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The Catholic Moment: The call of all parents

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

By Father Kyle Schnippel

As we journey through the Advent season, at least part of me wonders what was going through Mary’s mind during that journey. The somewhat haunting refrain of a popular carol asks: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?” While we can never truly know the thoughts of our Blessed Mother, it certainly invites some speculation during the run up to Christmas.

Perhaps the easiest thing to surmise is that her conversation with the archangel Gabriel was running over and over in her thoughts. From the moment of her conception, she had been prepared to be the Mother of God, and now it was about to happen. She would be responsible to bring Jesus up, to teach Him to pray and to form Him to be able to accept the mission that had been prepared for Him from the foundation of the world. It is a wonder she had any sleep at all!

Mary and Joseph’s role in raising the child Jesus to fulfill His mandate is something that is shared by all parents. The final blessing of the rite of baptism bears this out. In the prayer over the father, they are reminded that the parents “are the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be, also, the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith in all that they say and do.”

The church takes this commissioning of parents very seriously and counts on them to be the best of teachers, going so far as to call the home the “domestic church.” It is in the home that children are taught to pray, to love and serve God, to overcome difficulty and, perhaps most importantly, where they are formed to be Christian disciples in this world. It is this call to discipleship where each child, as he or she grows into adolescence and young adulthood, should begin to realize that God has called him or her to do something special, something unique. The mission of parents is to enable their children to accept this God given mission with all their heart, mind and soul.

Despite this commissioning at their child’s baptism, in my work as director of vocations, I sometime run afoul of parents. I will talk with a young man interested in the priesthood or a young woman interested in religious life, and their response is tragic: “Father, I feel called to this, but my parents will not allow it.”

I wonder what goes into this denial. Perhaps it is a desire for grandchildren on the part of the parents; perhaps it is fear that their son or daughter will be lonely in ministry; perhaps there is a fear of “What happens if he does not like the seminary?” I have a feeling that it is a combination of all three and truly driven out of love for their child.

To this last, I respond that as much as they love their child (who is now a young adult), God loves him or her even more, and if He has placed this on their heart, God will give them the strength and courage to be able to respond. God does not set someone up for failure, but gives them the gifts that they need to succeed, just as He gave Mary and Joseph the gifts they needed to be worthy parents of Jesus.

During this Advent season, I invite parents to pray for their children. Pray specifically for two things — help in discerning the unique gift and talent that God has given to each of your children; and how is He asking you to nurture and develop those gifts, so that when this child leaves the home to enter the world, he or she will do so with the confidence that comes from being a child of God?

Forming our children with these two questions in mind will ultimately lead them to follow wherever God might be leading them in the church and in the world. For information on how to share the faith with your children, see www.cincinnativocations.org.

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