This is one of those times when a lot of couple I know are either expecting or just had a baby. So I thought it would be worthwhile to share some thoughts from one of my Jesuit buddies.
In a piece in his parish bulletin the was prompted by an episode of a TV show dealing with a couple struggling with the issue of the spritual upbringing of the child they were preparing to welcome into the world, Fr. Joe Costantino wrote:
Who can offer the best spiritual guidance is surely a most appropriate consideration in selecting godparents (and in the case of the Sacrament of Confirmation, a sponsor). Who really can authentically offer such true and important spiritual guidance? All too often though there is a “godparent trap.” The choice is sometimes simply to follow the path of least resistance and select a relative or friend, a person you may feel simply obligated to choose. Those selected are often very fine people, but are they spiritual? Are they persons of faith with a sense of the supernatural and God? Are they a part of an active faith community? Do they put their spirituality into charitable actions? Often these questions are regrettably not part of the equation.
Thanks to Joe for the good questions for reflection on an important issue.
At Mass yesterday morning, twenty-nine children from our parish received their First Holy Communion. I smiled watching them all process up to the first several pews with their parents at the beginning of Mass. I listened as Fr. Dale directed his homily to them, focusing on how they had each been called by name. And I watched as each of them approached the altar for the first time to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It was a beautiful sight.
As the children filed up to receive the Eucharist for the first time, the song that was sung was a a Marty Haugen song, Unless You Learn. The song conveys a useful reminder and instruction to all of us. Here is the first verse:
Unless you learn to see as a little child,
you will never see the Reign of God.
Let your hearts be open to the holiness
in the simple and the small.
Come and learn from these little ones,
learn to see with the eyes of faith,
and you may touch the Reign of God
in the gentlest touch of all.
Let us all learn to see, love and live as a little child…to let our hearts be open to the holiness in the simple and the small.
Although they are not mentioned in the Gospels, by ancient tradition we know the parents of Jesus’ mother Mary as Joachim and Anne. Today the Catholic Church celebrates their Memorial. Why have a feast celebrating a couple we know nothing about from the Gospels?
It happened that in close coincidence to my recognition that today is Anna and Joachim’s memorial, I read a blog post written last week by the eleven or twelve year-old son of some friends. (Yes, one of the blogs I try to read with some regularity is written by this incredibly thoughtful young man.) He was wondering what determined whether someone became what he termed an “individual intellectual.” It was not, he decided, primarily a function of either one’s own intelligence or their family’s economic level, but rather the priorities and values of one’s parents.
And my young friend’s realization helps answer why we honor Anne and Joachim. Yes, Mary was blessed by God; by Catholic teaching she was born without sin. But we know a lot of people with innate gifts and blessings who don’t use them well.
Today’s memorial recognizes that just as Mary and Joseph were instrumental in Jesus’ early growth and education, Anne and Joachim, by their values and teachings, helped Mary grow into the young woman who would say “Yes” to God’s enormous invitation to her to birth Jesus into the world. Anne and Joachim, by their priorities and values, raised a young woman able to ponder so many things in her heart that she could not completly understand. It was Anne and Joachim who taught Mary the courage that would later enable her to stand at the foot of the cross of her son.
May we teach our own children (biological or otherwise entrusted into our care) as well as Anne and Joachim taught Mary.
Anyone who reads this blog even irregularly knows how important I believe it is for us to get in touch with the reality of God’s unconditional love for us. It is difficult for us to make any real progress on our spiritual path without believing to the core of our being that God loves us unconditionally – that God’s love is not lessened by our imperfections and that nothing we do will ever cause us to lose that love.
For many, “God loves me unconditionally” is something understood and accepted only intellectually. It is a sentence one checks off “yes” to without really fully embracing its reality. So an important question is how we deepen that understanding.
I read the other day a short piece in a newsletter in which the author admitted that the only time he felt that his understanding of God’s love was more than intellectual was when he thought of his mother. He went on in the piece to beautifully describe his mother and all of the things (large and small) she did that embodied her love for her children.
This week, as I have watched my daughter perform her final concert with her high school choirs and as I will watch her graduate this evening (sitting beside my own mother, who will arrive in a few hours from NY to be here for the event), I am ever more conscious of God’s unconditional love as I look with love and pride at my daughter.
I feel the depth and the breadth of love for my daughter (as we often say to each other at night: “I love you to the edge of the universe and back again times infinity, infinity times”) – secure in the knowledge that there is nothing that could ever shake that love. I feel that love and part of me sits back and realizes: So that is kind of what God’s love for me feels like for God. And actually, only an approximation, since whatever I feel, God’s love is even greater than that.
