I recently heard Dr. Peter Kreeft offer a wonderful – and wonderfully simple – reflection on “Raising Catholic Kids.” He presented a twelve-point list of to-dos, and commented on each. I am praying them one by one, and finding them to be dense as a neutron star.
Here is point #1:
“Treat them as what they are. They’re the King’s kids. You’re His foster parents. They’re not pets, or problems, or products. You don’t raise kids, you raise cattle. Love the Hell out of them. Love them twice as much every day as you did the day before.”
Treat them as what they are. They’re the King’s kids. You’re His foster parents.
When I first saw my firstborn son appear from behind the curtain (he was a C-section birth) in the delivery room, my initial internal reaction was the most authentic ‘shock and awe’ experience: ‘Life will never be the same again.’ My wife and I cried as we held him, and as I held him I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a gift. It was a simple intuition, and the last 15 years have offered both of us innumerable opportunities to instantiate, realize, actualize that insight by parenting in accord with the truth that he is God’s gift to us. It also offered me innumerable opportunities to instantiate, realize, actualize my capacity to sin by refusing the gift that my child is, so that I have fallen in love anew with the Penitential Rite at Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of getting to know Msgr. John Esseff, who was one of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s spiritual directors. In the time I spent with him, he shared with me a marvelous insight. I will paraphrase here what he said:
“God dreamt of each of your children from all eternity, seeing and loving in each one of them the beauty of his Only Son. His deepest desire in creating them was that they might come to know and love him as their tender and compassionate Father, and know and love his Son. To do this, he gave them you; and he gave them your wife. At their baptism, you gave them back to him. This is the essence of your calling, on which you will be judged: on that day when they die and first glimpse the eternal Father’s face, they will be able to instinctively say: ‘I recognize you; you remind me of my father and my mother.'”
What does the Father look like? Jesus answers that succinctly in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” So for parents, the parenting book is the four-fold Gospel. And the daily, minute-ly parenting prayer is, “Lord, love these children through me and help me stay out of the way.”
When we spoke later of what was most important for “succeeding” in my career as a teacher of the faith, he said: “Your success as a teacher of the faith rests on what you do when you go home, not on what you do when you go to work. Work is not your real home, but home is your real work.”
Reminds me of what Cardinal Francis Arinze said to me when he was in Iowa a few years ago. After the radio show interview with Bishop Pates, I asked the master catechist Cardinal: “I devoted my life to catechesis. How can I be a better catechist?” He replied without hesitation, “Are you married?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “Do you have children?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then be a good husband, and a good father and the rest will follow.”
Vatican II defined holiness as perfectae caritatis, the ‘perfection of love.’ So, if love is not to become sacrilegious, it must take on a sacralogic that requires not just any love, but an ordo caritatis, an ‘order of love.’ For a family, God-first means spouse-first, kids-second and the rest in their rightful place. Jesus said it slightly otherwise.
Kreeft then says, “You don’t raise kids, you raise cattle.”
Total diss on my title for his talk. I can take it.
“Love the Hell out of them. Love them twice as much every day as you did the day before.”
Loving like Hell is tough as Hell. The older and more hellish they get, the greater your love must grow. A fierce love, tough love, gentle love, merciful love, demanding love, joyful love, constant love, humble love, bold love, public love, secret love, sacrificial love, repentant love, sweet love, bitter love, laughing love, weeping love, truthful love, prudent love, patient love, undying love, and every other form of love that a human can draw from the infinite fountain of love springing from the side of the dead, love-spent Christ.
Do that, and one day we will celebrate your feast day in a lonely Catholic Church in south Sudan and a new generation of parents will awaken to the tiny gifts God has entrusted to their care.