[Adapted from a letter written by Peter who has been a true father and mentor to me. This letter was sent to a younger dad and shared with me. In this Year of Faith it is a template for all Father’s seeking to evangelize their children.]
Happy and blessed Christmas!
I hope you and yours will have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!
I think of you often, especially since, judging by the number of conferences you go to and are influential in, I've been there and done that that, but it's incredibly hard to balance all of that with being a good husband and father. Good luck with that! No matter what anyone says, career and family is always a high-wire performance.
Overall I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people. But today I'm interrupting my work to pass on a tip, something that happened in our family accidentally, but that I believe is important for fathers. I do hope you don’t mind or think I'm telling you what to do. But I am convinced that this trick is certainly a key factor in why all my adult children are still open to the church, even if some are not solidly connected.
We always had a problem with the whole wacked-out "let's-protect-our-children-from-the-world" so common among many families.
As Catherine Doherty said at one point, and I am paraphrasing, "It is not right for the parents to choose poverty and impose that on their children -- they will grow to hate the Church!"
The flip side of that was obviously "It is not right for the parents to choose riches and impose that on their children -- they will grow to hate the Church!"
What to do as a father?
I was pondering that for quite some time when, one year at Christmas, Catherine had to go out for an afternoon to do errands in preparation for the 27 people expecting to be fed at our Christmas feast (I never figured out why they criticized us, to our face, for having so many children when we were so poor, but never offered to pay for anything they ate at the feast -- I guess I'm still an innocent on some things!).
Anyway, Catherine was out and what to do with six kids aged 14 to 2 years old?
Religion is a way of living, a community thing, long before it's an idea or Catechism thing, or way of thinking, and yes we could do some more cleaning, or, we could do something else ... but what? Cleaning, teaching, fatherhood, leadership, kids 25 years from now, what to do?
Anyway, because of all the kids we always had rolls of newsprint in the house -- 11 inches by 500 feet or something similar. Inspiration hit me -- the solution had to do with the newsprint, but weirdly enough I had no idea what the solution might be. So I got the newsprint roll and rolled it out across the kitchen and dining room. Still didn't know what I was doing, but Dad messing the place up attracted attention from everyone. "Dad, what are doing?" Still had no idea what was going on, but this is what came out of my mouth "Do you guys know the Christmas Story?" Some said yes, some looked bored, so I said "There are animals in the story! Let's draw it! Somebody get me a pencil or a crayon!"
So I got down on my hands and knees and drew out the Christmas story, including the animals. The kids didn’t like my rendition of the donkey and people and so "improved" them (I'm terrible at drawing ... "DAD! Donkeys have four legs!").
Anyway, we did it again for Easter, and again for the next Christmas and again for the next Easter.
By then Tina was sixteen and we never did it again, for reasons you cannot understand until you've had a sixteen year old girl in the house.
So, what did the kids get out of all that?
1. Dad never gets down on the floor to draw things for us. This story must be really important.
2. It's a story, more than an idea or an entry in a catechism. Stories are more important than anything.
3. Dad may have gotten the story wrong, but that's OK. It's a story and interesting and I'll get it right someday.
4. The story is a communal story -- it's part of our family story and we fit in with the story as individuals and as a family.
5. I can tell the same story to my kids.
6. Going to Church is about stories, and stories are more important than anything because stories make sense of the world.
7. Church is relevant and is always relevant, it has something to do with the story. Hey! This Sunday they said something about that story that Dad drew for us ... must be worth listening to closely.
8. etc. etc. etc.
Anyway, I think it was one of the top five best things I ever did to teach the faith, and not "my" faith but the "Faith", to my kids. It made them open to the capital "F" "Faith" and the possibility of making it their own. I think many parents misunderstand this aspect of passing on the "Faith" ... you as the parent simply cannot pass it on to your kids. What you can pass on is the openness to your kids appropriating the "Faith" and making it their own.
And drawing pictures on the floor is an incredibly effective way of doing that.
