One of my earliest and most consoling childhood memories is of sitting next to my father in church on Sunday mornings. Third pew from the front, on the right, six of us taking up the better part of the row. We always arrived early and got settled in, which suited my young contemplative soul just fine.
My father, a quiet and holy man who served God and supported his family as a barber, would have loved to go to daily Mass. But since his workdays did not allow it, he would sit in those quiet moments on Sunday mornings and read, from his missal, the profiles of the saints whose lives the Church would celebrate in the coming week.
What I most clearly remember is the peace which passed from my father’s soul down through his arm, into my arm and directly into my soul. Mother, farther down the pew, was the one in charge; Daddy was the one in peace. In those early years, on those Sunday mornings, intuitively I learned what “a man of God” is like. For me, it was a father whose soul was most at home in God, most at peace in this steadfast communion with his Lord.
So I found it no surprise that I encountered this same peace and spiritual rest in him when I would bicycle to his shop on a summer’s day. In the middle of the week he would be sitting, quite at peace, in the lull between customers. He was probably praying the rosary. And he was probably praying for us. A few years later, that same spiritual peace emanated from his fragile smile when the nurse wheeled him to the hospital lobby to visit with us after his first of many brain surgeries.
No wonder I am drawn to a phrase in a canticle of Isaiah which I pray in Morning Prayer (Tuesday, Week II): “Fathers declare to their sons [and daughters, I add], O God, your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:19).
What do parents of Christian faith do? Hopefully they echo on to their children what they know of God. This “echoing on of faith” is the very definition of “catechesis”—to “sound forward” what you have known of God. If you have a mature, loving, dynamic relationship with God, you will have something to echo forth. Fathers [or mothers] declaring to their sons [or daughters] God’s faithfulness will shape the very core of the conversation between parent and child.
But there’s nothing automatic here. In many Christian households the spiritual part of parenting is left to Mom. But by nature boys intuitively learn from Dad—through words or, more impressionably, through Dad’s way of being, his attitudes and actions. Fathers indeed declare to their sons all kinds of things—some of it important instruction, and much of it the unspoken messages of how to be a man in this world.
What Isaiah proposes, though, is that fathers declare to their sons not just how to be a man but “a man of God” in this world.
If we back up a couple of stanzas, we discover what this “declaring” might include: “You have preserved my life / from the pit of destruction, / when you cast behind your back / all my sins” (v. 17). Now there’s a father-son conversation waiting to be had. The passage continues: “The living, the living give you thanks, / as I do today” (v. 19). Do sons see their dads giving thanks to God? Not just generally, but actually expressing heartfelt gratitude for God’s faithfulness when God could have simply turned away? Sons—and daughters—need urgently to perceive in their fathers real expressions of joy for the unexplainable wonder of redemption.
We can pray for vocations ’til the cows come home, but sparks of God’s calling fly when “fathers [and mothers] declare to their sons [and daughters], O God, your faithfulness.”
Copyright 2013 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.
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