My two boys were perched in a tree, busily sawing through the trunk. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. I didn’t relish climbing into the upper reaches of our tree, so I figured it was a job for my sons.
The tree needed to be cut down, so I showed them how to climb 35 feet up and tie one section of the trunk to a lower section and take the tree down in sections. I gave them safety tips, helped them get started and left them to it.
They loved it. For hours, they worked. When they were ready, I helped lower the separated trunk to the ground. I had them cut it into sections and haul it to the dumpster. Over the course of a few afternoons, they cleared it all away.
We were left with a stump. I recruited the boys again. Out came the shovels, saws, axes. They set to the task with enthusiasm. I pitched in — after all, there’s great joy for a father in laboring with his sons — and finally with a cheer we dislodged the stump. We were victorious warriors.
There’s something about boys and challenges. They thrive on them.
I was recently talking to a friend about our parish altar servers. We have about 60 boys total, every single one enthusiastic, every single one determined to serve at the altar every Sunday. They don’t like to sit in the pews anymore. It’s too easy out there with the seats and kneelers. In the sanctuary, life is challenging. Kneeling is done on the stone floor. Posture is carefully regulated. If they wear sneakers instead of dress shoes, they’re not allowed to serve. If they’re late, they are not allowed to serve. Latin prayers must be memorized. After Mass in the sacristy, they line up like a military regiment to recite their post-Mass prayers. The boys love it.
I was marveling about this and my friend asked, “Do you know how the server program became the way it is?” I didn’t, so he filled me in. Back in the early days, the boys didn’t yet have the habitual discipline to remain reverent in the sanctuary. A few were misbehaving near the altar, so the young man in charge paused the training session, took everyone outside, and had them do wall-sits. The boys moaned but accepted their fate. After a few minutes, they began bragging about who could do it longer. They had risen to the challenge and voluntarily begun to increase the difficulty. Today, those boys are the best servers I’ve ever seen. A goal was set before them, expectations were high and they rose to the occasion.
Every time I challenge my sons and empower them to follow through on the challenge, they do it. In the process, they mature and grow. They’re learning how to set a goal and achieve it, how to thrive. So I say, bring on the challenges. Give these boys difficult tasks, then just watch how much more they can accomplish than anyone would’ve expected.
Father Michael Rennier is vice-rector of the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.