Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

A Missionary, Not a Functionary

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

I sat with a group of my colleagues in the Family Life Office Conference room, filled with excitement as the white smoke rose from the chimney.  We all awaited our new Holy Father with great anticipation.  And when Pope Francis finally came out on the loggia, we were all filled with joy and we joined with our brethren around the world in welcoming our new Supreme Pontiff.

Now, having had a few days to learn more about Pope Francis, I am still excited and filled with anticipation.  This has the promise of being an amazing papacy.

If you read the secular media, you would think that the greatest challenge facing the Church is the reform of the Roman Curia — the bureaucracy of the Holy See.  It’s funny.  I think that 99.99999% of Catholics have no idea what the Curia is and does.  Honestly, after almost twenty years of working in the Archdiocesan chancery (our local version of the Curia), I don’t really have much of an idea of what the Roman Curia does, nor can I identify a single instance in which the Curia has had any impact on anything that I’ve ever done.

Most Catholics innately understand that the focus of the Church isn’t inwards, on administrative matters.  We all know, in our hearts, that the Church is always a missionary, going out to the regular people, walking with them in their joys and sorrows, and offering them the hope of a personal loving friendship with Jesus Christ, and life eternal in the loving embrace of the Trinity.

That’s why we have so quickly fallen for Pope Francis — he is that kind of man.  Humble, ordinary, straightforward, uncompromising on teaching the truth, and unstinting in his care and concern for poor people.

He also sees very clearly that the mission of the Church is outward, not inwards.  That we must take the Gospel — and the Cross — with us to the ends of the world.  His first homily at his Mass with the Cardinals says this loud and clear:

We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [non-government organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity….

When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.

Our new Holy Father is a missionary, not a functionary.  Thanks be to God.

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

(Today is my birthday, so I thought I would re-post a blog that I wrote several years ago, for the same occasion)

If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.

The Politics of Principle

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last four years.  It was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

Sown and Reaped

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s tragic Roe v. Wade decision.  It is a time to reflect on St. Paul’s statement that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).

If we go back to Pope Paul VI’s great encyclical, Humanae Vitae, he predicted certain consequences if contraception were to become accepted in society:  a decline in marital fidelity and general moral standards, loss of respect for women and an increase in the objectification of women, and the dangers inherent in the possession of such a weapon in the hand of unscrupulous governments.

Everything he foresaw about contraception has come true about abortion, and even more — millions of deaths, the corruption of the medical profession, the distortion and politicization of law, and the suffering of millions of women and men who have participated in abortion and carry the grief and guilt with them still.

“Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap”.

And yet, there have been many good seeds sown over the past four decades.  We saw them today, on the streets of New York City.

Cardinal Dolan, assisted by two dozen of his brother priests, offered a beautiful Mass at 7 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a large crowd of early risers.  The Mass was followed by a Rosary procession and prayerful witness at an abortion clinic on Second Avenue and Forty-Second Street.

It was an amazing public witness.  Just think of it.  Three hundred or more people, processing along the streets of Manhattan at rush hour, praying the Rosary.   A man carrying a huge rough wooden cross.  Sisters of Life, Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, Missionaries of Charity, diocesan and religious priests.  Regular men and women.  All giving witness to the power of prayer and the dignity of life, on the cold and windy streets of the big city.

My favorite part came while we were crossing the streets.  Manhattan drivers — especially the cabbies — are not known for patience, and we only had one police officer to help us.  So we were treated to the amazing sight of rush hour traffic being stopped on Lexington Avenue and Forty-Second Street by a Sister of Life, a Franciscan friar, and a couple of intrepid laymen.  Surprisingly little honking, though — they must have realized that this was not your usual traffic snarl.

As we walked, people stopped and stared, and some even joined in prayer.  A few asked what was going on and, when it was explained, they paused to add their prayers to ours.

The larger meaning of the event, in a sense, was to reinforce St. Paul’s statement — “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap”.

Our nation has sown forty years of contraception, abortion, suffering, grief, and death.  And we have reaped the dire consequences.  But a handful of faithful witnesses continues to sow other seeds — love, compassion, service, courage, and witness.

