FLM: Reviving the season, reviving parenting

December 11, 2018

Some weeks ago, I had the privilege to be a part of the most touching farewell ceremony that I have ever attended; the funeral of a young man named David that had a very difficult time during his last days of life.

His parents displayed great spirituality and the most remarkable characteristics of their vocations as wife and husband, dedicated to one another and to care and provide for their children, particularly for David during the last part of his life.

They invested selflessly in the spiritual and human growth of their son, not only during his last days, but also throughout his brief, but adventurous life. In this hostile environment of our materialistic society, the value of sacrificial, selfless and truthful love is not always evident, but it was obvious at that beautiful ceremony.

Parental love for children is one of the most controversial loves of all as the emotional ties between parents and children are stronger and often more complex than between anyone else. It’s no doubt that love and care are vital for our physical and psychological well-being, and it’s the natural desire of every parent to do everything for the sake of their children.

Much has been written about how to raise well-adjusted and loving children. Much is said about love as the most powerful human feeling. Much is also written about building a child’s self-esteem, confidence, sense of responsibility and love!

Weeks ago, while praying the Rosary, specifically while in the contemplation of the fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, I found special interest in this part:
“…And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him and it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. And when they saw Him, they were amazed: and His mother said unto Him: ‘Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.’”

This caused me special interest because it shows a very human side of Our Lady… as well as from St. Joseph. They both accepted that they were fallible humans that make mistakes, but they hadn’t noticed at the very beginning of their return journey that Jesus was not with them. The dialogue between Mary (and probably Joseph) and Jesus apparently was brief, probably just a few minutes. Mary was not nagging, nor was Joseph shouting!

They simply asked Jesus, with authority and respect, for an explanation. They say it once firmly and Jesus responded clearly, and in the end Jesus went with them to Nazareth and was subject to them. What a beautiful scene of parenting, of a sacrificial, selfless and truthful love underpinned by real authority. Joseph and Mary were benevolent, but straightforward and effective in their reaction to, and dialogue with, Jesus!

This story should be seen as the story of the practical efforts of a husband and wife striving for the proper formation of a youngster in a nourishing, unchanging and peaceful relationship that respects the freedom of the child to a point, and not belaboring an issue, instead “keeping all these things in their heart.”

In the first half of this century, the average wife and husband (parents) in the pews believed that spiritual growth was limited to certain pious, devotional practices. As a result, the role of formal education in religious development was greatly overemphasized. Spirituality was only something connected with religion.

This scene of Mary and Joseph shows us that spirituality is much more than just religion. As well as the being illustrated in a beautiful story of the nativity that we will be soon observing during the Christmas season, spirituality is a way of life and is completely nourished and intimately connected to the beautiful gift of love.

During this season of Advent, we should be emphasizing our encounter as parents with Jesus, a child that became mortal, fragile like us, fully sharing our human condition. He reveals to us the immense love that God the Father has for humanity.

There is no doubt that the natural desire of every parent is to do everything for the sake of his/her child, and there can be no doubt that love and care are vital for a child’s physical and psychological development and well-being. For most people, loving a child is one of life’s most beautiful experiences; giving someone life and helping him or her mature gives profound meaning to our lives.

That is what I obviously observed during the funeral: that parental love and sacrifice can change selflessness, that parental love can have no limits, even if the parent is rejected and abused by a child. Selfless love becomes a kind of sacrifice. It is very powerful, even possibly with the potential to revive a person or a relationship.

To the contrary, love with selfishness and full of one’s own’s pride can be very destructive, resulting in confusion and anxiety, and spoiling the peaceful and happy relationships that should exist within the family.

Mary and Joseph didn’t react to the anxiety of the moment. They were patient, open to see what the future would bring. From the very beginning, Mary was accepting of whatever was coming. Her heart was always guided by love with an understanding, selflessness and compassionate attitude, always connected with God in order to respond the best way possible, in the way of a Mother setting the example of sacrifice and self-giving.

In the short and polemic story of “Gravity” (which I really don’t recommend for light reading), the author describes the phenomenon of a selfless love that has a positive effect. The story concerns a mother who performs the highest example of selfless love. Her passionate love for her son, who is practically blind and requires drugs to stay alive, is prompted by the threat of his desperate disease.

She has the most extraordinary inner state, in which all her values and hopes are focused on another person, her son, and results in an inner confidence that sustains her. She becomes independent of the opinions of others. She develops a confidence that her love can rebuild in her son’s life (revive her son). Her confidence becomes a real response to the natural call of her motherhood, a vocation to selfless love. 

Somehow this story takes me to one of the passages of the book titled Christ is Passing By in which we read “… when we begin to count the days separating us from the birth of the Savior. We have considered the reality of our Christian vocation: how our Lord has entrusted us with the mission of attracting other souls to sanctity, encouraging them to get close to him, to feel united to the Church, to extend the kingdom of God to all hearts. Jesus wants to see us dedicated, faithful, responsive.

He wants us to love him. It is his desire that we be holy, very much his own.”

God wants parents to display their spirituality holistically, embracing our flesh, because of our humanity, but, also by making a continuous and selfness effort to cultivate love, commitment, compassion, mercy, humility, sacrifice, joy, etc. These are the values and virtues that mold the standards of our actions and the attitudes of our hearts and minds. Our spirituality should be evident by our actions, by how we live and how we treat others beginning with our own children and spouses.

We are called to a life of faith, hope and charity, not by preaching, but by shaping better people in all the stages of their growth.

When I recall the words of David’s mother at the funeral, I know that these parents asked our loving Jesus to teach the wisdom necessary to assist them to tenderly understand their child’s heart and mind in all events of his life, and to embrace him unconditionally. They accompanied David to his last Calvary. In his suffering, they offered his atoning death and all that it represented with the most pure and lasting sacrifice of self, as a sublime and gloried love that only a parent is able to experience.

That submissive love and humility before the divine will is the most powerful example of an alive and true holistic spirituality! It is only possible when we walk through the path of marriage and family life knowing that this life is a constant Advent: “look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” Only by putting Christ at the center of our lives can we prepared for heaven.

This time of Advent is a time for hope. These great challenges of our Christian vocation as spouses and parents require unity of life, built on the presence of God our Father that ought to be a daily reality. Our selfless love requires us to be, and to make others in our family aware, that our destiny is to live forever in God’s loving embrace. In the words of Mother Teresa, “love begins at home,” and “You meet Christ in your daily family life.”

Ask Our Lady during this season of hope and selfless love, along with me, to revive our parenting, and to daily prepare our children for heaven. Try to imagine how Our Lady spent these months as spouse and parent, selflessly waiting for her Son to be born, and after, during his life, always giving her sacrificial, selfless and truthful love.

I am sure that Our Lady, Holy Mary and St. Joseph, models of parenting, will make of you Alter Christus, Ipse Christus: Another Christ, Christ himself… What a wonderful initiative for this reviving season! 

By Maritza C. Roman-Pavajeau is the associate director of Family Life Ministry, Marriage Enrichment and Parenting Education.