Thursday, February 03, 2005

Marriage, Parenting: Vocation

When I was a young Catholic growing up, I used to hear parents and others talk about the self-sacrifice of priests, brothers and sisters ( people who gave up family fulfillment to serve the church). Those reflections were always offered with respect and admiration. Now all these years later, I have to disagree with my elders (now that I am an elder). If I have seen anything in 37 years of priesthood, it is that parents and spouses are the ones who make the great sacrifices. As a college chaplain for most of those years, I was able to see all this manifested in the lives and personalities of college students. Obviously, some came from families where the sacrificial demands of love were not met, and in some cases greeted with scorn. But then, through the students, I would hear incredible tales of how much time, effort, love, and pleasure their parents sacrificed for their families. Sometimes, it was very dramatic or demanding with tales of single parents, or families torn by illnesses or family break-up. But it always showed itself in young people who had that inner, indestructible assurance that their parents would be there for them, whatever the cost. Sometimes I wish that society would simply pay and support certain people to be parents because they are so good at it. I am very aware of how endangered this kind of parenting has become in contemporary American society. We do not need Federal Laws to protect families, but we do need people to sustain and nurture parents with support, help and loud admiration. Marriage alone, even without the children, requires sacrifice and, in my opinion, is the prime sign of the great love of God for each of us. I can think of nothing more heroic, more essential, more inspiring than parents and children in marriage and families. No wonder that, from the earliest days, they called marriage a sign of the Divine Covenant, a great sacrament.