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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Son's Affection and The Loving Father...

Rembrandt's Loving Father... 
“I love you, Daddy,” he said as he hugged my arm and buried his head on my chest, while I was kneeling during my eight-year-old daughter’s First Holy Communion Commitment Mass last week.

I can think of nothing more rewarding for a parent to hear than those words with sincerity from their child. 

It makes you almost forget the sleepless nights of having to get up to change the bed sheets after an overnight "accident," the aggravations of the occasional bedroom (or worse, living room) battle scenes played with every single toy within reach, and the irritations of having to repeat the same things over and over, like to pick up shoes thrown everywhere around the house, or our daughters' dirty clothes and towels on the bathroom floor (Or my pet peeve; using less toilet paper, for Christ's sake!  I think I'm developing back problems from having to plunge the toilet so many times.  Then again, it could be just my age!).    

At any point, those four words, "I love you, Daddy" sweetly offered unsolicited from the depths of the soul, as only an innocent child could express with unconditional love and earnest dependence, is probably the most poignant argument against John Calvin’s predestination doctrine. 

In other words, as a child loves his father, so we love God; not because we have to but because we want to (free will).  It wouldn't be true love unless we chose to love freely; which is what God and all loving parents want from their children.

But, less I digress, that's not where I'm heading with this blog.  Although, if you haven't noticed by now, I have a tendency to stray from the story line from time to time, which is why when I was in college, my brother's high school friends used to call me “The Governor,” for the character in the old TV show Benson.  Governor Eugene Gatlin would often go off on tangents while telling stories and make a short tale a little bit longer than intended. But now, I'm just dating myself. (see my point!)

Anyway, to get back to my son at Mass, the fact that I had just heard him attempt to sing the Lamb of God Prayer (including the parts in Latin!), before expressing his sentiments to me, my younger daughter had just made a public commitment to Jesus and to working hard in preparation for her First Communion next April, and my wife and I had just reaffirmed our commitment to raise our children in the Catholic faith and help our second grader prepare to receive the pinnacle of everything we believe in; the Holy Eucharist; I couldn't help but feel a great sense of joy and peace, and, in all honesty, a true sense that God was sending me a clear message.  (Not to mention, our older daughter was singing in the children's choir, after several months of saying she didn't want to do it anymore)

In fact, for, at least, that brief moment, and at the risk of sounding full of myself (which isn’t that hard for me), I felt God was telling me, or actually showing me, what He said at the Baptism of Jesus, "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."

It is a powerful statement and image to contemplate, which is why I once had a priest tell me after my Confession to go home and reflect on Jesus' baptismal narrative, and how, in our baptism, we are united with Christ's Baptism and become part of God's family; His beloved children.

Therefore, as I sat there at church with my family, joyfully pondering the many blessings God has bestowed upon me, including in that particular place and time, my son's love and affection, I could feel a sense of fatherly pride and the thought crossed my mind that, despite my many faults and deficiencies, God was patting me on the back and telling me that it was going to be ok.  I was fulfilling my most important responsibility as a parent; raising Godly children.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “When a child is given to his parents, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents who raise a child without consciousness of that eternal crown!”

I once heard a comment by Catholic radio host, clinical psychologist, author and father of ten, Dr. Ray Guarendi, that has always resonated within me.  He said, "I am more interested in my children getting into Heaven than getting into Harvard."  (Although, it wouldn't be bad if they got into both!)    

Still, I must admit, I often doubt myself as a father, husband and spiritual leader of my family.

As my wife often points out (probably more than I want to hear), in her own motivational way (to knock me off my high horse!), I sometimes sound better on paper than I do in person, especially when I'm betrayed by my own actions.

I probably spend more time chastising, reprimanding and correcting my kids than I do serving as an example of God's love, mercy and forgiveness.

But, if, as the saying goes, "All saints are sinners who just keep trying," and since there is only one perfect Father, then all we can do, as fathers (and mothers, for that matter), is to keep trying and doing the best we can.

In my case, it often bears fruit.  Despite my occasional cantankerous or self-centered behavior, I think my kids know I love them; not because I tell them but because I show them affection.  I think they also recognize my sincere commitment to God, to the Church and to our family through example.

They see me trying to be a good husband (and trying being the operative word for any husband), father and son.  They see me praying (often with them), taking them to Mass every week, going to Confession regularly (which, if not humility, at least shows them their old man is a big time sinner that needs constant forgiveness!), and studying my faith.

A close friend once told me, "Life is God's gift to us and what we do with our life is our gift to God." I'm not sure whether it was original but it certainly was profound; to the point where, many months later, the statement continues to linger in my mind.

Although, I'm still working on my gift to God (probably until the day I die!), He is constantly giving me; not just with my life, and the fact that I get up every morning, but through the lives that He has put in my care.  And, in spite of myself, like that recent Sunday morning at Mass, through the affection of my son and the faith of my wife and daughters, He uses them to show me His love, mercy and loyalty, as a true loving father often does...

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