April 29, 2005

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

A lesson for parents from Pope Benedict

Parents have a vocation from God to show self-giving love to their children. Yet experience quickly teaches us that this calling is filled with challenges.

We are called to lead our children to whatever is good, true and beautiful, but often we find that they resist our guidance. I know I did this when growing up under my own parents’ care.

Now that I am a father, I often find it difficult to offer my young sons the unconditional love that God calls me to give.

Left to my own devices, it is impossible for me to give this love. I can only do it through the grace that God offers me.

As Catholics, we believe this grace is mediated to us through the people in our lives, the world in which we live and especially through the sacraments of the Church.

We can see examples of parenthood around us, and be strengthened in our own struggles to show the mercy and love of our heavenly Father.

One father in particular, upon whom the eyes of the world have been focused in recent days, is our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

Being the spiritual father of a billion Catholics around the world can make my own daily challenges pale in comparison.

But if I were to share such a thought with him, I suspect that he would say that my daily opportunities to grow in ­holiness—which is what the constant call to love my sons are—are no less important in the eyes of God than his own papal duties.

Both are the means that God has offered to me and to the pope to lead us to union with him forever in heaven.

And so I can find solace in his own appreciation of the challenges of the fatherhood that was thrust upon him.

In a message he delivered the day after his election, Pope Benedict noted that he felt a “sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the responsibility entrusted to me yesterday.”

So he feels, in his own way, what I and surely so many other parents feel about their own vocation.

Yet in the same breath, the pope spoke of his confidence that God will be faithful in his help to him and the entire Church.

“I sense within me profound gratitude to God who … does not abandon his flock, but leads it throughout time, under the guidance of those whom he has chosen as vicars of his Son, and made pastors,” he said.

If Pope Benedict, who is charged to be a loving father of a billion Catholics as well as believers and non-believers beyond the Church’s visible bounds, can in the face of such an awesome call be confident in the help of God, then I know I can embrace my own vocation on a daily basis with a vigor that is ever-renewed by grace.

As I look to our new pope for inspiration in my own life as a father, I know that he is turning to his beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II, believing that the aid given him to carry out his duties was granted through his intercession.

“I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II,” he said. “It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: ‘Do not be afraid.’ ”

As these words of the late pope resound in our hearts and the example of Pope Benedict is set before us, parents around the world have nothing to fear. †

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