Those seeds will also be reaped, and they bear fruit, a fruit that brings life and hope and forgiveness.

Advice from General Grant

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

There’s no way to sugar-coat it.  The results of the election were very bad for those of us who are committed to pro-life, marriage and religious liberty:

  • The re-election of the President, who made his 100% anti-life agenda a centerpiece of his campaign, and who will now have no incentive to back away from his HSS mandate that violates our religious liberty.
  • Defeats for authentic marriage in four separate state ballot initiatives — with marriage being redefined in Maryland, Maine and Washington, and the defense of marriage defeated in Minnesota.
  • The defeat of two ballot initiatives in Florida — one to deny public funding for abortion and one to repeal a nineteenth century anti-Catholic provision (a so-called Blaine Amendment) in their state constitution.
  • There were, on the other hand, some signs of encouragement:

  • The people defeated (narrowly) an initiative in Massachusetts that would have legalized physician assisted suicide.
  • There remains a pro-life majority in the House of Representatives.
  • But on the whole, it was a bad evening for the causes that we hold most dear.

    Many people are reacting to this event with dismay and discouragement.  Blame is being freely thrown around, and people are even talking about giving up and abandoning the “social issues” in the public square.

    At times like these, I’m reminded of Gen. Ulysses Grant, after the Battle of Spotsylvania in May 1864.  He had recently taken over command of the Union armies, and they had just endured two grueling, bloody battles in northern Virginia.  The battles did not produce the decisive victory that Grant was hoping for, and there was sure to be political pressure on him as a result.  Union casualties were high, and everyone expected him to retreat and regroup.

    Instead, Grant gave the order to advance, and penned his famous line, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer”.

    The battle of the Culture of Life against the Culture of Death is a long, twilight struggle that will go on for our entire lives.  It is fundamentally a spiritual battle (see Eph 6:12).  It is a contest for the hearts and souls of individuals, and thus our culture, and our laws.  It is not decided by one election, or one defeat, or even one victory.  There is no room for defeatism or despair.  We need to fight with confidence in the Holy Spirit, and determination to carry on, no matter what.

    Will you join me in taking General Grant’s advice?  Because I certainly propose to continue the fight.

    The Two Most Consequential Things You Can Do

    Friday, November 2nd, 2012

    No, this is not another apocalyptic post, talking about how monumental this upcoming election will be, and proclaiming it as the most monumental event in American or human history.

    Yes, the election is important.  Key issues will be decided by whom is elected to a wide variety of offices.

    But your voting decision, however important it may be, is nothing close to being the most consequential thing you can do this week.

    Here in the New York metropolitan area, we have been hit with a natural disaster that we have never experienced before.  The level of human suffering — that is to say, very real suffering by individual human persons — is heart-wrenching.  Even apart from the terrible loss of life and property, we see all around us elderly and sick people who are cold, hungry, scared, and lost.

    So here is the first thing that we can do:  help.

    Perhaps you have a neighbor who’s out of power, and you can offer a hot meal or a loaned flashlight.  Maybe you could go shopping for an elderly person who’s homebound.  The opportunities are endless, if we just look out for them.  The Lord wants us to think that way — just remember Matthew 25.

    Peggy and I are Red Cross volunteers.  We spent 48 hours this week working in a Red Cross shelter during the height of the hurricane, and we’ll be back in another one this weekend.  This isn’t complicated work — it’s providing a dry, warm refuge for people to get their lives and feelings back together, offering a hot cup of coffee or a snack, and letting little kids have a place to play.  There are lots of ways to help — if you can volunteer, please consider doing so (if not for this disaster then in anticipation of the next one), or perhaps a donation may be possible.  Catholic Charities and other agencies will also need help in the long run with recovery efforts.

    The second consequential thing that we can do:  pray.

    One of the hardest parts of recovering from a disaster is the sense of loss, depression, and hopelessness.  Please pray for the grace of strength among those who are struggling, and for those who are helping them.

