A young woman preparing for marriage once shared a beautiful story of deeper conversion that came through speaking with her dad. They were on a long car ride together and were playing the “What would you do if…” game. She asked her dad: “What would you do if you could ask Jesus one question that He had to answer?” She was expecting her dad to seek out the deep secrets of the universe. His reply has come to define his daughter’s life: “I would ask Him, ‘How can I serve you?’”
Parents provide much more than food and shelter for their children. Their greatest gift is communicating what it means to live a good life, and parents continue to give this gift long after their child has left home. For this gift to be well-given (and thereby well-received), two things are necessary. First, the ideal of “the good life” (including the practice of faith) is foremost given by example. When a grown daughter saw her dad living with a spirit of joyful service, she naturally came to understand that the selfless choices he makes, including going to Church, have led to a deeper fulfillment that cannot be found in worldly success.
Secondly, following upon the joyful witness of one’s own life, a parent may prayerfully initiate the conversation about faith. Your approach to this conversation must proceed from a selfless spirit of affection for the child. Statements such as: “I don’t know how I messed up with you” or “I sent you to Catholic school, I don’t know why you do not practice” are surefire ways to close the door to further conversation. Instead, you want to communicate two things: (1) “You are my child, and I love you unconditionally.” (2) “I do not condemn you for not practicing, but I want to listen to who God is to you, as well as to share how God gives meaning to my life.”
If you wish to make this gift of faith even more powerfully to your child, heed the words of Jesus: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:27). There is nothing as attractive as true spiritual poverty — a spirit detached from worldly values that instead clings closely to God. Consider what negative values you may have imparted to your child. Then seek to repent of these worldly values by changing your own life to reflect the humility, service and poverty of Jesus Christ. If your words fall on deaf ears, your actions will not, and that most eloquent, if silent, message of the Gospel will be proclaimed: I have discovered the person of Jesus Christ, and He makes a difference in my life.
Father Charlie Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.