September 9, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

A personal reflection about the role of parents as first teachers

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

(Editor’s note: While Archbishop Buechlein continues to recover from a stroke, we offer some reprints of his various columns for your enrichment. The following column is from the Sept. 23, 2005, issue of The Criterion.)

September is one of my favorite months of the year. It is the month of my deceased parents’ birthdays. It is the month of new beginnings for the school year and our parish catechetical programs. It is the month when I reflect about my Mom and Dad as teachers and catechists.

The older I am, the more I appreciate the gift that my parents were and still are for me.

The greatest gift was having me baptized into Christ the day after my birth. With that gift, the promise of eternity was given to me. What greater gift could a person get? Like life itself, everything else of any worth began with that moment.

These days, we often say parents are the first teachers, parents are the first catechists of the faith. My parents taught me the Catholic faith, and provided me with the education to understand and appreciate the sacraments and the doctrine of the Church.

They taught me by the simple example of their lives as well as with timely words along the way. As for observing Sunday and holy day obligations to attend Mass, there was no discussion.

The same was true in observing other disciplines associated with the practice of our Catholic faith. I am deeply grateful for the no-nonsense way in which I was taught about what is right and what is wrong.

Like most people in the post-Depression era, in the early years our family lived a very simple life, certainly by today’s standards.

For the most part, my brother and I didn’t particularly think we were living a deprived life. Without much ado, our parents taught us a sense of values that have stood us in good stead. Remembering our parents’ values is so appropriate in a culture that has become more and more secular and materialistic.

The older I am, the more I appreciate other values that Mom and Dad passed on to my brother and me. One of those was the value and dignity of hard work. Only later in life, especially as I read some of the social encyclicals of our more recent popes, I recognized that although they didn’t say it, our folks were teaching us that work is one of the ways in which we experience our human dignity.

The late Pope John Paul II, himself the beneficiary of the experience of hard work in his youth, was particularly eloquent on this point.

During my summer vacations from the seminary, Mom and Dad saw to it that I had a variety of work experiences ranging from working in a factory, doing farm work, working in a bakery and doing janitorial work. Dad would say, “If you are going to be a priest, I want you to know how people live.” I try to remember that, and appreciate his foresight and concern about how people work for a living, especially poor people.

Mom taught elementary school, but not once did she do my homework. If I had questions, she was there for me. She did keep an eye on me so that I did what I was supposed to do. And she would pat me on the back when I brought home a good report card.

With hindsight, I appreciate the fact that she gave me room to develop the habit of taking initiative for my ­responsibilities in life. As I grew older, I found that I was not the only one to recognize that, in a quiet way, Mom was a source of extraordinary wisdom.

People often ask how Dad and Mom reacted to my desire to become a priest, especially since I wanted to enter the seminary at an early age. While asking appropriate questions about my intentions, they offered their support and truly sacrificed to make it possible for me to go to Saint Meinrad. I don’t think Mom missed one week in 12 years that she did not send me a letter with updates about what was happening at home. She and Dad visited me faithfully, and there was never any doubt that they wanted me to do what would make me happy and what I figured out was God’s will.

Their trust in my judgment was tested when I informed them that, rather than become a diocesan priest, I wanted to join the monastery at Saint Meinrad. That elicited a special visit and some thoughtful questioning, but, that being done, their support was there.

Parents’ birthdays merit our reflection about the gifts they are for us. I intend this simple narration about Mom and Dad to remind you parents about how important you are as the first teachers and catechists of your children. You are far more influential than you might sometimes believe. I pray that God blesses you in your words and deeds. †

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