September 26, 2008

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Parents nurture holiness in hidden ways

Sean GallagherOn Oct. 19, Louis and Zélie Martin will be beatified in Lisieux, France, in a basilica named after their daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Even though a generation of Catholics has passed since the Second Vatican Council brought the ancient teaching of the universal call to holiness back into the forefront of the life of the Church, many of us still think that real saints only come from the ranks of priests and religious men and women.

But Louis and Zélie Martin are one more example that this is not true.

They lived holy lives in their home and, in the process, gave a powerful and influential witness of sanctity to their daughters, one of whom is now one of the Church’s most beloved saints.

Ironically, when we carefully reflect upon the lives of holy parents, we learn that they weren’t so different from many holy priests, monks or nuns.

The work that parents do day in and day out to help their children grow to be authentic followers of Christ as mature adults is largely hidden from public view.

Over the course of years, it happens when we help our children grow in such virtues as selfless generosity and courteousness. It happens when we teach them right from wrong, and help them form good Christian consciences.

All of this hard work by parents is largely unknown even to our closest neighbors. It is as hidden as the cloistered monks and nuns who raise up prayers to God several times a day or the ministry of holy missionaries in faraway countries.

But it is of extreme importance for the Church and the world.

We sometimes will see the fruits of parents’ labors when their child achieves much in school work, athletics or the arts. Seen from this perspective, the hard work of Louis and Zélie Martin was manifested to the world in 1925 when their daughter was canonized.

But when our children start to show the holiness for which we have prayed and labored, the spotlight usually shines on the child, not the parents. And, more often than not, that is how we parents like it.

While the Martins are good examples of holiness for today’s parents, don’t forget Mary and Joseph and the hidden years they shared with Jesus in Nazareth.

We know little of Jesus’ quiet years with his mother and foster father before his public ministry began when he was in his early 30s. We can safely surmise, however, that the life of Joseph and Mary that he shared during those three decades did much to shape his beautiful human character that was so well displayed in his preaching, his miracles and, most importantly, in his suffering and death.

Parents should look to Joseph and Mary for inspiration in the work of shaping our children that God has given us.

When we struggle and feel that there is no one there in this hidden work to give us support and encouragement, remember that there is always at least one person watching what we do.

God sees us in all of those moments of our lives that we think no one else sees. And he is not a disinterested observer. He is always giving us his grace to do the good he has called us to.

If we cooperate with that grace, the ways we help our children—things the world may never know or praise us for—will result in us receiving the best praise we could ever imagine when our life comes to an end and we see God face to face: “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Come, share in your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21). †

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