Catholic parenting…how on earth does one do it, let alone define it?
In a perfect world one might say it’s “the loving and successful completion of child-rearing and instruction, put forth by two parents, to perfect one’s child in the areas of faith and morals as defined by the Catechism and Sacred Traditions of the Catholic Church.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and at last check, there are no perfect parents or children residing upon it. Flawed humanity, with all its sins and vices, is raising the next generation, and that includes the next Catholic generation. Yet, in this country and others, amidst great challenges and persecutions, many Catholic parents are striving to impart a sense of the sacred, awake to the great beauty, majesty and richness of our Holy Faith and its spiritual and cultural significance.
Tertullian once said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” thus giving rise to the notion that the Faith flourishes under seemingly impossible conditions. Today’s parents might be tempted to challenge that assertion, firm in the conviction that this crazy world and the people who live in it, put every possible obstacle in the way of the solemn charge to raise a holy people for the Kingdom of Heaven. It would seem that knowledge and desire, quite simply, aren’t enough.
Fear not! This task is not as formidable as it seems, for at the heart of it, is this promise from Sacred Scripture:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
“…And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The key word here is, of course, “old.” And old can seem so very far away at the beginning of this Catholic parenting journey. The “way” is often obscured by the noise and distractions of this mad world, which pushes and shoves its way into home and heart. How does one do this? Is it even possible?
Perhaps you’re looking at that sweet baby, nestled in your arms, wondering how you will ever show him the “way he should go,” particularly when the “way” seems so treacherous and fraught with every danger. Would it comfort you to know that parents have been doing this since time out of mind? That our own dear Savior, as an infant, had to flee the murderous wrath of a king and that His Mother and Father faced poverty, persecution and uncertainty with courage and resolve?
Perhaps you’re surrounded by the needs of many little ones, overwhelmed with exhaustion as the work of parenting seems to stretch onward to infinity. Would it benefit you to remember that the most beautiful images of our Blessed Mother show Him in her arms, pressed closed to her breast, a reminder that this busy time is yet a time of sweet joys, too?
Perhaps you’re reflecting upon the rebellious teenager asleep upstairs; the one who stayed up far too late playing video games and who is alternately sullen and good-humored, depending upon his mood and yours. Would it comfort you to imagine that our dear Lady understands? That her precious Son was often misunderstood and even in the eyes of His parents at least once engaged in behavior they found perplexing, as He was “about His Father’s business?”
Perhaps you’re worried about your adult child, the one that quit attending Mass some time ago…the one whose life seems a scandal and a trial in the eyes of the world. You wonder how you managed to give so very little of your faith to this wayward one and lament that you’ve failed in your duties as a Catholic parent. Would it help to reflect upon the twelve Apostles, who ate, slept and worked in the presence of the Messiah and yet, following the Crucifixion, engaged in behavior that was anything but faithful? Frightened by the sights, sounds and emotions of their salvation being accomplished, they fled in fear…
Perhaps you feel you never really imparted the “way” at all; that your own faith has been such an ongoing work that you believe you’ve missed your only opportunity to give this gift only recently opened or perhaps simply re-examined. Would it avail you to remember that God rewards the laborer, not so much for the time worked as for the intention behind the effort?
It can seem such daunting work, this Catholic parenting “thing,” and I’ve walked every single one of the paths described above. I am mother of nine children with more than 30 years in the field; I’ve paced the floor with the wee ones, overawed by the beauty of new life and the sweet burden of nurturing it. I’ve been through the exhaustion of those early days when children come much faster than the income to feed and provide for them all. I’ve lamented the distant teenager, walking the delicate balance between strength and compassion, failing at times to provide either. I’ve wept in sorrow for the adult child whom, though home educated, catechized and confirmed, still struggles with issues of faith. And I’ve begged God’s forgiveness for the first decade of my parenting years…years of pseudo-faith; years when being a “good person” seemed enough to identify myself as a Christian mother.
There have been so many starts and stops along the way, as I embrace my role as a Catholic parent. I’ve learned the best judges of hypocrisy are one’s children – they know, as no others, whether mom truly lives and believes what she teaches. I’ve had to humbly submit to the scrutiny of a growing band of Inquisitors, living with the daily realization that it is whom and not what is in the home that truly makes it a domestic Church.
As a Catholic parent, I’ve learned I simply must impart more than just a “view from the pew” version of my faith. When I live my faith out loud, in my everyday choices, and embrace a view of life that is not only faithful, but faith-filled, I demonstrate so much more than my words will ever convey. Faith becomes real and virtue is magnified, because the hard choices are the ones in opposition to those that often seem the least demanding.
The hardest choice that I’ve ever made as a parent is to embrace the imperfections of my children and myself; to live with the realization that from all eternity God had chosen me to mother these particular children. I have to continually acknowledge my weakness so that He can be strong. I made a solemn vow, long ago, admitting my imperfection and inadequacies, but I promised that if He would just continue to point out the flaws within my children and me, I would faithfully work on those areas. I asked Him to remove my parental blind spot and to expose the spiritual, moral and physical dangers that I might overlook. I vowed that I would never shrink from my duties to address those areas, despite my fear, sorrow or embarrassment. He has always answered that prayer, and though I’ve not always been as faithful as I’d like to be, I’ve truly tried to hold up my end of the deal, persevering in the midst of sin and suffering, sure that each challenge and crisis has already been envisioned by He, who knows my strengths and weaknesses. He continues to prove Himself as faithful, as the perfect parent ever watchful over His child, always mindful of the end and the means.
It’s so easy to allow oneself to become weighed down with the awesome task of guarding the body and soul of one’s children. There is so much anxiety, when I contemplate the transitory and passing, I often miss the glorious moments and memories in the here and now. As I contemplate my 30 year journey as a Catholic parent, I don’t find myself wishing I had washed more dishes or folded more laundry; I lament the times I didn’t stop in the midst of the mundane to observe and participate in the wonder and beauty of life unfolding around me. I regret that brief period when I so narrowly defined my role that I nearly became a spectator, lost in the myriad activities and ideas that seem to reinforce what the world perceives to be “good enough” parenting.
“Good enough” parenting never really is. Catholic parenting, on the other hand, always strives to be. We may fall short a thousand times, but with the grace of Faith and the gift of the Sacraments, the remedy to all our failings is as close as one’s parish Church and as simple as the prayers uttered in faith and trust.