A good young priest, Fr. Lucio Choi, once shared with me how he was discouraged, and it wasn’t because of his bad haircut. He said he now understood why some priests get cynical: You try so hard, do so much for people, and they don’t care or respond. I reassured him and empathized, because I know what it’s like to be discouraged as a spiritual father.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
Discouragement is a great temptation of parenthood. A couple here recently e-mailed me saying that their young son doesn’t believe in God anymore and doesn’t see the point in going to Mass. They were shocked and confused! What do they do?
God the Father has given us great encouragement in the Second Reading, where one spiritual father, St. Paul, writes to another spiritual father, St. Timothy, about how to be a good spiritual father!
Here’s the context: St. Paul is twelve years older than St. Timothy, and for fifteen years had trained him to be a bishop. At the time of this letter, St. Paul is in Rome encouraging St. Timothy, who is in Ephesus, and has to deal with a local Catholic community in turmoil. St. Paul “urges Timothy to fulfill his teaching mission with all the zeal and endurance he can muster… Youthful and reserved by nature, Timothy must now be manly and strong in the grace of God” (Scott Hahn, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 395).
Let’s divide the reading into three parts:
1. “Beloved: Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, (1) knowing from whom you learned it, and how (2) from childhood you have known (3) the sacred writings that are able to instruct you (4) for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). St. Paul is telling St. Timothy not to give up as a father, for four reasons (Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 268): 1) He has to remember the people from whom he learned, that is, St. Paul, but also from his mother, Eunice, who became a Christian, and his grandmother, Lois; 2) the time when he learned it: Jewish children often started studying the Torah at age five; 3) the source of the teaching, that is, the Scriptures; and 4) the purpose of the teaching, for salvation through faith in Jesus.
For parents, you need to remember the principles of parenthood taught in the Bible, aimed at helping your children be truly happy, that is, become saints. Some of us have heard these principles before, while for others they’ll be new; but they will resonate with us—because of all this, don’t give up!
There are two principles of parenthood that can help us right away: 1) Parental authority comes from God (CCC 2197-99); it’s an authority that must never be abused, but exercised from love and with love. We’re not our kids’ friends (though this might change when they become adults). We are their parents and so we use our authority to guide them. 2) Because we’re given authority over our children, we have more influence on them than they do on us. Once I learned this truth, I stopped feeling discouraged when my spiritual children fail, because I have more influence on you than you do on me, and I will use it for your good. Parents will often say their children are strong-willed—no, we parents are stronger-willed.
Therefore, as I’ve suggested before, use your authority and bless your children with love by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads with your thumb, or bless them with holy water. And if they don’t like it, do it when they’re sleeping or not looking.
2. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the one who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Question: What role does the Bible have in our homes? The Bible is God’s speaking to us. The most important questions in life are answered in it: Who God is, why He made us, and where we’re going. If we want our children to live a moral and virtuous life, they need to read books that teach morality and virtue. It’s providential that we have this weekend a book fair downstairs. Buy some good Catholic books. Get books that can explain the Bible to you and your kids.
St. Paul also states the goal of the Scriptures: “That the one who belongs to God may be proficient” or, as one translation says, ‘complete,’ or mature. As parents, we need to remember the goal of parenthood, because we’re tempted to lower our standards. You know how some children complain to their parents, “You want me to be perfect!” “Well, yeah. And part of being perfect is learning from mistakes. I know you’ll make mistakes, but I always expect you to apologize and improve. I don’t expect perfect grades, because that’s not the most important thing; but I do expect you to be perfect in the sense of trying to avoid sin and trying your best, because that’s what I try to do.”
Since the goal of life is to become complete and mature, many people no longer subscribe to the philosophy that when we become teenagers, it’s normal to have an ‘attitude,’ so we tolerate it. Matthew Kelly says, “What’s normal about that? They’re rude, arrogant, thoughtless, careless, self-centered, and self-absorbed” (Building Better Families, CD). That’s not a normal part of adolescence. Looking for answers, changing emotionally, discovering more deeply our identity is normal, but that doesn’t mean having an attitude. It’s actually insulting to teens that our expectations are low. That’s part of the reason why self-esteem is so low, because we expect poor behaviour.