I have no idea why I told you this today. Probably never will. Maybe so you could pass it onto someone else?
Monday, December 17, 2012
Many have seen tv news reports of people being surprised by secret Santa’s and I am here to say it’s true!
Today as I put my groceries on the counter the cashier was scanning them as I noticed the prices were being rung up on the screen showing the tab of the man in front of me.
I pointed out her mistake.
“No mistake sir.”
I look at the man ahead of me who flashed a big grin and said: “Merry Christmas!”
Truly there are kind and generous people all around us and I am sure the Lord will bless that good man and his family.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Over the past two days the world’s media remains filled with the constant re-telling of the horror which has taken place in Newtown Connecticut.
Mostly on the American networks, but also on those from various other countries, the highly emotional argument for and against the American constitutional right to bears arms, the whole issue of guns and violence, unfolds apace with this latest horror, the more horrific since the majority of the victims are little children and their shattered families.
The Governor of the state rightly said evil had visited his state.
Unfortunately, as we all know evil, is never a mere visitor in human life, rather a persistently unwelcome guest that earlier generations of the human family, even before the advent of Christianity, was recognized and faced.
It seems, in our day, we either refuse to face and name evil and overcome it, or we deny evil exists by cloaking it with some presumed right such as the right to kill an unborn child without the same reaction as killing a child already in school.
Walker Percy, though not speaking directly about human on human violence, in his book “Lost in the Cosmos” points to the real evil, the real malaise behind the 21st century blood letting, irrespective of more remote causes such as mental illness, political grievance, resistance to oppression, religious or tribal justifications, and indeed points to the reason why the most dangerous place on earth for any child remains the womb and the most vile weapons on earth are those used by abortionists: Percy writes in part that “….by virtue of its peculiar relationship to the world, to others, and to its own organism, the autonomous self in a modern technological society is possessed. It is possessed by the spirit of the erotic and the secret love of violence.”
If we look deeply into our hearts and souls, with humility and honesty, we will discover the chaos and heartache, the breakdown of the family, the systematic attacks by the media on those who adhere to their Christian faith; the proliferation of all in movies, tv, computer games that are eating away at the culture of life like a cancer, have roots in our own approach to life.
It is not a question of argument, finger pointing, judging others.
It is a question of am I, or am I not, in such a profound relationship with Jesus and the Gospel of Life that I am willing, no matter the cost, to preach the Gospel with my life without compromise?
Percy goes on, drawing from John Cheever, noting that nowadays the “..main emotion of the adult…is disappointment.”
Percy enumerates some of the disappointment and comments on each. Here I will simply enumerate them: “Work is disappointment…Marriage and family life are disappointing….School is disappointing…Politics is disappointing…The churches are disappointing…Social life is disappointing.”
Though Percy does not do so, I will add here that for many, many people the ultimate disappointment is with God!
After all where is God when a massacre occurs?
Since World War II most of the West, but even in their own way the former countries of the Soviet Union, certainly in their own way still China and Cuba, and those perhaps not as successfully, and only for those with an iron grip over their fellow citizens, in some Middle Eastern and African countries, throughout the world we have developed cultures of entitlement to such an extreme that common sense is ground into the dust and a pervasive malaise poisons hearts, minds and souls.
We have become, as human beings, infantile whiners who eschew responsibility in favour of ‘my’ rights with the emphasis on ‘my’ even when cloaked with the veneer of some social purpose; we are materialists with insatiable appetites for the useless which fail to amuse us and enhance our disappointment and malaise to the extent divorce outstrips marriage, non-marital co-habitation, with its internal menu of orientations, risks becoming the norm and children, when not aborted as inconvenient become, and not just for those couples whose orientation guarantees infertility, another ‘item’ on the ‘must have’ list.
The discussion we should be having as human beings, especially as Christians, and not just in the United States but throughout the world, is not about guns, not about mental illness, in a word not about remote or spurious cause and effect, but about the “I” and “Thou” of life.
The real moral issue is about personhood in the redeemed image and likeness of God.
