The nurse gently handed the young couple the gift of their brand new baby. Expressions of joy, awe, wonder seized their hearts—and then panic. With their precious, screaming newborn buckled safely into the car seat, they set out on the mission field called parenting—carrying no experience, no roadmap, and only a few words of advice to help maneuver the next eighteen-plus years.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sends forth seventy-two disciples to ensure the handing on of mission. In some ways, this initial sending out mirrors parenting. The seventy-two were “sent out in pairs;” parenting requires support, whether a spouse, a wise grandparent, a faithful friend, or the Church community. The seventy-two were “lambs among wolves;” parenting cultivates trust in God while raising children in an increasingly secular culture. The seventy-two were to “greet no one along the way;” parenting demands focus to stay on mission while battling overbooked calendars, stressful jobs, and endless entertainment.
From the moment of birth, the Christian parent’s goal—end game—is to form the child into a laborer for Christ. The harvest certainly is abundant. There are so many who are searching for light and love, and each child born into the world ultimately finds his or her purpose in bringing Christ to others.
When Jesus sent out these seventy-two, he must have had similar hopes and questions as parents who send their children into the world: Did I give them enough? Do they know their mission? Will the first grade daughter stop to pick up the classmate’s dropped pencil box? Will the junior high son defend the classmate who is bullied? Will the high school daughter join the service club? Will the teenage son stand up for his faith in Jesus when his friends falter?
This fall many parents will nervously drop off their beloved sons and daughters at college. Some aspects of college campuses resemble a lion’s den, ready to devour their children. Will they keep the faith? Will they reach out to others with the light of Christ? We don’t know, but if we have loved them, formed them, and prayed with them, we can hope that even when they fall, eventually they will rise and labor again for Christ.
We name grace in the domestic church when we strengthen our children for mission by nursing them with mother’s milk: the Eucharist and the Word of God. We name grace by putting faith before all else—including money, work, and hobbies. We name grace when they witness us laboring in the field by serving the poor and sharing our faith.
Though I know young Christian men and women who have courageously set out to foreign lands, no mission field has greater importance than Christian parenting. As St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” Parenting is difficult, but when seen as mission there is great purpose. The seventy-two returned rejoicing, just as parents will experience the joy of handing on faith in Jesus Christ to the next generation, and the next, and the … “Now, that’s good news!
How can you stay focused on mission? How can you help support a young parent—perhaps a single mother or father—in their mission?
June 19, 2016
During the last two years of my mother’s life, when she was suffering with dementia, the minute darkness fell she would declare, “It’s time to go home.” She would jump up and within minutes mom and dad were out the door. During this time, she also headed to bed early—6:00 p.m. early. And mom always expected dad with to go with her. Each night, dad faithfully trod off to bed with her, whether sleepy or not. No matter what mom requested, dad would simply smile, “Whatever makes her happy, as long as it doesn’t hurt her.” Daily, nightly, dad denied himself, picked up his cross, and followed Jesus by caring for mom—without complaint. Over a lifetime of sacrificial love, dad has answered Jesus’ primary question: “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus is the Christ of God, the One who lays down His life for others.
“But who do you say that I am?” remains the heart-piercing question each of us must answer—all while our children/grandchildren are watching our every move and listening to our every word. From the crack of dawn to the last moments of night they ask silently, “Is Jesus for real?” “Do you really follow Him?” “What difference does Jesus make?” “Is your faith authentic?” We answer these pivotal questions daily by how we live and how we speak.
As a child, when I awoke from a nightmare, my mother would lie beside me and gently remind me of Jesus’ presence. We would then pray the Hail Mary. In the midst of comforting me, mom answered Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus is the Christ of God, the Good Shepherd who protects us.
During the 1980s, when debates raged over AIDS, my dad shook his head and sighed, “How could any parent disown a son or daughter?” Dad’s words of acceptance spoke clearly his answer to Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus is the Christ of God, the One who loves us unconditionally.
We name grace—God’s presence—in the domestic church, as we love and comfort our children, building a basic trust in Jesus as our Good Shepherd. We name grace as we speak of God’s goodness and treat all people with respect and dignity. We name grace as we follow Jesus, day in and day out, without complaint, by comforting a crying baby in the middle of the night when bone tired or visiting an elderly neighbor when beyond busy.
Someday our children will be faced with the same jarring question: “But who do you say that I am?” Initially, they may hem and haw: “Well, the Church says this.” “My parents say that.” “My school teachers and religious educators say this.” But eventually they must answer this all-important question themselves. Their eyes are on us and how we live and speak today directly influences their answer tomorrow. Each time we act with love, compassion, mercy, courage, and humility, we equip our children to answer Jesus’ fundamental question: “But who do you think that I am?” Now, that’s good news!
Happy Father’s Day to all dads who have shown God’s unconditional love!
What is your answer to Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”
Two heartbroken mothers. Two beloved sons. One merciful God. We can only imagine the buckets of tears the two mothers in this Sunday’s readings cried over the death of their sons. In the first reading, Elijah begs for the life of the widow’s son, and the LORD listens and returns the child’s “life breath.” In the Gospel, moved with pity for the grieving mother, Jesus extends comfort, “Do not weep.” He then touches the coffin and releases her son from the grips of death, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
Even one tear shed—one prayer spoken—from the depths of the soul unleashes the mercy of God. In faith, we bring our broken hearts to Jesus. We hand over our children, and await as Jesus summons our sons and daughters out of their death and darkness: arise from your addiction, arise from your depression, arise from your shame, arise from your broken dreams, arise from your abusive relationship, arise from your sickness, arise from your fears, arise from your unbelief, arise from your sin. In Christ, be healed. Be free. Be alive!
Mother’s Prayers, an international prayer ministry, gathers mothers/grandmothers/spiritual mothers for intercessory prayer on behalf of their children and grandchildren. Its prayer book guides mothers into an absolute trust of God, articulating the truth of God’s compassionate heart for mothers and their children: “Dear Jesus, you see right into our hearts and you see pain there. We come to bring our children to you. We know that you love them so much more than we do.” When weeping over our children, we can be assured God is tending to their hurting hearts and souls.
And even when our children die, we can respond in faith. I know so many, too many, fiercely loving and faithful women, who offered millions of prayers and wept oceans of tears, and yet their beloved children/grandchildren died. Left with empty arms and aching hearts, Mother’s Prayers encourages these mothers not to lose hope. “Stop your crying and wipe away your tears. All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded. They will return from the enemy's land. There is hope for your future. Your children will come back home" (Jer 31: 16,17).
We name grace in the domestic church—God’s caring presence—when our children witness us praying on their behalf and shedding tears when they suffer. We name grace as we pray for the needs of others. We name grace as we demonstrate God’s power to raise us out of any darkness.
In prayer and with tears, we entrust our children to the infinite mercy of God, who brings life out of any death. And when heartbroken mothers enter Heaven, we can only imagine the joy as God turns their mourning into dancing when He lovingly hands back the children they long to embrace—fully healed, fully alive! Surely, God has visited His people. Now, that’s good news.
When have you wept for your children? How have you experienced God’s mercy and compassion through intercessory prayer?
Mothers Prayers is open to all mothers. The USA national coordinator, Liz Cushman of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, may be contacted through email: USA@MOTHERSPRAYERS.ORG or at 563 590 3729.
The blog on this page presents reflections on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding leaders of the domestic church in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.