Life is full of risks. These risks are how we find new footholds. We try something new and, depending on how it goes, learn something new about ourselves. For instance, after trying to preach a homily once with no notes, I learned it was (for me) a terrible idea. Another time, I took a risk and sent an essay I’d written to Dappled Things Magazine. I was nervous about being rejected — I’d never tried to publish an essay before — but the editors liked it. I learned a boundary from one risk — I’m not a good extemporaneous speaker; and from another I uncovered a talent — I’m a fairly decent writer.
One risk I’ve taken overshadows all others. Becoming a father. This was a risk I couldn’t take back. Once a father, I would always be a father. I barely understood how to safely latch a car seat into our beat-up, old Camry, let alone take on the responsibility to physically, emotionally and spiritually guide a soul into adulthood. None of us is really qualified to be a parent. No matter that I have 15 years of experience now, I still feel like I’m making it up as I go.
As a Catholic, the biggest risk of all is that my children might not remain Catholic as adults. I know many parents worry about this.
One question I regularly ask of older parents with adult children is what they did to raise faithful, practicing Catholics.
This is the most important parenting question. More than anything I want my children to be happy and the question of happiness is the same as the question of sainthood. Holiness is the path to happiness and the summation of everything a parent wants for children. Further, it’s a vocation God has placed on parents to evangelize the next generation, so I’m keen to understand how to instill in my children an abiding love of God.
First, a caution that parents cannot control our children. We can do everything right and a child might still stray. This is precisely why parenting is such a risk. They make their own choices. That said, based on what other parents have told me, there seems to be one, huge, important secret.
There is no secret.
There’s no single parenting technique, or Catholic school, or “right” kind of parish. What’s required, above all, is that I myself remain Catholic. Faith is a life to be lived, a gift from one generation to the next. This goes far beyond Sunday Mass. It means regular prayer in the home, sacred art on the walls, keeping feast and fast days, taking the kids to confession, letting them see me go to confession.
Let them see the risk of love, what it means to give a life to God, what it means to have living faith. God calls each of us in His own way. As a father, my vocation is to help my children hear His voice when He calls. After that, it’s up to them.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.