    May I suggest that you consider a special prayer to Our Blessed Mother, who is always our hope in our difficulties?  Here’s my favorite one:

    We fly to thy patronage,
    O holy Mother of God;
    despise not our petitions in our necessities,
    but deliver us always from every danger,
    O glorious and blessed Virgin.

    You know that Our Lady is looking with compassion on those in need.  Perhaps the best thing I can do is leave you with an image, captured by a photographer who visited the rubble of Breezy Point, Queens.  This picture speaks volumes about Our Mother of Mercy, and how she is looking out for us in times of trouble:

    Remembering Nellie Gray

    Thursday, August 16th, 2012

    The pro-life movement lost one of our great figures the other day, with the death of Nellie Gray.  Most people have never heard of her, yet she was the driving force behind the annual March for Life. The march is the largest, longest-lasting public witness in the history of the United States (even if it is regularly ignored by the media).  Nellie helped found the March in 1974, she hosted the rally itself, and she proudly lead the way down Commonwealth Avenue, regardless of the weather or the political climate.  She was a force of nature in the pro-life movement, and the March is a seminal event for us — it’s a combination of rally, party, and requiem.

    I never met Nellie, but I have been to many Marches.  I was asked to contribute to a memorial for Nellie, and here was what I offered:

    Nellie Gray and the Gifts of Constancy and Renewal

    One of the many things to consider about the life and work of Nellie Gray is how she, and her beloved March for Life, represent what is so great about the pro-life movement, and what continues to confound its opponents.

    Anyone who has been to the March will quickly notice several things.  There are so many stalwarts there who have fought to defend life for years — just like Nellie Gray.  They were out there when the states started legalizing abortion, and when Roe v. Wade was decided.  They have shown the strength of the movement by their fidelity to the cause over many, many years.  Constancy — staying the course in a just cause.

    They also notice all the young people who are filled with passion for defending life — just as Nellie Gray was.  The March is a rally and party, remarkable for an event about such a lamentable reality.  This atmosphere, particularly the energy of the pro-life youth, lifts us up and encourages us that there is hope for the future.  Renewal — transforming new hearts and minds and culture.

    No movement in America is less fashionable and fancy than the pro-life cause.  Its opponents cannot understand its appeal and its longevity. The March for Life is hardly a glamorous event.  There are no movie stars, rock musicians, or A-list celebrities in sight, and there is little likelihood that it will become the next big fad.

    But Nellie understood.  The truth of the pro-life movement is very simple — every life has value.  This drove Nellie Gray — and millions like her — to be steadfast defenders of life, and it continually renews the cause.  Nellie Gray was an ordinary woman called by God to do exceptional work, with constancy and hope for renewal.  The March goes on.

    We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), and Nellie Gray was one of them.  Please pray for the repose of her soul and her eternal happiness with God, and for the consolation of her many friends and colleagues.

    A Question of Identity

    Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

    A recent news item has led me to reflect on a question that I think is crucial for all Catholics, indeed all Christians, at this time — the question of who we are.

    The “news” story (actually a commentary in the form of a news article) appeared in the Washington Post.  It describes the decision of the Arlington Diocese to require all their catechists to make a profession of faith, and the decision by a handful of catechists to resign rather than comply.

    The Profession of Faith is the same one prescribed by the Holy See for teachers in seminaries, pastors, and the heads of religious institutions, and is quite unremarkable.  It essentially asks if a person accepts the Apostles’ Creed and authoritative Church teaching –in other words, if a  person accepts what the Church has proposed for belief.

    To a person of common sense, the request by the Arlington Diocese is unexceptional:  if you are teaching the Catholic faith to children, we would like to make sure that you actually believe and accept the Catholic faith.  It’s like when a person assumes a public office — they have to swear to uphold the constitution and laws, and faithfully execute their office.  Or, think of it as a consumer protection pledge, like a “God Housekeeping Stamp of Approval”.

    To the author of the WaPo piece, and to the dissenting catechists, it is a shocking thing.  Pretty much anyone who has read religion articles in the press could write the story, since it hits all the media tropes — mean and authoritarian hidebound male bishops, courageous free-thinking women following their conscience, references to partisan politics and the health care law, and the Nazi’s even make a cameo appearance.   Naturally, it’s not as if the former catechists are Monophysites or anything too theological for the ordinary reporter to explain.   Their dissent  stems from all the usual trendy pelvic and gender issues, which the press loves to report about.  It’s pretty shoddy journalism.

