Friday, January 31, 2014

Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord

When he was 3 ½, my son Charlie stunned me by announcing that when he grew up, he wanted to be a fireman, an astronaut, and a librarian- all at the same time! Of course, all kids look forward to being something in particular when they grow up. And most parents look forward to what their children might grow up to be as well.

Some parents want their children to choose specific professions. Maybe they want them to follow in their footsteps or take up the family business. Some hope their children will grow up to be a priest or a religious brother or sister. Most parents, however, are probably more concerned not with what their children become, but with whom they become. A few will imagine their children leading a so-called “perfect” life of wealth, fame, success, and beauty. The majority of parents, however, are far more realistic. They know their children won’t have “perfect” lives. But they still want good things for them.

A recent Google search revealed that parents want a variety of things for their children. They want them to grow up to be happy, healthy, safe, strong, independent, and confident. They want them to feel good about themselves, enjoy inner peace, find a purpose and meaning in life, learn from their experiences, respect nature and humanity, feel successful and significant, and to be loving people who are loved in return.

I would imagine that many of us here want or have wanted such things for the children in our lives. And it has to be said that most of those things are, in and of themselves, good things. However, as Christians, we should want something more for our children. Over and above all everything else, we should want our children to grow up to be holy; we should want them to become saints of God who live to serve him and build up his kingdom. Saints are what God created them to become. Saints are what we should want them to become.

Today is the Church’s Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord. Our gospel reading spoke to us of how Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, in order to present him to the Lord. This is what the Jewish law required, and it was a fitting way to thank God for the gift of a first-born son. But even more than simply saying thanks, this was an ritual through which moms and dads would dedicate their child to God’s service, because it was understood that serving the Lord is a child’s highest calling.

Perhaps we’re being invited today to consider whether or not we believe serving the Lord to be the highest calling for the children in our lives-  and this includes not only sons and daughters, but also our grandchildren, our godchildren, our nieces and nephews, and in fact all the children of our parish, because since we’re all one big family in Christ, we all have a responsibility for each other. We should ask ourselves: Do we want these children to become saints? Or have we been aiming and working toward something less?

At the end of today’s gospel, we’re told that eight days after Jesus was born he was circumcised and given his name. This, of course, is an ancient Jewish custom. We might think of our Catholic practice of infant baptism as being a rough equivalent to this. At a Catholic baptism, parents and godparents promise publicly, before God and the Church, that they will do everything in their power to raise the newly baptized child in the faith, so that he or she might greet Jesus with joy on that day when he comes again in power and glory.

Many of us have made such a promise at some point. The question is: are we keeping that promise as best we can? If not, then maybe we need to make some New Year’s resolutions. First of all, let’s resolve to worship at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Let’s resolve to pray together every day: not just at mealtimes and bedtimes, but other times as well. We can regularly go to confession together, perhaps once a month. We can read the Scriptures together. We can place Catholic symbols in our homes to identify it as a sacred space where God’s children dwell. We can teach our children about the saint or feast of the day in the Catholic calendar. We can share with our children what our faith in Jesus means to us and talk with them about what God has done in our lives. We can celebrate the anniversaries of our children’s baptisms or their special saints days. And we can make our best effort, with God’s grace, to model for our children the virtues of faith, hope, love, forgiveness, patience, generosity, compassion, gratitude, affirmation, simplicity of life, and self- sacrifice.

Experience has shown that parents are four times more effective than clergy, and ten times more effective than teachers in passing on the faith to children. The reality is that these days, the burden of this responsibility seems to fall upon the shoulders of mothers. But dads need to do their share too. One study concludes that if the primary religious influence in the home if the father, 93% of those children will follow into that faith as adults. Yet if the primary religious influence is the mother, only 17% will follow.

I would hope that everyone here today would say that they love the children in their lives. But what is love? Love is doing whatever is necessary to help those we love to become what God create them to be. We know that he made them to be saints. If we really love them, that’s what we’ll help them to grow up to be.

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