an hourly basis regarding the formation of their children, it may be difficult to sense that the way in which they are leading their kids in the faith is down the wrong path. Out of exhaustion, frustration, confusion, and/or our own human sinfulness, we can give them screen-time when what they need is some me-time - time with their parent. We can forego blessing our food, or praying before bed, or even attending Mass regularly and do so out of what we feel are good intentions: we've been really busy, the restaurant is really loud/quiet, we have to rush to the next thing, it's too late, we don't have enough time, everyone is too tired, I'm just not in the mood myself. 

But, like St. Monica, we must persist. We must disconnect from our virtual worlds so that we can reconnect with the glory right in front of us. We need to pray for and with them, even when we don't feel like it ourselves - dig the irrigation ditches for when the rains come. 

Put your children on a path to holiness and recognize that in doing so, you can follow along, too.

This doesn't mean you have to be perfect. None of us are. Instead, it means that you actively strive to follow the will of God for your life and that of your family:    
Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God's law. (2222)

Strive to live out the virtues that you hope to see in the world. Be explicit with what those are for your family. Knowing the endpoint can help us to arrive at the destination:  

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. (2223)

Teach children how to sacrifice for the greater good of others. The law of the gift - manifested by Jesus on the Cross - should be lived out in our families. We become who we were created to be as we offer ourselves as a gift for others. We are better together: 

The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies. (2224)

Parents must foster a sense of vocation in their children. God has a special plan for all of our lives. Prayer and relationship with Christ and others can help us to discover the riches of the fullness of life God has in store for us: 

When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life. They should assume their new responsibilities within a trusting relationship with their parents, willingly asking and receiving their advice and counsel. Parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of a profession or in that of a spouse. This necessary restraint does not prevent them - quite the contrary from giving their children judicious advice, particularly when they are planning to start a family. (2230)
Some forgo marriage in order to care for their parents or brothers and sisters, to give themselves more completely to a profession, or to serve other honorable ends. They can contribute greatly to the good of the human family. (2231)
Fr. Alfredo would pray the following prayer as a child with his dad: "Take my heart, take my heart it is yours and not mine." Fr. Alfredo's mother called him "regalcito de cielo", little gift from heaven, and this shaped his sense of generosity and trust in God. We all need to follow the lead of Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez and St. Monica and treat our children as gifts and teach them how to be a gift to others. 

True joy is borne from encounter with others, from hearing someone say, but not necessarily with words, "You are important to me."

That is God's message to each one of us. 

Let our lives and words bear this message to our children - our gifts, our joy, our regalcitos de cielo

You are important to me. 

St. Monica, pray for us!