    This story is striking to me because it involves deeper questions, which are not just being asked by the Arlington Diocese to their catechists, but which are in fact being asked of all of us:  What do I believe?  What does it mean for me to be a Catholic?

    For many people, both now and throughout history, being a Catholic has little to do with actual beliefs.  It is instead a cultural identity, or an ethnic characteristic, or a social custom.

    But that surely is not enough.  To be a Catholic means to hold certain beliefs in common with our brethren throughout the world, and throughout time.  It means to affirm the same faith that was preserved for us by the great saints, many of whom sacrificed their lives so that I might know that faith. It means to hand on to others, what was handed on to us.

    But on an even deeper level, it means to come to know the truth about somebody, about a person who loves me more than life itself, and who has given all of himself so that I may know and love him.  You can’t really love someone unless you know them, deeply and intimately.

    I know nothing of God — Father, Son, or Spirit — except what has been taught to me by the Church, and given to me by Her by Word, Sacrament, and Work.  I could never love God — the real God, not the flawed one I would rather create in my own image — if I had not received the truth about Him from the Church.

    That is why professions of faith are so significant to us as Catholics, and why we should be proud to affirm the truths of our faith, as taught to us by our Church, and to proclaim those truths to our world.

    The Sign

    Monday, June 25th, 2012

    Every year, for the past 21 years, our family has spent our summer vacation on a two-week mission trip with the PV Volunteers, to serve poor people in rural West Virginia.

    The poverty in Appalachia is crushing and depressing.  The coal and lumber industries employ many, but the economy otherwise is struggling.  Unemployment is high, especially among young people.  Housing conditions can be appalling — many people live in dwellings that would be condemned in New York.  There is a terrible drug problem, and all the health and social devastation that comes along with it.  The beautiful environment has suffered terribly from the pollution from mining, and from exploitive practices like strip mining and mountaintop removal.

    The PV Volunteers is not like a regular church group, who travel on mission together and then return home together.  After having been sponsored for many years by the Passionist Congregation (our original name was the “Passionist Volunteers”), we are now independent, but still Catholic and Christian in our identity.  They volunteers come from all over America — young and old, families and singles, from an amazing variety of backgrounds.  They travel great distances, and put their lives on hold for a couple of weeks, or even the whole summer, to serve God’s people in Wyoming County.

    The work is difficult.  There are repair jobs on the homes of people who can’t do the work for themselves — fixing leaky roofs, painting, repairing floors and walls damaged by floods, building ramps for the handicapped.  We run sports camps for kids who are isolated in the mountains with little to do in the summer.  Visiting the homebound elderly and mentally ill people is an essential part of our mission, spending time with them, and talking to them to relieve their loneliness and isolation.

    The living conditions are not easy.  We stay with up to 30 other volunteers in an elementary school, sleeping on air mattresses on the floor of classrooms, with a shared shower (not much hot water!) and bathrooms.  Chores and meals are in common.  There’s no privacy, little comfort, and lots of sore muscles.  The program runs on a shoestring, and is always short of funding.

    The work we do is certainly important — people with leaky roofs need to have it repaired, and they need help recovering from the frequent floods.

    But that’s not the point of the mission.  We don’t just work for the people here — we try to share their lives, to share ourselves with them.  And we strive to experience the divine in them, and in ourselves.  Every evening, no matter how tired or worn out we are, we gather for a review of the day, and a spiritual reflection on its meaning.

    In many ways the people in Appalachia are invisible — they’re in fly-over country, isolated in the hills, and easy to ignore.  But they are wonderful people, and God is very close to them.  Family and hospitality are central to their lives.  They have great faith in God, and know that even in their hardship, He loves them.  They trust Him, bear their burdens with great patience, and live with hope. They enrich and strengthen us.  So many of them have touched our lives, and it is a privilege to work for them.

