Modeling Our Christian Faith

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans that “Love is the fulfillment of the law” – a very simple and beautiful statement.  Please notice that I said “simple”, I did not say “easy”. We frequently use the word “love” in our everyday lives for everything from how we feel about our spouse and family to how we feel about the weather (at least some days in Minnesota!)  However, the love that St. Paul is referring to is the brotherly love and concern that we extend to all others.  To truly love, as we are told to do by St. Paul, requires us to approach all aspects of our lives through the lens of Christ’s teachings.

As we approach the new program year for Religious Education, I spend much of my time focusing on the lessons to be taught this year.  If the children only had to learn the phrases “love God” and “love one another”, my job would be very easy.  Have them memorize and recite!  But the reality is that they must learn what loving God and others looks like, then internalize it and actually live it.  This is something that we all, young and old, struggle to do. As adults, we may be able to recite precisely the “right” answer for how we should live our lives, but that doesn’t mean we always live it.  Our behaviors are what truly reveal our beliefs.

As parents, we are constantly modeling what it means to be Christian.  It can be almost frightening when we become aware that our children are listening to us and watching us much more closely than we realized. We are the first and the primary teachers of faith to our children.  This is a huge responsibility and yet it is one we all promise to do when we have our children participate in the Sacrament of Baptism.  We promise to raise our children in the Catholic faith. We teach them not only the words that we should “love one another”, but how that manifests in everyday life.  We spend hours through word and action teaching them how to share, how to help others, how to show mercy and forgiveness – in other words, how to live like Christ.  It is an ongoing lesson every single day of our children’s lives.

Just as the children should not simply learn the words about love, they in turn learn much more from our actions than the words from our mouths.  We could stand all day long in front of our children saying “I love you” but it is our actions that makes those words have worth. The words become meaningless without our behavior matching the statement.  Because we truly love them, we want what is best for them to become well balanced and loving Christians. We want them to be healthy – physically, mentally and spiritually.

Raising children to be healthy individuals is not easy.  It can be exhausting and frustrating.  If you have ever tried to explain to a 3 year old that they cannot do something in particular, you know exactly what I am talking about!  Try to remember that every child, teen and adult makes bad choices; we are all human therefore we all sin.  One of the many aspects of raising children in the faith is helping them to see when they make a bad choice, especially one that could hurt someone else or themselves.  As they reach school age, with the help of their parents and those who love them, the children will have begun to develop a healthy sense of what is appropriate and good behavior.  In the same sense, they will also begin to develop a healthy understanding of bad choices and the concept of sin.

I am the first to admit that there are times I have reacted to my children’s bad behavior and choices with either an angry response to them or a decision to ignore the behavior because I was just not in the mood to deal with it.  I can predict that it will happen again.  However, neither of those reactions is going to help my children to grow in to healthy and caring Christian adults.  Disciplining children and teens can be a very controversial topic.  We all view discipline in a different light and we may even have different ideas of what the word actually means.  Many associate “discipline” with punishment when that is not the way it has to be viewed.

I was recently reading an article in a booklet called “Catholic Parent Know How”.  It’s a very practical periodical that is printed by “Our Sunday Visitor”.  This particular issue focuses on building stronger families.  One of the articles, “Discipline Isn’t a Four-Letter Word”, really caught my attention by defining discipline as “using our God-given parental authority to teach, instruct, and educate our children to ensure acceptable, appropriate behavior”.   The author points out that the word “discipline” and “disciple” both stem from the Latin word discipulus.  There is a connection between teaching/learning and discipline.  As we teach our children right from wrong, we are teaching them about a lifelong discipline.  If you are interested in reading this article to learn more about this connection and to receive concrete ideas on how to help you implement this with your children, there are copies of the booklet on the information counter in the gathering space.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us we must help our “brother” recognize when he has made a bad choice and sinned.  We can start by doing this in our own homes – helping each other to acknowledge and admit that a choice that was made did not reflect our love for God and/or for each other.  As disciples of Christ, our discipline (what we learn and what we teach) is based on the law of love.

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