December 18, 2020

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Parenting is an act of faith renewed daily

Sean GallagherParenting is an act of faith renewed every day. Catholic mothers and fathers place their trust in God day after day, from the moment they discover that they have been blessed with a new life until well after he or she has left home.

Faith is crucial to parenting because parents so often never really know for sure if the essential lessons about life that they try to pass on to their children have taken hold.

From time to time, parents are blessed with moments when their children open their hearts and show that those lessons have taken root there.

That happened to me recently as I read to my 11-year-old son Philip at bedtime. We were just starting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring.

The character Bilbo, a “hobbit” in Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth, was leaving his home for good on a journey at the end of a very long life when his wizard friend Gandalf reminded him of his decision to leave behind his magical ring that made him invisible when wearing it.

Bilbo resented the reminder and began talking of taking the ring with him.

“You will be a fool if you do. Bilbo,” Gandalf said. “You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. Let it go! And then you can go yourself, and be free.”

Bilbo retorted obstinately, “I’ll do as I choose and go as I please.”

After I read that interchange, I paused and began to explain to Philip how it was an example of two different ways of understanding freedom.

I hadn’t gotten far, though, when Philip took over and said that real freedom was doing what a person should do and not simply the ability to do whatever one wants to do. He said it with much more eloquence than my short summary.

As Philip went on, I took in his words with wonder. When he was finished, I looked at him with love, paused, and said, “Philip, if you live your life this way, you’ll be a happy man.”

Not too long afterwards, I came back to Earth, remembering that Philip will face daily temptations to live according to Bilbo’s understanding of freedom and will often give in to those temptations. Why do I know that? Because these two views on freedom continue to battle within me day after day.

So, God continues to invite me each day to renew my act of faith, both in my life as a parent and in my life as his adopted son.

Joseph and Mary began their lives as parents of Jesus with acts of faith. Mary expressed her trust in God when she told the angel, ‘Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Joseph did so in his immediate obedience to an angel’s command to take Mary into his home as his wife, even after he was convinced to “divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:19).

Even though they were both promised that the child to be born was the Son of God, Joseph and Mary had to renew their acts of faith again and again when they experienced so many hardships at the time of Jesus’ birth—from his being born in a stable to having to flee to Egypt from Herod’s soldiers.

So, parents, when doubt about the care you give to your children creep into your hearts and minds, call on Mary and Joseph for their prayers. They’ll help you renew your act of faith each day. †

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