By Sister Mary Lea Hill, fsp
As you read through the Gospels, you may find yourself, as a parent and definitely as a teacher, sympathizing with Jesus. Of course, the apostles weren’t his sons in the same way that you claim your sons and daughters, or your students. The apostles were grown men who had chosen to follow Jesus, but familiar parenting dynamics are often in plain view. Sometimes the apostles seem to be right there with Jesus and other times they try his patience. Jesus involved his apostles in what he was doing and let them try their own hand at it, as he did in sending them out two by two to preach and when he explained the only way to drive out evil spirits (See Mk 6, 9). Jesus might lay things out quite starkly, for example when he revealed himself as food in his Eucharistic presence (Jn 6:51-52). It wasn’t something a disciple could take or leave; it was essential. If you are truly my follower, my word should be sufficient for you, Jesus could have said. Or, as Jesus put it after the Pharisees’ criticism of the disciples caught picking and eating grain on the Sabbath (Lk 6:1-5): “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” In the world of parenting Jesus’ response equals that universal last word: “Because I said so!”
Kids will pick up on what you say and on what you lay down. In other words, they will learn not only what to do and what to avoid, but how to engage with what life presents. They will also learn their belief system from you. If they see, for instance, that you believe Jesus rose from the dead, they will enter into the mystery with you. Your faith, not just the words you say, but the faith you live is the best gift you will ever give them. If they see you as a sincere, genuine disciple of Jesus, you will help them to be sincere and genuine in turn.
If you want confirmation of this, ask your kids a question. You may be hesitant to ask directly so ask about your spouse. “What do you most admire about your mother?” “What do you think about Dad’s devotion?” “What kind of Catholic do you want to grow up to be?” The kids might be more forthcoming if they can talk about you rather than to you. From this little exercise it becomes clear that you can only pass on what you possess. This is your faith. It’s really like an inheritance you work a lifetime to amass for the sole purpose of passing it on to the next generation.
It’s easier to pass on general knowledge. Children don’t doubt that 2 + 2 = 4 or that 15 x 4 =60, or that we live on a rotating globe whirling around the sun within the immensity of space. Common sense and scientific discovery prove these things. However, the more intangible something is, the more doubt-worthy it becomes. This is why we are so grateful for Saint Thomas the Apostle. Thomas began as a believer. We don’t know how he came to be one of Jesus’ chosen followers, but we find him listed among the Twelve (Lk 6:12-16).
When Jesus was summoned to Bethany because Lazarus was ill, it was Thomas who blurted out to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:6). It was a time of growing danger, but Thomas was still on a high. A few verses later in John’s Gospel, Thomas again appears in a central role. Jesus is explaining that he must return to his father’s house. “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas reacts immediately. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” His question prompts this pivotal reply: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (See Jn 14: 3-7).
At the account of the resurrection of Jesus, we find Thomas in doubt. Where did this doubt come from? And why was it so adamant? Perhaps because he sincerely believed Jesus was the Messiah. The horror and finality of Jesus’ death, of which there was no doubt, had shaken Thomas profoundly. We can imagine that’s why he went off for some time alone to process his deep disappointment, his desperate grief. He came back to their meeting place with a heavy heart only to be greeted with jubilation. The Lord has risen. He was just here with us alive. This was a double whammy to Thomas. First, it was a shock to his already shaken state. And secondly, he would be angry and confused: Why would Jesus come when he knew I wasn’t with the group? Is he mad at me? Has he forgotten me or given up on me? Those could have been his thoughts, but he could also have been so overcome with the possibility that it was true that he needed undeniable proof. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
A week later Jesus reappeared in the Upper Room to offer the precise proof Thomas demanded. Jesus could have reprimanded Thomas for not being there, for forfeiting his chance at witnessing to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but he didn’t. He met Thomas where he was. He granted Thomas’ demands. Now at every celebration of the Eucharist we use Thomas’ profession of faith as our own, “My Lord and my God!” And with this encounter Jesus confirmed our faith as well: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). Plant these words in your children’s hearts. Very few Christians ever see Jesus. And those who do are assigned great responsibilities, for example, St. Margaret Mary or St. Faustina. Both of them were tasked with promoting devotion to the heart of Jesus. The vast majority of believers are just that: believers. This is our privileged position. Jesus trusts us to keep faith in him, to believe, even though we have never seen him as the Apostles did. As parents and educators you have to be the show and tell, the answer to the doubts of the young. They should be able to see Jesus in you, to see what belief looks like in action. Not just in very big, heroic things, but rather what Jesus-in-us looks like from day to day.
Let them touch in your hands and feet the working out of daily faith. Let them put their hands into your faith. Offer them examples of how you act out your faith. They have to hear you speak faith and join with you as you pray faith. Let them observe your faith however you let it play out, perhaps in Knights of Columbus, or pro-life witnessing, home catechesis or visits to the sick, etc. Observe the Church Year together. Attend special functions at church and on diocesan levels. Exhibit Christian love by speaking well of everyone.
Lastly, realize that doubt is a part of faith. It happens that we come up against something that doesn’t seem to mesh with our faith, or with something that might appear to contradict what our church teaches. These doubts should be confronted particularly by our prayer, but also by seeking counsel. Always be willing to explain your faith and convictions and to help the young find comfort, courage, and conviction from you.