It is a pretty amazing feeling. If you haven’t done so lately, sit with your experience of your mother or father’s unconditional and expansive love for you, or with your unconditional and expansive love for your child. And let yourself realize that whatever that is – God’s love for you is even more.
Our Easter trip to New York included a couple of days of college visits with my daughter to some East Coast schools. As my friend Russell suggested it would be, this was a “mixed bag.” On the one hand, I’m incredibly excited for Elena as she explores and considers the various opportunities for further academic study and music training. I loved being an undergraduate and I smile at the growth she will experience during these years. At the same time, the visits force me to confront the major change to all of our lives her leaving home will be.
We are less than a year and a half away from Elena going off and living on her own. To be sure, she has been away from home before for varying lengths of time, including one summer when she was at camp for six weeks. She has traveled without Dave and I both in the United States and abroad. But in all of those travel and camp experiences, someone was responsible for feeding her and making sure she got to bed by curfew, and at the end of those trips, I was waiting to wash her dirty clothes. Now, we’re talking about her going off completely on her own to – well, run her own life.
More importantly than her having to feed herself and wash her own clothes (she is actually a good cook and, if forced to, can run a washing machine), Elena will be living further beyond my protective grasp than she is now. I already confronted a long time ago the reality that it is not in my power to protect my daughter from all hurt and harm. Still, the fact that I “tuck her in” each night, making the sign of the cross on her forehead before she goes to sleep gives me at least some feeling that I can watch over her. Once she moves out, I won’t have that.
Still, as my friend Will reminded me the other day, the bird has to leave the nest in order to fly and so I open my arms and let go. What allows me to do so is the konwledge that wherever Elena goes, she is held in God’s loving, protective grasp. God’s arms and hands are a lot bigger and stronger than mine. And, however, much I love Elena, God loves her more. I know that doesn’t mean my daughter won’t have pain and heartache. And it doesn’t mean she will never come to any harm. But it does mean that she will never be alone and that she will ultimately be just fine.
Today the Catholic Church remembers the Holy Innocents – the babies of Bethlehem massacred by King Herod in his effort to find and destroy the Christ child. How many were killed in Herod’s determination to kill all who resembled Jesus in gender and age is unknown; the estimate ranges from 10,000 to a few dozen.
The numbers don’t really matter a whole lot. The death of even one innocent child is too many.
Yet, innocent children die every day. From poverty and hunger. From lack of clean drinking water. From their parent’s inability to take them to the doctor when they are ill. From physical abuse and neglect. From abortion. From war. From acts of terror and other acts of violence.
We can argue about the numbers, we can argue about root causes, we can argue about solutions. (And we do.) We can argue ourselves blue (or red) in the face. (And we do.)
But today, on this feast of the Holy Innocents, pehaps we might put aside the arguments and the politics and simply pray for all of the innocent children who die, from whatever causes. And perhaps we might also pray for the wisdom and grace to do a better job of protecting our children. In the words of the morning prayer for this day,
Father, you sent your only Son to die that all the children of this world might live and grow to fullness in the kingdom he proclaimed. Transform in the hearts of all people the forces of violence, cruelty, and destruction into the one saving force of love, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
My daughter turned 15 yesterday. We celebrated with dinner in a Japanese restaurant Saturday night and sent her off with a cake to have with her fellow Minnetonka Chamber Choir members after rehearsal last night. Thursday the Chamber Choir leaves for Prague, Vienna and Salzberg to sing in a series of concerts. After she returns from the tour, she will fly to New York to visit old friends and then spend three weeks singing with another group in Canada and and northern Vermont, before returning home so we can purchase whatever clothes and supplies she needs before the start of the new school year.
As a mother, the idea of any child suffering is a unbearably painful one. As I think of my daughter’s life and the opportunities available to her, I can’t help but think of the millions of children in the world who are lucky they eat on their birthday, let alone get taken to a nice Japanese restaurant. Of the children who, if they travel more than 50 miles from the place of their birth, do so because they have been sold into slavery, not because they are going to sing in a series of concerts or visit with friends.
I just finished reading Uwem Akpen’s, Say you are One of Them (mentioned on my Recently Read page). This African Jesuit uses his powerful storytelling abilities to put before us the reality of the lives of so many children in Africa. Ethnic and religious strife. Poverty so dire it is hard to imagine. Experiences that no one should face, let alone 8, 9 and 10 year olds. Read it and weep.
These are all our children. We need to be aware of the reality of their lives. And we need to think about our collective responsibility for the weakest among us. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.”
What are we doing to secure the future of our children? Of all of our children?