Personhood as in I, disciple of Christ, see and relate to thou who are one like myself: person in His image and likeness.
The disappointed self is, as Percy rightly enumerates, disappointed in everything and everyone around and thus, I stress, becomes famished for meaning and since unless we know Jesus we remain incomprehensible to ourselves, this incomprehensibility becomes a frenzied search resulting in the social chaos, greed, violence, hatred, anger which engulfs the entire human family.
I find it poignant and a caution that it was in the main children, about the age Christ Himself was at the time, who were massacred yesterday as were children massacred by Herod’s soldiers seeking to destroy the One who alone can give meaning to human existence.
We honour the Christ Child by celebrating His birth.
Let us honour the children of Newtown by re-discovering, by becoming anew who we are as persons in the image and likeness of God and let us begin anew to live as real people.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
Jeremiah 20:7 is rather blunt in articulating what happens to someone who is seduced by the Lord and this connects also to an earlier passage: 17:9,10 where the prophet denotes how there is nothing more in turmoil, more torturous than our human heart, lamenting that it seems such protracted and persistent pain is both beyond remedy and understanding.
Right now, I will admit, my state is not one of a beloved who has been willingly seduced by the God who is love.
Rather since He seems to have gone somewhere and left me alone in the stygian darkness, out in the cold, abandoned, neither responding to my pleas nor whines, tears nor shouts, I feel the angry weight of all who cry out to Him and whose words simply echo in our hearts and minds, as if we were in a deep mountain valley hearing only the echo of our own – well of my – words.
This is supposedly the time of Advent, the before time of preparation to welcome Him as love incarnate, love born among us, love who said – who promised - to be with us always [cf. Mt. 28:20] until the end of ‘the age.’
Has the age come and gone yet no one told me?
Frankly, Jesus, where are You?
My being shudders, my heart cracks open.
I sense a hand on my shoulder and one taking me as if beyond geography, beyond place and space, yet not a word as it begins – whatever this ‘it’ is!
Suddenly I am in the depths of a rubble pile. I hear explosions all around, the earth trembles, human moaning is heard. The dust thins somewhat. I see a woman rocking a bleeding child back and forth in her arms. Syria! I hear: “Here I am.”
Just as suddenly I – we – whatever, the place is an alley all dark, wet, cold, and filled with garbage, the smell of rot. I see a youth, clothes matted with dirt, as is his face with one arm exposed. Hanging from a vein an empty needle. He appears dead.
Again I hear: “Here I am.”
The fog is thick, the ground muddy, and the buildings weathered wood grey. Men and women trudge about bent, emaciated, and dehumanized. It is a North Korean labour camp.
This time I admit the anger, the self-centred neediness so much a part of me of late is beginning, it feels, to melt as if I have been encased in black ice when I hear once more: “Here I am.”
On and on it goes, for how long I cannot say, from place to place, or rather more from human heart to human heart, each heart, each person, it seems, alone and in pain, even when in the midst of a crowd, lonely.
People sinning, people being sinned against, people rightly accused of some crime, numerous the falsely accused; battered women, aborted children, abandoned families, homeless and unemployed people, men and women in the violence of war and revolution, in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes or just wasting away, it seems, in little rooms all alone.
It is all too much.
The “I am here.” almost irritates.
Suddenly we are in a monastery of nuns where the women, young and old, are radiant, kneeling in prayer for all the people I have seen, then we are in a desert cave and an old priest is at prayer, finally in an ordinary home where a family, mother, father, three children are praying as night descends.
Now, each time I hear: “I am here.” hot tears run down my face, as my heart is pounding so fast, like I had just run to catch a bus!
Indeed You have seduced me O Beloved.
Yes I am letting myself be seduced.
Yes I have in my self-pity told You I won’t think about You any more or even speak Your Name
Then You came, touched me, took me, showed me how You seduce, love, are faithful to Your promise to be with us always.
Fire burns within my heart.
You are here.
I cannot resist You any more!