Painting by Norman Rockwell
by Joseph A. Breig, 1950’s
Each of us is condemned to death. Let’s face it. There is no use in being afraid of facts. We may turn our backs, but the facts won’t go away. The sensible thing, the honest thing, and in the long run by far the pleasantest thing, is to see life clearly as it really is, to accept its conditions, and then to make the most of it.
Every parent, it seems to me, ought to make the effort of profoundly realizing that the moment a child is born, the child starts to grow away from its father and mother. The child, indeed, begins to die, even in the instant that it begins to live. By honest facing of such realities, we can make realities serve us, make them stimulate us rather than terrifying us into inaction-or wrong action.
It is simply a fact of family life that children are made to serve God, not to serve parents. And parents are made to serve God, not to serve children. These are happy facts; not unhappy facts. And understand, I am only trying to get the emphasis right, because it is the emphasis that is at the root of all happiness, and all true success.
Much of every child’s service of God will consist in being good to his parents. And much of each parent’s service of God will consist in being good to the children. But as I said, the emphasis must be right, because if it isn’t, we will all harm one another instead of helping one another.
Dreadful damage is done to children by parents who act on the unspoken assumption that children exist to serve parental comfort or parental ambitions. And dreadful damage is done to children who are allowed to grow up supposing that their parents exist to serve them. Corrosive family unhappiness is rooted in such errors.
We must get clear in our heads and hearts, from the beginning, that if God sends us a child, he sends us someone who is made to serve Him- to take up his cross and follow Christ. We ought not to shy away from that word…cross. God sends no cross that we cannot carry; and most of our crosses are small ones. The point is to trust Christ and follow Him; He will not let our backs be broken.
Now if you will face honestly the facts about your own destiny, then almost automatically you will rear your children to face honestly and bravely the facts about theirs. And if you do that, you will have prepared your children properly for life-for this life and life everlasting.
There is no sense in concealing from ourselves and our little ones that we are condemned to death by Adam’s sin; that the central fact of life is death, and that the life that achieves a good death is the only life worth the living, the only life that is successful.
Nor should we try to evade the fact that although we are condemned by inheritance to physical death, there is a truly terrible and hideously permanent death to which we can condemn ourselves-and to which nobody else can condemn us: the death of the soul.
Once we have faced those realities, there is nothing else that we need fear overmuch. Other condemnations, certainly, will come upon us. Pilate was a figure of the compromising and vacillating world. He was the incarnation of the timeserving of the world, as Christ was the incarnation of God who is infinitely just and good. God and the world faced each other in Christ and Pilate.
There will be Pilates in our lives and the lives of our children.
Time-servers will counsel cowardice, and condemn us if we reject it. The world sometimes will wash its hands of us if we follow Christ. Let it wash.
God forbid that we should be the Pilate type of parent, teaching cheap Pilatetry to our boys and girls! No; what we want is not over-protected youngsters, but youth prepared to face up to life, to face it with Christ and as Christ faced it. We do not want a young man or a young woman clinging to us when duty calls; we want the kind who will take us by the hand firmly, say good-bye, let go, and turn away into destiny. And we want to be the kind of parents who proudly watch our children go.
The world will often wash its hands of brave and just men. But Christ came to redeem everyone, including Pilate. What we want in our family life is the courage to join Christ in His work of Redemption; to be undisturbed when the world washes its hands, and to go on working serenely for the salvation of the very world that rejects us.
Parents and children must go away from one another in order that they may be forever united. It is the task of the Christian parent to turn the eyes and hearts of youngsters to God. And when that is done, we shall find that they have really been turned to us. But if we sentimentally make our children our own conveniences instead of God’s servers, we shall discover to our horror that we have lost them entirely.
As I said, it is a matter of emphasis. But the emphasis makes a difference as wide as the gulf between heaven and hell. Christ allowed Pilate to condemn Him not only that He might die for our redemption, but also in order to teach us that all things-including a Son’s love for His Mother and a Mother’s love for her Son-must yield to duty-to the will of God.
We are all condemned to death, but only so that death can open for us the door of life. The heart of a parent is burdened when a child answers God’s call to marriage or to religious life-but only in order that the same heart may later be proudly lifted to inexpressible happiness. That is the thing about the will of God-it demands of us only in order to give, heaped up, pressed down and running over; because God is infinitely good and infinitely wise.
And this is the great truth that we must convey to our children, both by word and example but above all by example- that life calls for courage and loyalty and devotion, and that the world’s opinion is a small thing. If the world has a good opinion of us, let us smile it away; and if the world has a bad opinion, let us smile that away too. What matters is not the world’s opinion and its nervous swinging between defense of us and condemnation of us. What matters is not Pilate’s judgment but Christ’s friendship; and the family which realizes that, has discovered the deepest secret of happiness and success.
There will be lives only if there are mothers, mothers who respond to their essential and divine vocation. “Give me, O my God, the grace through respect for You and for Your work, always to have a devotion to and a respect for life.. Grant me also the grace to be in Your Hands a not too unworthy instrument of Your creative power. Let me be ‘up-to-date’ whenever it is a question of enrolling a new name in the Book of Life.” – Christ in the Home, Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J., 1950’s
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