I am a long way from having a family and kids of my own, but this morning I was led to consider what I would want it to look like. Although I didn’t come up with specifics, I reflected on a few elements that I would like to implement somehow. From my vantage point, I am still able to be filled with high-minded ideals and hopeful expectation of a peaceful family life. In the midst of fighting children, endless laundry, and a whirlwind of activities, I am sure my ideals will be made a bit more practical and a bit less perfected.
While at times difficult to discern, parents have a tremendous impact in shaping their children’s personalities and values. Yesterday, my sister and I took our niece and nephews to a play. Throughout the whole play, my niece would slide over to me and say excitedly, “I can’t wait!” or “I’m so excited!” It never really made sense to me until I re-told the story to her mom later. My sister-in-law said that her daughter was probably saying what she had been saying over the past few days in anticipation of moving to a new home. If this can happen for phrases or actions, then the same would be true for matters of faith.
Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. When parents model the faith, the children will seek to do the same thing. It is a monumental task that can seem a bit overwhelming. At their baptism, you promise to instruct them in the faith and lead them to Heaven. So this morning in Mass, I considered: how does one do this?
I quickly considered that the family would need to be a place of deep, personal evangelization. Imagine a family where both parents are seeking to fully live out their role as educators of the faith. What if the family becomes a place of authentic encounter with Christ as a natural mode of living? It is an incredibly difficult balance, but the family must be the place to be our true selves and not to strive to hide behind a facade of perfection. The parents seek to model a life of holiness for their children and yet remain appropriately open about their own personal weaknesses and failures. My parish priest has often said that his parents knew two things: they were broken and they needed Jesus. Knowing our brokenness yet pursuing holiness in the midst of that is the perfect place to be. What a change that would make in our culture if parents sought Jesus and taught their children to seek Him, too.
As a high school Theology teacher, I see so often the limits of what I can do in the classroom. Even with good teachers in Catholic schools, children need the authentic witness of their parents. Teachers can help and impact their lives, but nothing speaks as powerfully as the day in and day out witness of self-sacrificing love at home. That is why I try to tell my students’ parents at the beginning of the year that they are the primary educators and that I am simply backup support.
Someday, I hope to be living out this beautiful but arduous task of leading my children to Heaven. But it starts with authentically encountering Christ yourself and then seeking to lead your spouse to Heaven. I believe that if husbands and wives fully desire the holiness and sanctification of their spouses, then it cannot help but be transmitted to their children as well. Our goal cannot be a perfect image but rather faithfully running the race to Heaven. Families founded on personal evangelization and authentically encountering Christ will transform our culture. As much as I desire to start that role now, the current task is seeking holiness myself in the ordinary, everything happenings of life. My own pursuit of the Lord, if taken seriously, will naturally equip me for leading others to Him later on. Let us run the race, let us persevere, let us fight the good fight!
“If you will look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be one.” William Law