A Catholic reflection on Father's Day
It's good to be a father. Let me start by sending my best wishes to all fathers, and to thank the five people in the world who have had the greatest influence on me as a father -- first, there are my parents. My mother immigrated to this country from County Galway, Ireland, leaving her home and family at age 13 for better opportunities in the U.S. She was the person who modeled for me the virtues of faith, integrity, devotion, and compassion. And my father, a native of St. Louis whose grandparents were also from County Galway, taught me how to think, laugh, play and pray.
I also want to recognize my children, Patrick and Kathleen, who are beautiful gifts in my life. Patrick is going into 6th grade in Catholic school and Kathleen will be in the 2nd grade. Feedback is a gift too, and our children do a good job of giving us feedback -- positive and negative, but very helpful nonetheless in making us better parents. And my wonderful wife has had the single greatest impact in making me a better father. In addition to being a loving wife and mother, she has always been there to give me candid advice and guidance on what I'm doing well and not so well, and it's a blessing to have a such a conscientious and helpful spouse.
Which brings to mind the Gospel story of Jesus calming the sea, with the apostles watching in astonishment at God's power. Now if only our kids obeyed their parents the way the sea obeyed Jesus. If only our kids responded with the kind of respect and wonder that the apostles showed to Jesus. But in their own way, they do just that, more than we realize.
For in the midst of the storms life presents, as our children face confusion, and when they feel the ship may be sinking, we as parents are there to calm the sea, show them that we care, and demonstrate that we're always there to help with the emotional winds and waves in their lives. Just as Jesus was there for the apostles, we are there for our children during stormy times. And we don't always know when those storms will appear. We can't turn on the weather channel to check out the long-term forecast, which of course in Chicago we know is worthless anyway.
So not only do we need to be there on a moment's notice for our children, we also must continuously build a foundation over time that enables them to calm their own fears, face their own troubles, and make good decisions. And building that foundation is hard work -- there are no short cuts.
As we think of our parents today, and their hard work to build such a foundation for us, on this Father's Day, it is natural to think about one's own father and the lessons and teachings that have been passed down from father to son. And nothing to me is more important than what I was taught about my faith by my father. As I reflect on those early years, there are a few things that come to mind.
First, I recall my father teaching me about the importance of weekly church attendance and respect for the mass. First it meant dressing the part -- you couldn't go to mass dressed sloppily. And in our church, you always felt like you were dressing up for a special occasion.
The reason I say that is I grew up in St. Louis; and our parish was the Cathedral Basilica -- truly one of the most beautiful churches in the country if you haven't seen it. It has the world's largest collection of mosaics -- an amazing thing to behold. You felt like you were going to a special place, for a special reason, and we were taught that how we dressed had to reflect that. You also had to be on time, which growing up in a family of six children, wasn't always easy to do. One memory of going to mass is that our church, being as large as it was, had seven different entrances -- and we always entered through the front, so that if you were late, it was in full view -- no slipping into the back.
I always suspected that my father took us in that way on purpose to motivate us to arrive on time, although I'm not sure it worked, as we seemed to make that "walk of shame" quite often. Another key learning was to listen, pay attention and participate in the mass. In particular, we were challenged to try to understand the homily, and even if it didn't make sense, my father encouraged us to try to at least understand one key point. Now for me, that was a big challenge -- my listening skills weren't the best, and I don't just mean when I was a kid.
As my wife will remind me, I can remember who led my beloved St. Louis Cardinals in home runs in 1974, but I can't remember what she asked me to do 2 minutes ago. Still, we did have one reason to try to listen to the homily -- that's because we never knew when there might be a family discussion on it. See sometimes at lunch following Sunday mass, my father would ask us questions about the homily. Fortunately, this didn't happen every week, but it was just enough to keep us on our toes. And it did generate some interesting discussions at the lunch table. An additional area was how my father brought religion alive through movies about history and religion.
Our family favorites included Jesus Christ Superstar, my all-time favorite musical. Another was Jesus of Nazareth, one of the best films I've ever seen about the life of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we had a family tradition of watching the opening scenes from Jesus of Nazareth on the birth of Jesus; the night before Easter we watched the Holy Week scenes. This is a tradition I've enjoyed passing on to our kids.
Another important tradition and parental responsibility involves teaching and modeling issues of religion, ethics, and justice. Yet the spiritual aspect of parenting is often a source of anxiety. How do we teach our children about God and other subjects when we often feel less than certain ourselves?
There are so many topics that, at age appropriate times, are important to have with our children to build the foundation of faith, shape their moral consciousness, and deliver on the mission of the church.
Having these types of crucial conversations can be one of the hardest parts of parenting...vital and challenging subjects such as:
* Respect life issues
* Addressing poverty, with its multitude of causes & effects
* Countering our culture's excessive self-interest and materialism
* Opposing racism and other forms of discrimination
* Teaching tolerance for people of other religions and non-believers
* Care and protection for God's creation, the earth; Promoting peace and global solidarity
These are among the principles of Catholic Social Teaching that should be discussed and passed on to our children.
Or back to the mass...it's certainly a challenge explaining the mysteries of our faith in a way that provides sustained learning for our children...for instance, talking about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the reverence that it deserves, and its meaning in our lives...and not just while preparing for First Communion, but how do we do so on an ongoing basis?
These are great discussion topics for the dinner table, a long car ride, and other rare opportunities for extended dialogue with our children during our very busy lives. I've also tried to teach my children that there's a much broader and more diverse world beyond our own community. We typically understand the world through our surroundings, and the more exposure we have to the experiences and perspectives of others, the better off we are.
So I'm always looking for opportunities for our children to gain unique experiences, which may include visiting other communities and interacting with other cultures in the Chicago area.
This means going to other churches periodically, or doing community service work in different neighborhoods as a family. It's taking my children to Kids' Day at work. Sometimes it's our family taking the bus or L instead of driving.
Or visiting museums off the tourist path in which we'll all learn something new. It's about teaching our children that working for the common good to build a better society is every bit as essential to our faith as going to mass on Sunday. Having these discussions and sharing these types of experiences with my children are the things that give me the most satisfaction as a parent.
Still, God knows that certainly I can do better in talking about and acting on many of these subjects and spending more quality time with my children. There are days where I feel like I've failed.
But then I remind myself that parenting is never easy...being a father - or a mother - has incredible challenges, incredible pains, as well as amazing joys and rewards. In the end, we can do nothing better for our children than personally walking and talking in the way of the Lord, and passing along our wisdom. For me, my parents taught me a lot about Catholic values and how to be a father. I hope and pray that I am doing the same for my children. And ultimately, I look forward to seeing all our children becoming witnesses and stewards of our faith...
With the courage and conviction to stand up for and do what is right...all because a solid foundation had been built many years before. And may that be our greatest legacy as parents!
Happy Father's Day.