The virtue of the month in our household is hope, written in purple marker on the refrigerator.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to hope as the virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness.
Recently, Pope Francis exhorted the faithful to enable hope to propel us toward “a sure future, set against a different horizon with regard to the illusory enticements of the idols of the world.” For us parents, this begs the question: Where do we teach our children to find happiness?
Once children are born, it’s off to the races. We take great joy in witnessing their God-given beauty, aptitudes and inclinations. We look for faint clues as to future greatness.
Abigail started stacking blocks at a much younger age than her siblings. Perhaps, we surmised, she’s destined to be an engineer or a famous architect. Unfortunately, she also has a penchant for religiously taking off her socks and shoes.
Grace could converse on complicated topics quite early. When her mother isn’t around, I turn to her for data verification:
“I’m 37, right?”
“Nope, 38, Dad.”
Perhaps, she’ll be a writer or an actuary.
John showed social prowess at a young age. We envisioned, much to our consternation, a budding politician. I remember taking the kids sledding last winter. By the time we were exiting the car with our sleds, John was already walking back up the sledding hill surrounded by a bevy of high school girls, laughing at his jokes.
“You’re funny, John,” they giggled and smiled.
When we visited parks in faraway cities he would quickly befriend other kids with his standard greeting, “Hello, my name is John, what’s your name? Would you like to play?”
He accrued best friends wherever we went.
Joseph took to physical joys early. When he was 5, he asked to join me on a run. After asking repeatedly for a number of days, I acquiesced so as to limit his pleading. He ran five miles that day. Then, he asked to do the same distance the next day because he had taken a small rest mid-run the day before. He has since written out a list of exercises he likes to do on a regular basis.
I suppose it’s natural for parents to see their children as destined for greatness: a great athlete, engineer, writer, or, heaven help us, politician.
Other times, due to mixed signals, it’s harder to discern matters.
A few months ago, the three older ones planned an impromptu church service in the basement.
Joseph was the main celebrant, while Grace was the liturgical coordinator. John, who served as the lone altar boy, kept an eye on the basket of Fritos. Halfway through the service, when John began to snack on the Fritos, Joseph proclaimed in a holy fury: “Dude, they’re blessed!”
John giggled and ran upstairs.
So, who knows how things will turn out? But regardless of the future, life will be good if those aspirations are centered on the Christian virtue of hope. The greatness of our children will come from their everyday witness living the Christian life in anticipation of heaven.
So, how do we instill this hope, and cultivate a great desire for the kingdom of heaven, eternal life with our Creator, the source of true happiness? It’s a formidable question. The answer is in how we communicate to them what Scripture promises: that we have a true eternal home waiting for us. This world is only temporary (2 Cor).
You want to be an athlete? Great, do it for the glory of God. You want to be a politician? Great, do it for the glory of God. You want to be a writer? Great, do it for the glory of God. You want to be an engineer? Great, do it for the glory of God. Just keep your shoes on.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)