Parents and God: friends or foes?


This week, I’ve had the privilege of working with many parents and their children.  When you work in the field of evangelization, you get to meet many families.  I consider it pretty special.  I always walk away feeling that I have exchanged gifts.  It can be an individual member of a family or an entire family who gives me a gift and to whom I give a gift.

For the sake of privacy and because it would be silly to give so many details, I’m going to combine all of my families into three groups.

GROUP I:

I received a letter from someone whom I do not know.  I have never met this person or any member of her family.  It was a lovely letter.

Brother JR, I just wanted to thank you – you were so instrumental in our family’s conversion five years ago. I spent many long hours reading your articles, which were always gentle and full of the beauty of the faith. For that, for helping us know the beauty of the Catholic Church, I am forever grateful.

God bless you, and please know you’re in my prayers.

This letter moved me a great deal.  The Holy Spirit can use anything and anyone to save.  The key is to be aware of that one is an instrument, not the solution to a problem and certainly not God.  Messages like this help us.

My articles are not written with children in mind.  They’re written for adults.  This means that an adult in the family read the articles and shared it with spouse and children.  This is a parent who has found a means to evangelize the family, a means that works for that family.  This is the duty of parents, to bring their families to the faith.

GROUP II:

The other case is also a letter representative of how other parents think.  I have the honor of helping some men and women discern their vocation.  I like to think of it as walking alongside them.  At the end of the day, God does the calling and they respond.  I’m just there to make sure that the person is paying attention.

In vocation discernment, I not only walk with the inquirer, but I often walk with the parents, if they allow it.

During the walk, I have received many positive and holy reactions from parents, especially those parents who have given God a hearing.  I call it a hearing, because they have sought me out or invited me to their home so as to understand what it is that God is asking of them and their sons.  I’m not God and I’m not the son.  I’m the middleman.  I get the opportunity to have some wonderful conversations with parents about consecrated life, marriage, Holy Orders, and parenting.   I received a letter from a parent that really speaks for the several parents with whom I’ve spoken and edited it for privacy and brevity.

Dear Br. Jay,

God’s greatest gifts to a couple are their children.  It is with great joy and love for God that we support our son’s aspiration to become a religious brother or any other vocation he chooses.  Our son . . . and our family are blessed to have you in our lives.  May our God of love and peace keep you healthy to continue to serve Him.

With much love and admiration,

I had to share this message, because I’ve heard this from other parents.  They understand that their children are a gift.  They understand that giving their son or daughter license to respond to God’s plan for his or her life is an act of love for God and the child.  They understand that having a guide is a blessing that God gives to the family, to the son or daughter and to the guide.  We’re all blessed that God has called us to cooperate with Him in His plan for the salvation of this soul.  They have understood the most important part of all.  God has a plan for every human being who is conceived.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jer 1:5

One’s vocation in life has already been written in God’s heart before one ever existed.  All one has to do is follow what God puts before you in the present moment.  He takes care of the rest.

GROUP III:

I also have had experience with a third group of families who struggle with the idea of a vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life.  The reasons for their struggles can be many.  I believe that the bottom line is that they are worried about their children’s happiness.  But here is where faith should enter the picture.

One’s happiness is not dependent on the parent.  A man’s happiness is dependent on the choices he makes.  If he chooses to cooperate with God’s plan for his life, he will be happy.  If he chooses some other plan (no matter how noble), he may as well sign his own death sentence.  There is no happiness outside of God’s plan for you.

In these families, parents want to take charge and direct the son or daughter in whatever direction they believes is best for the adult child.  There can be validity to this.  If my son or daughter were dating someone with a criminal background and were talking marriage, I have a duty to warn my child.  At the end of the day, it is my child who consents to the marriage or not.  It is not I who consent.  My duty before God and child is to guide.  Guidance is not the same as control, manipulation, placing temptations before our children to get them to change their minds (See Thomas Aquinas), nor is it the same as commanding, threatening or using guilt.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that children living at home have to submit to their parents, meaning to their rules, because it’s the parents’ home.  They do not have to submit to that which is not beneficial to their soul.

As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them. This respect has its roots in the fear of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2217).

Our faith also tells us that

“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,(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2222)

And finally, our faith tells us,

“Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations. They should remember and teach that the first calling of the Christian is to follow Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2253).

Occasionally, the adult child is up against a parent that seems to have forgotten this.  If I could send a message to parents it would be very simple.

Man was created to cooperate with God, not compete with Him.  To compete with God is to place oneself and one’s child on a slippery slope.  Don’t do it.  You may regret it.  You never know the long-term damage that you may do to your child’s soul.

Some important points to remember.

First, for the parent, competing with God is contrary to the vocation of parenting.  It raises the question, where is God in this picture?

Therefore, life must be treated with the greatest reverence.  Creating obstacles that interfere with the development of a person’s life according to God’s plan runs the risk of violating the sanctity of that person’s life.

I encourage all parents on this slope to step back.  We don’t have to agree with our children’s choices of a vocation.  Our daughter can bring home the last man on earth whom we would pick for her husband; but if there is no moral impediment and he makes her happy, I have to trust that God loves me and loves my child.

Second, for the child, one may never yield to the will of another, when that will is in conflict with God’s plan.  

This includes other people as well, not just parents.  It’s not a license to rebel against parents and follow others down the wrong path.

God makes His plans pretty clear through people, prayer, scripture, sacraments, and events in our lives.  Love of parents is binding until death; but love of God is the first and greatest commandment and it does not end at death.  We are called to love God for eternity.

We too must trust that even if our vocational choice causes our parents some grief, God loves our parents more than we do.  He will give them what they need.  We can never give our parents what God can give them.  We need to move on and give to God what He asks and take what He gives.  Sometimes, the grief is part of God’s plan.  There is such a thing as redemptive suffering.

Father Mitch Pacwa tells the story of how his father swore that he would never speak to him again and would disown him if he joined the Jesuits.  Mother Angelica told the story of how she had to run away from home to join the Poor Clares, because her mother would not hear of it.  I know that Mother Angelica’s mother eventually softened and actually entered the community.  I don’t know if Mr. Pacwa ever made peace with his son.  These two people are examples of a man and a woman who would not stand on the slippery slope with their parents, no matter how much they loved them.  Regardless of how much or how little they understood God’s plan for their lives, they knew that they had to follow the lead that God was giving them.  God would unwrap the rest with time.

If you keep another person company on a slippery slope, because it will make them happy, you may want to ask yourself the question that Christ asked St. Francis.  “Is it better to serve the Master or the servant?”

We must love and assist our parents in every way we can.  But we must always serve the Master first.  When we do, He will give us the means to honor our father and mother.  Was Mary abandoned by Christ?  Yet Christ said,

“Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:49-50)

God is both merciful and just.  He will have mercy on those who live according to His plan.  Beware of God’s justice.  It is not God who punishes.  God’s justice is an act of love.  He allows us to live and die with the consequences of our choices.

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. (Mark 10:29-30)

God created families, parents and children.  When he did so, he had a plan for each member of the family.  None of us can presume to love our parents, spouses, or children more than God loves them.  All of us must see our families as a gift that is part a plan in the mind of God.  We have to allow God to unfold that plan little by little.  As He unfolds it, He also gives us the resources to love each family member even more than we do  now.  In the meantime, we follow the lead that he places before us.  If parents and children make an honest mistake, God will help us find our way.

St. John XXIII said, “Follow the signs of the times.”

 

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