The Church does not just expect commitments from her children. She makes those commitments as well in union with her eternal bridegroom, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit whose presence has been promised by Him. She promises to lead them to heaven by teaching them to follow Jesus Christ. She promises to protect and guard them along the way by teaching them to remain under the umbrella of the Holy Spirit. She promises that she will always be with them, a promise that she can make only because of her unity to the one, Holy, eternal, and living God. The Catholic Church never commits to anything she cannot deliver because she never commits to anything that Jesus has not promised to bring forth.
What we can learn from the Catholic Church as parents is that we must teach our children to honor the commitments they make to others and to us first by example. We must never promise them what we cannot be certain we can deliver. We must never agree to do something for them or anyone else that we are not sure we can do.
When I was growing up, my mother would often say that she was going to do something and then later she would let things get in the way of actually doing whatever it was she had said she would do. Over time, I lost trust in her. I didn’t believe that she meant what she said and didn’t trust her to follow through with what she promised. This caused a huge rift in our relationship.
Unfortunately, I subconsciously learned that commitments didn’t really matter, something I lived out in my adult life over and over again. It’s something I’m trying to fix now, and something I am getting better at living out, but there’s a whole train wreck of broken commitments and lack of follow through to clean up. The worst part is that I did exactly the same thing to my son that my mother had done to me. He got to the point where he didn’t trust me at all, and rightfully so. Honoring commitments is an important part of developing trust, and trust is the foundation upon which every relationship necessarily rests.
Since I have become aware of the importance of honoring commitments and started making more efforts to follow through with what I say I am going to do, my relationship with my son has become much closer. He trusts me much more now than he used to. He knows that if I commit to doing something for him, I am going to do everything in my power to fulfill that commitment to him.
Covenants versus ContractsDo to others as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:31
There is a huge difference between a covenant and a contract. A contract is entered into by equal parties and can be dissolved by one party if any portion of the contract is not lived up to by the other party. A covenant is made between two people but it is unconditional – it remains effective even if the other party should violate some part of the agreement. God makes covenants. Men make contracts.
In teaching her children to honor commitments, the Catholic Church teaches them that these commitments are to be honored even when others let us down or disappoint us. We are not to do to them what they have done to us, but we are to do for them what we would want done for us. That’s a radical definition of honoring commitments, and it was even back then.
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. – Mark 10:9
One of the areas where people see this particular Church teaching in practice is in her attitudes about marriage. Many people disagree with this, but the Catholic Church does not acknowledge divorce. She does allow annulments – which is to say that the conditions for a valid marriage were never met – but there is no divorce in the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Marriage, like the Sacrament of Holy Orders, is a covenant relationship that reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and the Church.
The Church acknowledges that it is a very difficult thing to live out a marriage, or to live out the priesthood, with fidelity. There are many times when we, as human beings, will be hurt by our partner. Priests often hear from their bride, the parish they serve, only when they have done something wrong or done something that she doesn’t like. It is hard to take the constant negativity. There is no one to go home to at night, and the priest can feel the loneliness especially deeply when they are far from family.
Married couples must struggle daily to connect with one another. One person may feel unappreciated by the other. There may be times when one partner betrays the trust of another. These are the times when living out that marriage covenant, or that call to Holy Orders, becomes a painful cross to bear. Yet, the Church calls her children to unite these sufferings to Christ and remain faithful to the covenant they have entered into, not only for the good of their own children and for the good of the parish the priest serves, but for the good of all those who look upon that marriage or look to that priest for a sign that love can survive even the most troubled times.
To live out covenant relationships, we must come to an understanding of love that goes deeper than feelings. Feelings may be the initial spark that sets us on fire, but choice is the fuel that keeps that fire burning long past the initial spark. The choice we are called to make as covenant people is to love in the face of unlovable behavior and to love even when we do not feel like being loving. Keeping our commitments means making the choice to put our relationship with another person above our own personal feelings and desires of the moment.
One of the greatest examples we can set of honoring commitments for our children is to honor the commitment we have made to our spouse. Children who have witnessed their parents live out that lifelong commitment made in marriage are less likely to get divorced themselves because they had a daily example of what living a commitment looked like. They grow up happier, healthier, and with fewer problems with interpersonal relationships.
ConclusionLearning to honor commitments is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. It will help them to earn the trust of others and to strengthen relationships. It is also part of learning to be a responsible adult, to limit their commitments to only what they know they can follow through on, and to be people that other people can count on.
I hope you have enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can find the introduction and earlier chapters by clicking on the link above. I hope you will join us tomorrow for chapter 25: Giving Children Choices.
If you would like to be placed on an email list so that you can be the first to be notified of new chapters or new content for this blog, please send an email with "Sign me up" in the subject line to brandy at nvcreativetechnology dot com. If you have experience with how teaching your children to honor commitments has benefitted your son or daughter, or how a failure to teach them has hurt them or you, please let me know and leave a comment below. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.