A Father’s Greatest Fear

This past week, 130 teens from our parish and school received the Sacrament of Confirmation. A few of these young people are already leaders in the community, drawing others to Christ. More will enter into the fullness of the Catholic faith and begin to live as disciples of Jesus, called to follow, and gifted to reach out to their family, friends, and strangers in new and beautiful ways.

But unfortunately, many others will view Confirmation as the last requirement of “growing up Catholic.” They will be happy to be done with religion classes and will begin almost immediately to drift away from the Church.

Last weekend my bride and I spent Sunday afternoon with three other couples trying to raise Catholic families. We talked about cultivating perseverance in our children: strengthening them to look for ways forward when the going gets tough, to have the courage of their convictions, and to fall and rise again. We talked, in particular, about the difficulty of letting our teens make decisions we don’t agree with in order for them to learn on their own those things that our experience could teach but that they won’t hear.

At least two of us agreed that our biggest fear is our children falling away from the faith. My friend said that when he shares this fear, people will seek to reassure him: You are doing everything you can; they have to make their own choices.

“In reality, it’s not about me,” he said. “I worry, because I know how long a road it is to come back.”

I would add to his observation the sobering reality of eternity, heaven, and hell. We don’t like to think about these things—hell, in particular—but Jesus speaks plainly about them. I remember, in my younger years, seeing TV commercials featuring Carol O’Connor of Archie Bunker fame, after he had lost a son to drugs and suicide, saying: “Get between your kids and drugs any way you can.”

If only we took the same approach in the spiritual life.

So how do we keep our kids Catholic? It is not as simple as demanding they show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and go through the motions. All of us have a choice to make, every day, to follow Jesus and make God and our faith the center of our lives. To deny the reality of that choice is to deny the very thing that makes us special in this universe: bodily creations with rational spirits, with intellect and will, so loved by God that He allows us the freedom to choose for or against Him.

Why would anyone choose against God? C.S. Lewis’s short novel The Great Divorce lays out many reasons, rooted primarily in the earthly things—even blessings—that we put ahead of God and cling to at the expense of Him who is all Truth and all Love. God, spouse, children, everything else—is my house in order? Not as often as I’d like.

So what hope is there for our young people? Well, we have a Redeemer who, undeserving though we are, has already suffered on our behalf, and a Father in Heaven who doesn’t want to lose our children, either. He is constantly calling them, and us, to Himself—as singer-songwriter Jon Guerra puts it: “My Father ever chasing/My Chaser ever keeping/My Keeper ever giving/My ever-living God.”

I’ve referenced before an online article called “Keeping Our Kids Catholic: The Indispensable Minimum.” The writer describes our role as parents as forming “a thread of solid formation in morals and Church teaching that will keep even our most errant kids tethered to God—and which God himself can twitch to bring them back someday.”

Ultimately our children belong to the same heavenly Father that we do, and they are His to love, to call home, to save. We are not alone, and we don’t have to do it all. We only have to do all we can.

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