MOM AND DAD: PRIMARY TEACHERS OF THE FAITH
Rebecca Vitz Cherico
Editor’s Note: The following column is based on a presentation the author made Sept. 25 at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
As the oldest of six children, I spent a good deal of my youth taking care of my brothers and sisters, but nothing prepared me for the depths of love I would feel when each of my own five children were born. In the days following my first baby’s birth, though, I was beset by horrible fears. Deeply disturbed, I called a friend, who wisely pointed out that my fears stemmed from my love. I was afraid precisely because I knew I had received a tremendous gift.
Something new and beautiful — a precious life — was now part of my world. Recognizing that our primary task as parents is to introduce our child to the reality of God’s love, it was clear that faith, too, was an invaluable gift to be received, before it was something to be passed on.
The first step in instilling faith is to recover our sense of wonder at this gift, which in turn reveals that our lives are about a relationship. We are here to know, love and serve God — to love and be loved — which is why we must teach our children to pray.
Our children are given to us so that we can love them and help them to love God. But they are also given to us so that we can be loved by them and learn to love God through them. Most parents know they have a responsibility to educate their children, but it’s more difficult to remember that our children are also here to educate us and to help us get to heaven. How true this must have been for the Holy Family. Just as God entrusted Jesus to a human mother and father — and Jesus (God himself!) was obedient to them — Mary and Joseph learned much about God’s love and tenderness for them by watching over Jesus.
Through our children, we gain an intuition of unconditional love, as well as a path to help us become closer to God’s perfection and to learn to love as he does. When our children look at us with devotion, they show God’s love and mercy for us. And when they won’t sleep as infants, or have tantrums as toddlers, or disobey us or get embarrassed by us when they’re older, they’re helping us learn to enter the heart of God, who loves perfectly and unconditionally.
To find Christ in the flesh today, we can introduce our children to Christians who joyfully live their faith, to the poor and needy, and to the fullness of the Church’s sacramental life in confession, Mass and eucharistic adoration.
We are also called to help our children to receive the gift of hope. The French poet Charles Péguy wrote that hope “loves what has not yet been and what will be in the future and in eternity.” Our hope is grounded in a great certainty: Nothing we might do can ever prevent God from seeking a relationship with us and with our children. As Pope Francis has explained, even our sins can become occasions of encounter with God’s mercy, and our awareness of this mercy is the basis of our hope.
Before becoming parents, we have many ideas about how to do things. But once children arrive, we may feel overwhelmed or discouraged. The task is just too big for us on our own. God wants us to be aware of this and to know he is there.
Though at times we may feel like giving up in the face of our limitations, God takes our efforts and can multiply them. In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus doesn’t make a meal out of nothing; he takes the food people brought. When we say “yes” to him in our families and give the little we have, he makes it enough. Then we get to see the miracle of his presence.
REBECCA VITZ CHERICO teaches at Villanova University and is the editor of Atheist to Catholic: Stories of Conversion(2011). Her husband, Colin, is a member of St. Helena Council 14210 in Blue Bell, Pa.