February 22, 2019

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

No matter where they are sitting, parents teach their children

Sean GallagherIn the ancient world, a chair was a symbol of teaching authority. Teachers ordinarily sat on a chair with their students gathered around them, sitting at their feet.

That symbolism continues today in the title of “chair” given to people who lead departments of different fields of learning in colleges and universities.

This symbolism is the root of the feast we celebrate in the Church today, the Chair of St. Peter.

Christ personally designated Peter to lead the Church, giving him spiritual authority over it. Peter and his successors, right up to Pope Francis today, have exercised that authority to strengthen the faithful around the world in the faith.

It’s an authority that the pope shares with all of the Church’s bishops. They, in turn, have priests in parishes in every corner of the globe who assist them in this pastoral ministry of governing, teaching and sanctifying the faithful.

Each of these ordained ministers have chairs that symbolize this authority. For bishops who shepherd dioceses, it is the special chair called a “cathedra” in their dioceses’ cathedrals.

Parishes have a special presider’s chair in their churches where the priests who celebrate Mass sit.

I’ve grown in appreciation of the service as spiritual fathers embraced by our priests and bishops as I’ve lived as a father to my five sons over the past 16 years.

Like bishops and priests, I am called by God to teach my boys. But there’s no one chair that symbolizes my teaching role as their father.

It sometimes happens in a chair in the bedroom where three of our boys sleep, where I sit and read to them or tell them stories at bedtime. My chair at our dinner table is sometimes a place where I try to pass on wisdom to the boys. Even the driver’s seats in our two cars become teacher’s chairs at times.

But I know all too well that where I happen to be sitting doesn’t define the role I share with my wife, Cindy, of being the primary educators of our sons. They learn from me in everything that I say and do.

This reality applies to all fathers—spiritual and otherwise. And it ought to give all of us pause.

It does for me at least, for I am keenly aware that too many of my words and actions have taught many bad lessons to my impressionable sons.

I find encouragement, though, in the example of St. Peter and Jesus’ choice to give him and his successors teaching authority in the Church.

The Gospels put Peter’s shortcomings on clear display on several occasions, most especially when he denied our Lord three times on the night on which he was betrayed.

Yet Christ did not hesitate to forgive Peter and show confidence in him. After Christ rose from the dead, Peter, at his invitation, professed his love for Christ three times. After this, Christ prophetically told Peter that this love would be so great that he would eventually give his own life for the Gospel (see Jn 21:15-19).

It was the power of the Holy Spirit that gave Peter, as a spiritual father, the strength to teach the faithful of his time down to us today in such a powerful witness of love.

The Holy Spirit gives all fathers—and mothers, too—the power to overcome our failings in our service as the teachers of our children. So open your hearts to God’s transforming love in the Holy Spirit and be renewed in your sacred role as teachers to those in your charge, no matter where you may be sitting. †

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