January 30, 2009

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Older parents give younger ones perspective

Sean GallagherI suppose I should be used to it by now.

After all, I’ve been a father for nearly seven years. In that time, I’ve gone to Sunday Mass with little ones in tow, oh, a few hundred times.

But even now, when my younger sons start being, well, the little kids that they are during the middle of Mass, I get distracted. I’m concerned not so much for my own participation in the Mass but for those people around me.

I get a little worried that when little Victor keeps dropping a missalette onto the pew in front of us or makes faces with the folks sitting behind us that the people around us are being distracted from the reason we have all come together.

Over the years, I’ve taken our children to the back of church lots of times if they really start throwing a fit. But sometimes it’s hard to know when they’ve crossed the line and made Mass a difficult experience for others.

More often than not, though, what I’ve found is that I’m far more distracted over my children’s behavior than the good folks who sit by us during Mass.

A lot of times, people a good bit older than me who have sat in pews in front or behind my family will come up to my wife or me after Mass.

With smiles on their faces, they’ll say how cute our boys are and that their own kids were similarly rambunctious when they were young. Often, they’ll try to encourage us in our lives as parents of young children, all the while acknowledging that it can be a challenging time.

Did Mary and Joseph have an experience similar to mine when they brought the Christ child to the Temple for his ritual dedication to the Lord?

Perhaps. Yes, he was the sinless Son of God. But he was also fully human, as were Mary and Joseph.

And we know that, on at least one occasion, there was a misunderstanding in the Holy Family that resulted in the 12-year-old Jesus staying behind in the Temple after his parents had left for their home in Nazareth (Lk 2:41-52).

Jesus’ first trip to the Temple is celebrated liturgically on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

On that occasion, the old man Simeon recognized the Christ child as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. He blessed Mary and praised her child, but also warned her that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart.

At the same time, the aged prophetess Anna likewise praised the newborn king of the Jews to all in the Temple who would listen to her (Lk 2:22-40).

I know my own little sons are not on par with the babe born in Bethlehem. But I somewhat identify with Mary and Joseph’s experience of the presentation of their son in the Temple when older folks come up to my wife and me after Mass to praise our children and recall their own parenting days.

To know that they’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of parenthood and kept their smile nonetheless is a sign of hope for me when I feel frazzled after a particularly difficult Mass with my sons.

For a father like me, who unlike Mary and Joseph haven’t had angelic messengers telling me of the high purpose of parenthood, these visits after Mass with older parents can bring me out of my own preoccupations and help me see the great calling given to me, my wife and all parents of young children.

It’s good, then, for us parents of young children to pay heed to and give thanks for older parents who have walked the same path we’re on now. †

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