By the end of it, 40 days can feel like a long time. No, I don’t mean the 40 days of Lent but another 40 days that just concluded, the forty days between Christmas and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
I had a nice liturgical reminder that I had last seen my parents at Christmas and was blessed for them to make a quick visit on the Presentation. After they left, my wife and I commented how nice it was to see them and that their visit seemed to energize me and lift my spirits. I’m blessed to have both of my parents still living and relatively close to home.
What made their visit so enriching? I think part of the reason was that I got to experience “peak Gil and Sheila,” as I texted my sister, who quickly understood what I meant. Maybe it was a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but my parents’ quirky and what I consider to be quintessential behavior lifted my spirits. They were just being themselves, and perhaps it was their authenticity that reminded me of just how much I love them.
It is not so much about what my parents said or did, but it was the way that they made me feel. I was protected, cared for, challenged and encouraged. In short, they loved on me. Our family is not perfect by any means, but our love for each other overflows.
While we just celebrated Catholic Schools Week at the end of January, we could have celebrated another kind of school — the family as a school of love. The Catechism states, “The family is the first school of Christian life and a ‘school for human enrichment.’ Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated — forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.” (CCC 1657)
While I smile at the notion of “peak Gil and Sheila” now, it is because they were my first teachers of what it means to be human, of what it means to a brother and a son, of what it means to be a young man. We have affection for our dearest teachers, and my parents are my first and primary teachers.
We did not have much growing up, but we did have love. We had love in our home because God was present in our home. God was present first and foremost in my parents’ sacramental marriage and their ministry in the Church. God was present at meal times and bedtime. God was even present when siblings and parents argued.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “God has chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! God is the Trinity, He is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and His human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love.”
St. John puts it another way when he writes, “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
I felt my parents’ love for me, and at the same time I felt God and His unconditional love for me. My parents, but more specifically God in them, encouraged and affirmed me.
When I am asked what it will take to keep our kids Catholic beyond high school, love is the answer — most importantly, the love and support of parents. Tweens and teens can be frustrating and confusing, so love the heck out of them. Young people can struggle with anxiety and depression, so love the heck out of them. Our children won’t remember every word we say, but hopefully they remember and know the love we have for them.
Young people are searching for belonging, acceptance and love. They look for these in the world and in a culture that sends mixed or misguided messages. Give young people a sense of belonging, acceptance, and love at home and in our parishes. Doing that, in an authentic way, will keep them from straying too far from home.
We mark Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, two celebrations of life and love, before entering into the season of Lent. Our challenge is to love others as Christ loves, the sacrificial and life giving kind of love. We start this love at home with our family, and our families’ love should spread and make a difference in others’ lives.
When we love our families in a Christ-like and radical way, it goes beyond forty days and lasts a lifetime.
— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at email@example.com
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