Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Because Being a Parent is a Vocation

Posted by Frank
I came across this little quote from one of the Doctors of the Church, St. John Crysostom today:

“The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give the example of a virtuous life.”

How often do the pressures of everyday life lead me away from the truth of this statement? And how often are my eyes taken away from the primary goal and, instead, focused on secondary and tertiary goals? More often than I care to admit.

I was reading Webster's post today on his lovely relationship with his RCIA sponsor whom he has dubbed Joan of Beverly. How enjoyable it must be, I thought, to be able to walk over to my sponsor’s home for a visit like that. To inquire about their health, both physical and spiritual. To be able to sit and listen to words of wisdom like those Joan gives out, take them in, and reflect upon them. Talk of our walk of faith together and sit in rapt stillness listening to her for thirty minutes as she unwinds a personal tale with a deeper meaning knitted together with her words.

And then reality hit me like a ton of bricks! This ain’t in the cards for you, ole boy. Not yet, and not by a long shot! You have three children (aged 14, 10, and 8) and they need their daddy (and your wife needs her husband!), to stay focused on the mission of bringing them up and preparing them for their eventual place in the world. And that mission is time-consuming. It can be exhausting and at Casa del Weathers, there is seemingly never a dull moment. I know many of our readers are in the same boat with me so I'm not alone on this one. Am I?

Putting on my Anu Garg costume, let's break down the word vocation, shall we?

vo-ca-tion {voh-key-shun} — noun

1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
3. a divine call to God's service or to the Christian life.
4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

1400–50; late ME vocacio(u)n <>
Synonyms:1. employment, pursuit.

“Raising children can be quite an onerous task and I believe that it's almost impossible to succeed in our vocation as Catholic parents without the support and help of the wider community.”—Maria Bryne, “It's Not Always Easy Being A Parent,” The Irish Catholic, On-Line Edition, v1.0

You see, Anu? I can do this too! And with out any weird, defeatist, introductions. Absent also is the smugness of the know-it-all parent, who is really smart and blessed with perfect children too. I’m just a regular guy, with the three kids and a wife, trying to keep his sanity while keeping his eye on the target.

And I'm grateful that the Catholic Church stresses that raising children is a vocation in the sense of all of the definitions above, and especially numbers 3 and 4. Which is why the Church calls the family the Domestic Church and provides us instruction to complement what is said about parenting in the Holy Scriptures in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Here are a few examples:

The duties of parents

2221 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.

2222 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.

2223 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. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”

Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

“He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

2224 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.

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds" for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one's life.

2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child's earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.

2227 Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it.

2228 Parents' respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom.

2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

2232 Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Wow, I wish I would have had this handy manual earlier in my calling to be a parent! What a game-changer! Of course, the manuals (the Bible and the CCC) were there all along and available to me always, but I was too stubborn to bother looking at them until after I became a Catholic. Before I was a Catholic, I would have scoffed at the idea that a bunch of celibate, religious brothers and sisters could have any insight to give me on what it means to be a parent.

Given the state of the world today, my wife and I need all the help we can get to fulfill our vocation as parents. Our parish communities and our Church’s teachings and traditions are useful and effective tools, a comforting tool kit to help us face this Herculean task.

So for those of you in the YIM Catholic community who are parents of school-age children and who get wistful and envious of Webster's (seemingly) halcyon existence as the very model of a modern, genteel Catholic man and husband, remember me, Joe Six-Pack, The Dad, USMC. I have got your back! Send me your tired, your poor, your frustrated, your hair-on-fire parenting war stories. I want to read them and I need your support too!