Parent Workshop: Diocesan Youth ConferenceBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice West Plains MO
‘Driver’s Ed’ for Faith
Saturday, March 25, 2017, Diocesan Youth Conference
The theme for this weekend is “the narrow gate.” It implies that there are a variety of roads that lead to a variety of places. There is the “easy” road, there is “my” road, there is the “whatever” road and there is the “narrow” road. And each of them leads to a different location.
The “easy” road can lead to a life of what Pope Francis calls the life of “silent indifference” with a heart cold and empty of charity. “My” road leads to a life of searching, a life that is never satisfied, a life that is immersed in the things of this world but which always leads to emptiness. The “whatever” road is the road of slavery. It is a misguided notion of freedom, open to whatever I want to do, but this road leads one exposed to the extremes of life and eventually to spiritual death. And then, we have the “narrow” road, which may come across to those unfamiliar to be restrictive and filled with boundaries, but in the end, allow one to arrive safe to their destination.
The title of my talk is “Drivers Ed.” Drivers education is so important. Before one can get a license to drive, one is supposed to know the rules of driving. And how is that learned? Driving is learned either by a formal class (the church) or by someone teaching the young driver (parents). The same thing can be said of the faith. The faith is passed on to children first by someone teaching and living the faith, the parents. Then what is learned by parents is supplemented and encouraged and supported by the Church. The home, in the context of family, is the privileged place where faith formation begins. Pope Francis stated last Sunday in his homily that we need to create a “culture of encounter.” That encounter begins at home, in the family.
St. John Paul stated in 1999 in St. Louis, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.” And so goes the world and so goes the Church as well. We are all tied together. Family life has always had challenges and our generation is not the first to deal with issues of poverty, violence, alcoholism, unemployment. And today we face other issues as well: immigration, the drug epidemic and racism. But what has always been a source of strength is the mutual support of the family with the Church.
A family of families
Again, Pope Francis stated that the Church is “a family of families.” He called the family “a sanctuary of life and love.” If the family is struggling, the Church struggles along with it. It is within the family that we first learn the lessons of love and forgiveness. The family is the heart of the “domestic Church.” What is the “domestic Church?” It is the Church at home, where you live with your family and where the Catholic faith is lived. It is, using the image of our theme for the weekend, the ”drivers ed” course where you learn how to live the faith, so that when you get your license, or go out on your own, you know the rules of the road, you know the principles of the faith to help you life your life.
One of the verses from the Old Testament I’ve always loved comes from Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” As parents, you are in charge of the drivers ed program in your home. You are the adults, the leaders and you set the tone. This is a role that cannot be relinquished to someone else. Our baptismal ritual states it clearly. After the baptism has occurred, and the blessings are given, the prayer offered states, “Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do.” Before your children leave the home, you are teaching them, giving them lessons, for good or for bad.
Is your home a Catholic home? Now you may say, of course, we are Catholics who live in a home so we have a Catholic home. It may be and it may be not. If the home is the “domestic Church” then there should be a relationship between home and the parish church. Is there anything that pulls you and your family away from the Church on a regular basis? Maybe it is sports on a Sunday, or a weekend job or hunting or fishing or planting or harvest season. There was a recent photo in the Springfield paper about the opening of trout season. There was a photo of a river, packed with people fishing. It also happened to be Ash Wednesday, and I thought to myself, how many of them were Catholic? How many of them chose to go fishing and didn’t go the Ash Wednesday Mass? Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see a fisherman in the photo with ashes on his forehead. What pulls you away from the Sunday celebration of Mass?
Is your home a Catholic home? Do you have a mantel in your home, maybe a nice mantel over the fireplace? What is on your mantel? Growing up in my home, we had a large image of the Sacred Heart. It was a wedding gift to my parents and I have it in my office in Springfield. Today, so often, over the mantel is not an image of the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Mother or the Last Supper, but rather a 60” flat screen TV. As you walked into our home, to the right was a little holy water font made of Connemara marble. It was a gift from an Irish priest. My mom kept it filled with holy water. We blessed ourselves coming and going just like in Church. When priests would visit our home, at the end of the visit, we would kneel down and the priest would bless us with the holy water. We had an Advent wreath during Advent. We had a crucifix in every room. We were not allowed to watch certain television shows, like Dean Martin or Laugh In, even Saturday Night Live. I would like to think my parents did a great job of making our home a “domestic Church.”
I remember when one of my seminary classmates had me over for dinner. On the top of the television, there was a note, “Would Jesus watch this program with you?” When we think of the filth that comes into the home by way of television, computer, or magazines, some of which is nothing more than soft porn, it is almost as if we have given the devil permission to live with us. We’ve opened the door and invited him in to reside. We have unwittingly given sin permission to enter our homes, opening ourselves to temptation, vice, and sinfulness. We must reclaim the home as the “domestic Church” where the faith is lived and witnessed! Again, I ask, This is where the Drivers Ed of Faith occurs. “Is your home a Catholic home?”
Witness of parents
St. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, who died in 407 AD, challenged his people in his day, with what I am challenging you today: “Make your Church into a home where all, even the smallest ones, must feel actively committed to seeking the message of the word of God and to living it together.” In the domestic church, the role of the father is crucial. If a child sees the dad living the faith, it is the most significant impression that can be made on a child. If a child sees the mom living the faith, then together, the parents offer a vital witness to the child.
There are movements today that offer alternative definitions to marriage. Pope Francis, in “Amoris Laetitia” (292), expresses the traditional, scriptural basis for the purpose of marriage. Christian marriage is fully realized in the union between a man and women with a free, faithful, exclusive love until death. It is open to the transmission of life and consecrated by the sacrament to be a “domestic church” and a “leaven for society.”
Of course, marriage and family life go together. The reality of couples living together, not entering into a sacramental marriage, has devastating effects. Christian marriage reflects Christ’s union with the Church, as expressed in Ephesians 5. Husbands are to love their wives by a new measure and a higher standard. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves the Church, and gave Himself up for her.” This total, unconditional love is life giving, not just for the couple but truly life giving. You eventually have to baptize it and feed it and raise it in the faith!
Pope John Paul II, in his letter “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World” stated that the mission of the family is to “guard, reveal, and communicate love.” When that is accomplished, the family reflects Gods love for the world and the Church. He then challenges families, “Families, become what you are.” What does that mean? It means to live out your baptismal call as family to be a witness to Christ in the world. When a family prays at home they welcome God into their home. That could be the meal prayer, the rosary, the Morning Offering, an Our Father prayed together or some form of scripture reading or night prayer. And any family prayer in the”domestic church” culminates in the Mass in the parish church on Sunday.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima. Sister Lucia, who was privileged to partake of the visions, wrote a letter to Cardinal Caffarra, of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and family. She told him, “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. However, Our Lady has already crushed its head.”
Today, the Church urgently needs families that are willing to strive for the personal sanctification of all their members, and especially children who are the future of the Church, … to witness to the beauty and truth of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, … to foster the family’s moral and spiritual strength … to withstand the threats in contemporary society.”
Pope Francis states that “parents always influence the moral development of their children, for better or worse.” As parents, in the driver’s seat, offering drivers education in the faith, you must take up this role consciously and enthusiastically. Never fear to speak of the faith. Silence becomes lost opportunities. Talk about the homily, read good religious books and update yourself. If, as Pope Francis has stated, the Church is a “field hospital,” then the family is the nearest hospital where healing occurs.
So, “What lessons are you teaching your children?” “Are you in the driver’s seat?” “Is your home a “domestic church?” Is your home a Catholic home? The last thing you want to do is put your child behind the wheel of a car without knowing how to operate it. It could have deadly consequences.