Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rooted in Love


“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14

This instruction to let all that you do be done in love is the most important thing you can learn from the Catholic Church and her methods of parenting. Every law, every rule, every tradition, every instruction, every action that the Catholic Church hands on to her children to follow is all given out of the unconditional love that she has for them. In this case, I am not talking about love as a feeling but as a choice made to always seek the highest possible good for the other. The highest possible good, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, is heaven – so everything that she does is ordered toward helping her children get to heaven. It is ordered toward teaching her children how to give and receive love so that they might be open to the greatest love of all – the love of God.

There are several noticeable qualities that the love shown by the Catholic Church to her children possesses, the same qualities which Jesus Christ – her eternal spouse – first modeled for her. We can read about these qualities in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends”. We also read in 1 John 4:9-10 that, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that He sent his only Son into the world so that we might life through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation of our sins.” So we know that love’s qualities are patience, kindness, endurance, hope, belief, and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of the other. These are the qualities every parent should strive to demonstrate.

The Catholic Church is a model of patient love. Day after day, week after week, year after year, she opens her arms and her doors to receive all who are willing to come. She offers gentle rebuke to the sinner and swift mercy to the repentant of heart. She teaches and feeds her children daily, offering them a chance time and again to improve and to grow closer to their heavenly Father through a relationship with her spouse, Jesus Christ. She is always there waiting, welcoming back home those who have left and gone astray. She tirelessly seeks out her lost children, calling them to come back home. She knows that her children will disobey her, knows that they will speak ill of her to others, knows that they will misunderstand what she does and turn away from her, and she does not allow this to alter her course. She simply loves them and prays for them, sacrificing her heart so that someday they can come to know a greater joy and peace than this world can ever offer.

Christ gave His life so that the Church and the children who would be born in her might live. So we as parents must be willing to give our lives that our children and their children might live. This is not an easy call. We must put aside our own interests, hopes, dreams, and desires to focus on the needs and future of our child. This sometimes requires us to take make career sacrifices so that we can have more time to spend with them, meaning that we must live in less comfortable surroundings and have less money to do the fun things in life. It may require us to give up ambitions and dreams that would require us to be away from them for long stretches, or to switch jobs, or even to give up our education in order to make sure that we can give our children the most important gift of all – the gift of knowing that they are loved. These are very real sacrifices, but this is exactly the kind of sacrifice that Christ, and the Church, make for us. Like Christ, the Church stands as a shield for her children, taking the brunt of the criticisms for their sins and shouldering the greater burden of their crosses. She does not do this for the thanks, in fact, she understands that she will not – in most cases – be appreciated or even seen as doing anything useful. She does this completely out of love for them and a desire that they should find their way into eternal life.

It isn’t just the Catholic Church’s example that shows us how important love is, either. Recent studies show that the love of a mother actively changes the brain of her child. Also, children who are raised in a home that models the Church’s mode of “tough love” – love that has expectations and consequences but also mercy, forgiveness, fun, and freedom - are less likely to drink as teenagers and even less likely to become binge drinkers. Primate studies conducted by Harry Harlow beginning in the 1950’s show that love – even abusive love – is such an ingrained need in our hearts that we will seek it no matter how little of it there is being given to us. So great is our need as children for love that if we do not receive at least some human contact we will literally die, even if we are provided nourishment and shelter. The bottom line is that children whose need for love is met by their parents are happier, healthier, and less likely to seek that love in self-destructive ways. They are also inherently more resistant to peer pressure as they grow older.

The teen years are often turbulent not because they have to be but because our earlier failures to love are thrust to the surface and become a wedge between parent and child. Those early years are absolutely crucial for developing the trust that’s needed for teens to come to you when they are in trouble, rather than hiding or running away. If your teen is giving you headaches today, don’t think it’s hopeless, though. Earlier mistakes can be overcome by applying the principles of parenting taught by the Catholic Church. It will take time, but it can be done.

It can even be done in the case of adult children who are estranged. All it takes is a firm commitment to change, a lot of prayer, and the understanding that changes will not come overnight. This is where patience, endurance, and hope will be absolutely critical. You cannot go back and undo your mistakes, but as the Church teaches, so long as there is life and breath there is hope for change. It may be hard for you to believe, given how often society tells us that parents don’t matter and that once your kids reach the teen years nothing you say will influence them, but your influence as parents does not diminish just because your child grows older.

The bottom line is that so long as what you do is rooted in selfless, patient, enduring, and unconditional love for your child there is always hope that you can reach them, and the earlier you begin the better. St. Monica prayed for her son for 50 years before she was able to overcome her past mistakes and was fully reconciled with her son. It may take time, but it can and does happen. My own mother spent many years on her knees for me before my heart was ready to take her completely back in - but it did happen. It can happen for you, as well.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us about Parenting. Please join us for tomorrow's chapter: It Takes Two. If you stumbled across this chapter alone, you can read the introduction, The Catholic Church as the Ultimate Mother by following the link. Thanks again for taking the time to read this and I hope you find it useful.

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