In the summer, I told some parents, Dave and Pam, that I’m glad that the air conditioning doesn’t really reach me and the altar servers here in the sanctuary during Mass because I want them to become strong, virtuous men. You see, I love our servers and they are my spiritual children, and I have very high expectations of them because they are good young men. I want them to be challenged and tested: Can they stay motionless during the liturgy? Can they stay kneeling on the hard tile for long periods? Yes, they can! We all go through it, and it makes us better. Like a good coach, I’m not trying to hurt them, I’m only trying to make them better.
Now here’s a 4-minute video that gives some practical tips on parenting young children. I only show videos of this kind when it’s necessary. Considering that we’re struggling in our culture as parents, it’s necessary. And this video is rooted in love and parental authority.
3. Finally, St. Paul writes, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim 4:1-2). At this point in St. Paul’s life, he is close to being executed, and he’s speaking as if he’s in a courtroom, with God the Father and Jesus as witnesses and he’s putting St. Timothy under oath: Be a good and holy teacher. Where it says “urge” the better translation is “charge”: I charge you to be a good father to them as I was to you (George Montague, SM, First and Second Timothy, Titus, in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 191). God’s reminding us of our solemn duty to be loving, strong parents.
So many Church fathers have commented on the words of proclaiming, convincing, rebuking, and encouraging. St. Benedict says that the abbot of a monastery should try “mingling gentleness with severity, as the occasion may call for” (Rule of St. Benedict, 2). We need to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable: When our children are suffering, we support and build them up; but when they’re lazy and not growing, we challenge them.
“Whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” means we’re always teaching. Curtis Martin, one of the most prolific Catholic evangelists and leaders in the world, said that, statistically speaking, the two most important things for passing on our faith is Adoration and spiritual conversations. Young adults who are part of the 9% of Catholics who still practice their faith by age twenty-two, had a regular encounter with the Eucharist growing up and had spiritual conversations with their parents, especially about Jesus and the saints.
Recently, I had a sort of dream that inspired me: I saw our new parish centre being a gathering place for spiritual conversations, for guests and children to encounter Jesus, with Alpha on the rooftop, and a cave above the stage in the hall for the youth. I saw this happen at St. Paul’s, where the new parish centre allowed youth ministry to flourish! The parish centre will be like our chapel, creating an incredible environment for spiritual growth. This is a reminder as we get ready for our Dinner and Dance: The parish centre is not an add-on to what we do, but flows from a spiritual heart. I love seeing you happy! And I’d love to see a place where more families can come and grow spiritually.
In the season of Made for Mission, when we’re called to serve, our school is looking for some adults to volunteer. Mr. Perry, our principal, is looking for adults to read with our students, do lunch supervision, help out with our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and one person for the maintenance role of our Parish Education Committee. The school is our biggest evangelizing opportunity: 228 students open to encountering Jesus. If you’re interested, please talk to Mr. Perry.
Mr. Perry always encourages all parents to have confidence that you can make a big difference in your children’s life. Sociological research from the National Study of Youth and Religion shows that parents have more influence on teens than peers and the media, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Children in families that actively practice their faith do better in every life outcome: happiness, job success, and lower rates of substance abuse and suicide. The faith parents pass on does stick (Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, pp. 259-264)!
Two final questions: First, do we want our children to be safe or strong (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, 47)? We want what’s good for them, so we protect them—that’s good. But, because it hurts us when we say “no” to them, we give them everything they want—that’s bad. People who get everything they want become spiritually and morally weak: They can’t handle adversity, they become passive, unengaged, selfish, materialistic, and hedonistic. They become perpetual children. You know how that feels? We feel useless and pathetic. We realize we’re not reaching our potential and taking responsibility. That’s why all of us, at a certain point in our childhood, say, “Let me do it! I can do it for myself!” because we want to become, as St. Paul says, complete and proficient. Everyone wants to be strong more than safe, men and women, boys and girls. That means we need stronger priests and parents.
Second question: Back on September 8, 2019, we asked ourselves what kind of church we wanted to be, and we had four choices. Now we apply this to parenthood: 1) Some parents are low in love and expectations: They just don’t care. 2) Others are low in love but high in expectations: demanding and without affection—ouch. 3) Others are high in love but low in expectations: These parents love their kids but never challenge them, and their kids never grow. 4) Finally, some are high in love and expectations: There are lots of hugs and affirmation here, and lots of rules, and necessary, appropriate punishment. Consequently, there’s a lot of happiness and strength here. What kind of parents do we want to be?
Never give in to discouragement! God is with you! You have more influence on your children than they do on you! Your authority to love and teach comes from God! And our children deserve higher expectations.