Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Parenting and Encounter

It's particularly hard to be a parent in the secularist culture of the Western world today. But Eileen and I have been blessed to be surrounded by a group of friends who support one another in the task of giving their kids a complete education.

We see all the dangers and frustrations and dead ends in our society; some of us have been down these paths in the past. But we also see many possibilities for goodness and beauty and solidarity in our society -- many perennial human possibilities but also many new possibilities opened up by all that is genuine in this emerging new epoch.

The forces of corruption are pervasive, as is the tremendous damage that is being done to persons, relationships, communities, and the civil order. It's only human for us to want to be "protective" of our children.

So we protect them, certainly, by setting certain prudent "boundaries," but also by living so as to build an environment, together with our friends and their children, that allows them to grow and develop through the normal stages of childhood and youth. We thus engage life not with a reactionary ideology, but from inside the positive dynamic of human nature and redeeming grace: the life Jesus generates among us because he is present with us.

We live with Jesus, within the context of the family, supportive institutions, and the sacramental life of the Church. From this context we introduce our kids, in a pedagogical way, to the great potential, the challenges, and the struggles of adult life in this society.

Do I mean something more here than simply that "we want to raise good kids"?

Well, certainly we want to raise good kids.

With the right pedagogy, we hope to help our children cultivate a generous personality, an authentic understanding and empathy, and a sense of responsibility based on the truth -- a solid moral character.

These are all realistic and admirable goals.

But there is a problem that might arise. I might be inclined to take as a "given" the very purpose of everything else in life, to assume it in such a way that I forget about it or it loses focus. I want an intellectual and moral formation for my kids. But as the Pope said, "Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ." (And this is not Pope Francis speaking. This is Benedict XVI, and he says this over and over.)

I want to help my children to be open to the love of Jesus. I want them to encounter Jesus, to be drawn by his love, and to follow him in the paths of their vocations.

It's especially easy among us Christians to focus on raising good, morally strong kids who have the right ideas. It's easy for us to talk about Jesus and the Church and faith, but forget that he is present with us, that he is drawing the hearts of each and every one of our children and shaping their destiny according to the mystery of his wisdom and love.

Our children belong to God. It's easy to forget that as parents our vocation is to have stewardship over them, and the environment in which they awaken to life and hear his voice.

Of course we want our kids to be moral, but why? It is because we want them to respond in love to the God who gives himself to us in Jesus. This is what life is all about. Our primary task as parents is to prepare our children to encounter Jesus and follow him.

And I have failed so often (in 17+ years of parenting) to be the instrument of God's love to my children, but I pray and I beg Jesus to shine through even my weakness, to touch the hearts of my children and draw them to him, to enable them to know that he loves them personally and calls them to share in his eternal life with the Father in the Spirit.

Our children have been created for this and given to us for this. How do we truly succeed in our task as parents?

I can only humble myself before the Lord and ask for his grace for my own life, for my wife and our marriage, and for our family. The infinite mercy of the heart of Jesus is my hope. May all our children encounter him in his mercy, and place their trust in him.