September 25, 2009

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Both parents and children teach and learn in lots of little ways in the home

Sean GallagherIt never gets old.

I’m a father of four young boys. But seeing a baby start smiling and giggling for the first time just never gets old.

I like looking at my youngest, Philip, eye to eye. I’ll smile at him and talk to him in a happy tone of voice.

When I do this, he’ll quickly flash a cute toothless grin that seems to take in most of his little face. Sometimes he’ll add a little coo or squeal just for effect.

And does it have an effect. My wife, Cindy, and I have both been overjoyed when we have seen all four of our sons start smiling and laughing for the first time.

As happy an occasion as seeing my 3-month-old son smiling at me is, it has also given me an occasion for some serious reflection.

Philip has learned to smile, at least in part, because he has seen his parents and his older brothers do the same.

When he sees us smile at him, it’s only natural to conclude that this helps him to learn to smile back at us.

But think about it.

A little 3-month-old baby is able to learn something for himself from something as small as a smile.

If someone as young as Philip can learn from something so little, how much more do his older brothers learn from the myriad of large and small ways that Cindy and I speak and behave before them?

It’s a common observation that parents have a big effect on how their children learn and mature.

But this truth really hits home when I see my effect on my 3-month-old son.

Realizing the pervasiveness of a parent’s influence can be a little scary. I want to give my sons a good example at all times, but I’m human and I make mistakes and commit sins—usually several times a day.

This fact doesn’t lead me to despair, though, and, if you’re also prone to making mistakes, then you shouldn’t lose hope either.

God gives parents grace upon grace through the sacrament of marriage to live out the challenges of this demanding vocation.

It’s important, though, to make use of those graces and to ask many times a day for more of them. God is never going to run out of grace, and he loves giving it out.

If I were to rely on my own strength alone to be a good father, I would fall flat on my face pretty quickly.

These reflections that were inspired by my young son’s precious smile confirm for me another beautiful truth of our faith.

Yes, Cindy and I are our sons’ first teachers. But my sons are teachers for us as well.

Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, they are important instructors for us in the school of sanctity:

“Children … contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it” (#2227).

This paragraph from the catechism should be enshrined in every Catholic home. It’s a veritable manifesto for building what Pope John Paul II called a “civilization of love” one family at a time.

Parents and children teach and learn in ways as small as a smile. When we all do our studies well in that school of holiness that we call the home, we’ll be ready to teach the world the Gospel itself. †

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