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October 10, 1997     The Message
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October 10, 1997
 

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana October What does parenthood mean? By H. RICHARD MCCORD JR. Catholic News Service The strict definition of parenthood -- "the state of being a parent" -- is not very useful. It's a static viewpoint. Instead, we need to ask, What does being a parent mean? This is the dynamic viewpoint and the more rele- vant question. More specifically, what does it mean to be a Christian Catholic parent? There are some generic things we can say about being a parent, regardless of one's religious background, and there are some dimensions that flow directly from being a Christian and a Catholic believer. To be a parent is to answer a call to help God create, nurture, sustain new life. It's a vocation, something which, especially today, can involve risks, cre- ate anxiety and fear, and seem daunt- ing. Like any vocation, when it's embraced in freedom and with trust in the Lord, it will bring much joy, but always some pain and sorrow as well. The call or vocation to be a Christian parent is a summons to perform the roles and responsibilities that all parents have and to see in this activity a deeper spiri- tual meaning. What do parents do? Theologian and educator Maria Harris provides a help- ful set of categories. Parents protect: keeping children from physical, psydml0gical, emotional, Spiritual harm; constructing boundaries around a family or household to screen outside influences. Parents must be aware, however, that their protection cannot be absolute. Acci- dents and tragedies will happen; even- tually children will suffer some harm. Parents must be read)" to let go of the need to control every aspect of their chil- dren's world. This realization can be a source of great sorrow -- and also a new s,,1se of freedom-- for parents. It requires faith (trust) in God. Parenthood "can involve risks, create anxiety and fear, and seem daunting .... Like any vocation, when it's embraced.., with trust in the Lord, it will bring much joy, but always some pain and sorrow as well." -- CNS photo from Cleo Photography A parents nourish: feeding, sheltering, clothing, and providing for-children's physical needs. This can be exhausting. For some parents it requires heroic effort and sacrifice. It is where some parents focus all their effort. That can be short-sighted because there is also the need to nourish children's human spirits. They must encounter beauty and truth and develop their gifts for creativity and service. Parents "feed" these spiritual hungers too. Parents guide: teaching, inspiring, communicating and modeling values and behavior  a progressive task which grows and changes as a child becomes more experienced with making decisions. At some point in a child's develop- ment, it involves greater ability to listen, to pose questions, to outline possible routes to follow, then stepping back. Parents are the first and most basic teachers, doing so more by gMng exam- ple, by answering questions and equip- ping children with skills than by relating concepts and information. -- Parents love: This is what makes all the above roles possible. Parental love has so many faces. But parental love does not rule out anger, frustration, the need for discipline, the urge to scream and oth- erwise let off steam. To be a parent is to have an enduring love for one's child -- the kind of love which "never forgets" this essential rela- tionship that began long ago. Mothers and fathers will "parent" dif- ferently -- each bringing a different set of perspectives and skills. Neither is bet- ter or more essential than the other; they should not strive to be interchangeable, lest the), deprive chiklren of inglvdients for health}' developmenL The single parent is not someone to despise or pity or blame. Usually people do not intend to parent alone. Most Parenthood: It's just divine.= By FATHER JOHN J. CASTELOT Catholic News Service To say that God sets parents in a spe- cial position in the family is to say that parenthood is a divine vocation, a call to serve a family that is Godlike, as the New Testament Letter to the Ephesians reminds us: "I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named"(3:14-15). The term ,'vocation" has taken on a tightly defined meaning for some peo- ple. Perhaps when they think of voca- tions they think exclusively of a call to the priesthood or religious life  great- ly important vocations. But St. Paul, speaking of the action of the Spirit in our lives, wrote: "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are differ- ent forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in every- one. To each individual the manifesta- tion Of the Spirit is given for some bene- fit" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). Parents are called to share with God the uniquely divine act of creation. Cre- ation is an ongoing process. And human beings are works in progress, not fin- ished products. By our every choice we affect our physical and spiritual development and that of others. We are co-creators with God. In a special way parents participate in this never-ending divine work. They give and nurture life, are given respon- sibility for human development. As the initial act of creation was an act of divine love, the birth of every person results from an act of love. Both parents are intimately involved in this sacred process. The father is a "sacrament" of God's life-giving and continued providence. It is not only in his authority that a father is a God-image. He is so more radically in his act of "pro-creation"  in his reas- suring presence and caring support. The mother is likewise a God-image. From her very substance a human being, a child of God, takes being itself. Her hurturing is an exquisite sharing in God's sustaining love. In the Book of Isaiah, God exclaims: "Can a mother forget her infant, be with- out tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (49:15). Even if we define the term "vocation" as a calling to serve the church, it is good to remember that the church includes the domestic church. Every family is the church in miniature, and parents are called to guide it. And like all vocations, it is demand- McCord is the associat bishops'secretariat &r Family, Laity,! and Youth. '; ing. Like the God with whom parents will know ingratitude, rebellion: But like will be understanding, patient, sionate. Parenthood is a truly tion! Father Castelot is a author, teacher and lecturer. ris and re a definition : In the tothe bed;ca a child's| would rather have the spouse if the circumstances ferent. The single parent is usually best she or he can with resources. Research about children shows that children if they at least have the tion, loyalty, love and care of ent. What can distinguish a apptoach to parenting is a viewpoint. This means that everyday realities (like wi faces; tucking a child into bed, a child's fear) are "doors to the ways of discovering encountering God's love. The U.S. bishops, in the.ir message "Follow the Way state: "Baptism brings all union with God. Your sacred because family firm and deepen this union the Lord to work through you. found and the ordinary daily life  mealtimes, workda tions, expressions of love and household chores, caring for a or elderly parent and even things like how t( cipline children the threads from which you can pattern of holiness." The other thing that could distinctively "Catholic" about parent is the understanding  a: official church teaching -- that a ! iala family is a "church of the parents are the leaders or church of the home. Pope John Paul lI has said that have a ministry of evan catechesis within their own ("Familiaris Consortio," 53).