Thursday, October 25, 2012

Remembering Your Heritage

My parents divorced when I was almost 4 years old. Shortly after that, my father returned to his family in Mississippi. I wouldn’t see him again for 20 years. My mother’s parents were divorced when she was 5. She knew little of her father’s side of the family. These things left huge gaps in my knowledge of my family. I felt like a tumbleweed, having no roots and being blown about by every gust of wind. It wasn’t until my 10th grade year when a history teacher of mine commanded us to write up our family histories that I began to dig around and actively seek answers. That desire to know my origins, to connect with my ancestors, is a very human desire because it is a desire that is written right into the human heart.

Though our parents may divorce, that doesn't divorce us from our parents. We are still 50% of our mother and 50% of our father. We are 25% of each of our grandparents, and 12.5% of their parents. Knowing where we come from, knowing the people that shaped and formed us, can often help us better understand ourselves and why our family is the way it is. We can also capitalize on the things our family has done well and avoid the things our family hasn't done so well. The Catholic Church knows how important it is to remember your heritage. It is her heritage that shapes and guides everything she does in the Mass, and everything she teaches her children to do today.

Sacred Scripture

In the Catholic Church, the collection of books that were kept by the people of Israel, the writings about Christ, and the letters from various Apostles are all bundled together into a book known as the Bible, or Sacred Scripture. The Catholic Church keeps these books together as any mother might keep collected together the love letters a father wrote to his children, letters that are full of advice and examples and explanations for why they as a family do what they do, and reads them regularly to her children so that they are reminded of their father’s love for them at all times and in all circumstances. How tragic were such a collection to be lost or neglected, relegated to some forgotten corner! What a great loss to the child and to the future generations of children.

This is something that we can learn from the Catholic Church. In those letters, she does not sugar coat the failures of her children. That Saint Paul was once called Saul and that he murdered men and women who tried to follow Christ is not covered up or pretended to be anything other than the terrible thing it was. She does not sugar coat the failures of her forefathers, either. That David was a man who once betrayed a close friend so that he could sleep with that friend’s wife is not presented as being good, in fact there was a terrible price to be paid for that sin, but it is presented so that we can see that our Father continued to love David in spite of those failings. In listening to these letters we are reassured both that we will still be loved no matter how big the mistake and that good things can come from even the worst of our failures.

Sacred Tradition

The Catholic Church doesn't just pass on to her children the letters her father has written them, she keeps alive their family identity by passing on to them the traditions which He established. There are days set aside for feasting, and times set aside for reflecting on mistakes and learning from them. She calls them together at set times for meals, and she gives them practices that identify them distinctly as belonging to that particular family and no other. Let’s face it, being Catholic is definitely different than being Protestant, Muslim, or an Israelite even though it bears some resemblance to all three. Creating traditions for our children is an important part of passing on to them their family heritage and keeping that alive for them even when they are far from home.

Growing up in my home, there were just certain things our family did. We read books. In fact, there were probably more books in our house than anything else. Everyone had their own collection, but we also had a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in the family room which contained three different kinds of encyclopedias, tons of do-it-yourself guides, and classics of literature. The love of reading was a tradition that was infused into every pore of our bodies. My grandmother’s house was like my mother’s. She, too, had bookshelves full of books in every room of the house. These were not show pieces to be looked at but treasures to be cared for, loved, and explored. It was a part of our identity that I passed on to my own son when he was a child. I do not have to make him read. That love of reading is a tradition he has now made his own. That tradition of a love of reading did set us apart and make us distinct from others. It gave us a broader vocabulary and a greater command of the English language. It marked us as being one of our mother’s children just as much as our faces, hair colors, and eye colors might.

Honoring your father and mother

"Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 5:16

Remembering your heritage is all part of honoring your father and mother. The Catholic Church keeps alive all of the traditions and teachings she inherited from her own mother, Mary, a daughter of Israel. In this way she honors all those who came before Mary and who shaped and formed her into the woman she became. She models herself after her mother’s example, and takes the best from the examples of Mary’s ancestors to incorporate into her life while using the worst examples as lessons of what not to do going forward. In this way, she takes what Mary gave her and improves upon it for her own children, the Catholic faithful.

Honoring your father and mother doesn't mean you excuse their mistakes or overlook their abuses. This would be wrong and it would prevent you from being able to learn from those mistakes and abuses. What it does mean is that you uphold whatever they did that was good and right and beautiful, even if the only thing they did that was good, right, and beautiful was giving birth to you and then giving your life into the care of someone more capable. It honors the sacrifices they made to be parents, their efforts to nurse you through illnesses and guide you toward a life that’s better than the one they were given. Your parents may have failed in many ways, but if you are able to read this chapter that means there were good things they did as well because otherwise you would not have made it this far. So, we honor that truth.

Another reason to honor our father and mother is that they are forever part of us. In honoring what is good, right, beautiful, and true about them is also good, right, beautiful, and true about ourselves. If we reject everything about our parents, we are also rejecting at least 50% of ourselves and this is not a healthy way to live. We cannot hate them without hating ourselves, and we cannot love them without loving ourselves. We are forever linked, like it or not. Last, how we treat our parents is how we teach our children to treat us. It is that simple.


Thank you for joining us for the latest chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting.  If you are joining us for the first time, you can find the rest of the chapters and the introduction by following the link above. I hope you will join us tomorrow for chapter 13: Holding Fast to Traditions

If you liked it, loved it, hated it, thought it needed work, wanted to add something, wanted to share your own thoughts about remembering your heritage, please leave a comment below. Comments are always welcomed and appreciated :).

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