    For Peggy and me, this trip is part of who we are.  It is understood in our family that we will spend our vacation in West Virginia every year.  Back in 1993, we left our home in New York — and I quit my job — to spend a year as PV’s in West Virginia with our children.  This experience has transformed our lives.  It has been a deeply formative experience for our children as well, who have seen first-hand how to serve and love those who are needy.

    We see the most powerful sign of God’s love in our fellow volunteers, especially in the other married couples who serve together.  These apostles understand that their sacrament is a sign of God’s self-giving love, and they offer that to the people we serve.  It is an awesome testimony of the power of divine love in our lives.

    Our modern age demands signs — something that will point out the meaning of life.  To those people who are still searching, we invite them — come to West Virginia.  Here, you will see the sign of faith in the people’s trust in God and reliance on him in their hardships.  You will see the sign of love in the people who come here to serve the poor and lonely, and who are loved in return.  And you will see the sign of hope, a firm confidence that God has a plan for all of us, which will always prevail.

    Happy God the Father Day

    Sunday, June 24th, 2012

    Father’s Day has now passed, and many people were kind enough to wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”.   I was very lucky, and had a good father — he was a good man, a solid Catholic, and he loved my mother very much.  He taught me by example, and who was, in many ways, a model of God the Father for me.

    Yet sometimes I think that most of what I’ve learned about God the Father, I learned from my children.  Or maybe it would be better to say that I learned about our perfect Father in Heaven by being a very imperfect father to my own children.

    Peggy and I have three children — two are now adults, and one is on the cusp of adulthood.  I’ve been a father for almost half my life now.  My children have taught me a lot.

    There are the lessons I learned from colic.  We were three for three with colicky babies.  If you have ever experienced colic, you know what it’s like.  Each one of my children, for several weeks when they were only a few months old, would cry incessantly every single evening, for no discernible reason, into the early hours of the morning.  You couldn’t get them to stop, you couldn’t ease their pain, nothing seemed to work, all you can do is walk up and down the hallway and hope that it ended soon.  When it became too frustrating to bear, I would hand them off to Peggy and take a break, knowing that in a little while, it would be my turn again.

    Your heart just breaks for them, they are so small and so distressed, and they can’t help themselves.  You want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

    As the children have gotten older, they have grown into their free will, and I’ve learned similar lessons from the decisions they’ve made — particularly the ones I disagree with.  I have done my best as a loving father to teach and model what’s right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy.  But they choose to do what they wish.  I can’t stop them, I can’t ease the pain they sometimes feel, all I can do is watch with sorrow as they make mistakes, and learn for themselves.  I want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

    I have also tried to stay in a close relationship with our kids, and I think it helps them to have a father in their daily lives, even as adults.  Yet at times there’s been physical or emotional distance between us — they move away to school, or we just don’t get along for a while.  This distance is painful to me, I wish it would end, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

    Of course, there have also been many, many times when I have been able to rejoice with my children.  They each have their own gifts, and I’ve learned to appreciate those differences, and the unique ways in which they are expressed.  I have to hold them each up to certain standards — particularly moral standards — but I also have to let them flourish in their own way.   And so often, it fills me with joy at being their father.

    Through all of these highs and lows, my children have taught me the meaning of unconditional love — because that is my perpetual challenge, to love them and stand with them no matter what.  Because of this, I think I have gained a small shadow of insight into God the Father, and how He feels about me.

    Like every broken person in the world, I have been hurt and wounded, and I have damaged my relationship with my heavenly Father.  I’ve gone my own way, without much regard for His. I have been too proud, or too blind, to ask Him for forgiveness.  There has been distance between us, not because He has ever rejected me, but because I have kept away.

    But I also have felt my Father’s unconditional love for me.  I know that he rejoices when I do his will, and grieves when I do not.  I know that he celebrates when I am happy, and mourns when I am sad.  He is my Father, no matter what, and He will always stand with me.  I know that he wants my life to be perfect, and that He will help me when it’s not.

    My children have taught me all of this.  So, when my kids wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”, I can be grateful to them for looking past my imperfections, and I can wish the same to my heavenly Father in His perfection.