“What, then, will this child be?”

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

“What, then, will this child be?”  Mark records the very question that every parent has asked since the dawn of time.  The question, “How will my kid turn out?” has the ability to cause feelings of wonder and hope or shock and dismay.  If it were possible to add up the total number of hours of sleep lost as a result of pondering this question, we as parents, would be both impressed and frightened.  As we read the recorded words of John the Baptist’s relatives we may take some small comfort in knowing that the mystery, wonder, and worry associated with parenting transcends race, culture, and time.

There is no such thing as “winning” at parenting.  You cannot win at being a parent.  There are no prizes.  There are no trophies.  There are no ribbons.  There are no participation medals.  In spite of what you may think, read, or have been told your children’s successes, or failures, are completely and entirely their sole responsibility.

I recognize that may sound a little harsh.  In fact, when I shared this viewpoint with a group of dads earlier this week most of them, initially balked at its bluntness.  As parents we like to think that we what we do matters…and though it does, it does so in a way that has more to do with our ability to parent rather than our children’s ability to be successful.

Many years ago, as I was eagerly anticipating the birth of my first child, a co-worker pulled me aside and told me in a very crude and direct manner what to expect at the birth. He said, “Of all the things you get when your baby is born there are two things they don’t give you; 1) an owner’s manual, and 2) a receipt.”  In his unique and brusque manner he gave me the best parenting advice ever; a reminder that children don’t come with instructions and they can’t be returned.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “train the young in the way they should go; even when old they will not swerve from it.”  As a parent I hold tightly to that proverb.  It brings me comfort and hope and I pass that proverb on to you in the hope that you too will find comfort and hope in the promise of God.  However, even in this proverb we find the reality that as parents we do our best in the hope that our best is good enough.

Believe it or not my hope today is to encourage you.  I wish to encourage you as parents, both current and future, by reminding you of your sacred duty to raise your children in love and with hope.  As today’s Gospel reminds us, the birth of a child is a wellspring of hope.  As the relatives and neighbors of John the Baptist exclaimed, “What, then, will this child be?” so too we find hope and promise in our children, not only in their birth but also as they grow and develop.

The supreme example of parenting is, of course, God the Father.  As reveled to us in his Word, in his creation, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, we know that God the Father is love and his mercy is the source of our hope.  As parents we should strive in all that we do and say to emulate God’s love for our children.  Through and with love, we communicate hope, and through that hope we provide encouragement as we inspire, motivate, and disciple our children.

Parenting out of love requires us too consciously, and with effort, to remove fear from our words and actions.  Fear seeks validation through success and when success is not achieved the fruits produced are feelings of rejection and unworthiness.  Fear communicates to our children that their worthiness is conditional, based on outcomes and performance, and denies our children the opportunity to experience the joy and stability produced from love without conditions.

Parents are charged with communicating God’s love to their children, for, ultimately, they are his.  We communicate love in everything we do; when we hold and squeeze our babies, when we establish and enforce boundaries for our teenagers, when we allow natural consequences, both positive and negative, to run their course, and when we provide instruction, advice, and encouragement.  In all these things, and many more, we must communicate love.

God, in his infinite wisdom and by his immeasurable love, created us, humankind, with the ability to choose. The ability to choose to accept or reject him.  It is with that example of God’s love, through which we have been called, by which we must parent.  Exposing our children to choice, exposes them to risk.  As parents we manage risk, the best we can, by managing choice.  We communicate love to our children when we allow and provide opportunities for appropriate risk, and when combined with our acceptance that failure and success are equally viable outcomes, we allow hope, an unfathomable wellspring, to encourage, inspire, and heal our children.

Today’s Gospel is a message of hope.  Hope in God and his promise to save all of humankind through the salvation made available to us through his son, Jesus Christ.  I ask you this day, as you come to the altar of God, to ask for his mercy and grace, through which all fear is vanquished, so that we, the family of God, may parent, in all its facets and forms, with the unconditional love of God.  A love that in turn brings hope…hope to all, each and every one of us.

Fear

4th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 10:11-18

Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being alone. Fear of being in a crowded room. Fear of being unknown or the fear of being found out. The fear of having too little, or having too much, or having nothing at all. The one thing we all have in common is our fear.

Sometimes our fears are present and real. We wake up to them in the morning, close our eyes to them at night, and struggle with them in our dreams. Sometimes our fears are self-created and imagined; monsters that exist in our closets and under our beds. And, sometimes our fears are just out of our control. We are a vulnerable, fragile, and susceptible species and often times, in our journey through this sometimes violent, hostile, and insufferable world, we come up against forces that threaten our health and well-being.

When we examine this world in which we live, and I am specifically referring to this first world American culture, we discover an entire economic structure built upon the pre-tense of fear. Pills that prevent this; investments that prevent that; promises of prosperity and security if only one would do this or belong to that. These mechanisms, inventions, and strategies which are created, marketed, and perpetuated to us, a people who by their very design are born with a desire, a desire that can only be filled by God, attempt to satisfy and placate this temporal struggle.

The catechism teaches “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself (CC 27).” Our inability to satisfy this desire by our own designs then becomes the source of our fear. St. Peter, in today’s first reading, indirectly addresses this reality, our innate desire for God, when he boldly proclaims, “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

When he professes this cure for the condition of humankind, he does so to a group of religious leaders who have brought him to trial to explain the healing of a man who was born lame. He was speaking to men who held fast to the belief that their salvation was afforded to them through race, tradition, and law. He was speaking to an institution that was frightened that its very system was under attack by the message of the Gospel; which professed salvation not as an exclusive privilege of birth and obedience, rather as a gift freely given to anyone who believes.

For those of us here today, sitting in this church, our church, we hope and pray, it is not a struggle of belief in the salvific power of Jesus’s name; rather, I propose, that our struggle is with our inability to live firmly in the belief that Jesus is exactly who he professed himself to be, “the Good Shepard.”

Our human condition; our fragility, our vulnerability, and our susceptibility are not eliminated because of our belief in the salvation freely given through the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, it could be argued, that because of our faith, and our efforts to live out that faith, we often times find ourselves in direct opposition to the world in which we live. The words of St. John in his First Epistle in today’s second reading ring ever so true when he wrote, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” It is not an unfamiliar reality that belief in the name of Jesus causes one to be rejected by a world desperately seeking salvation through created and temporal mechanisms and inventions.

However, as I mentioned earlier, our struggle is not one of belief, our struggle is with fear. As followers of Christ we are not immune to fear. We experience hardship, doubt, pain, suffering, and uncertainty. The fears produced by these real or imagined causes afflict our joy, courage, and witness. We come up against the wall of what we profess vs. what we experience and our resolve to live out our faith falters and weakens.

Yet, unlike the promises of the world, the promises of Christ hold true and permanent. The Good Shepard lays down his life so that the sheep will not be scattered or lost. The Good Shepard knows those who belong to him, and those who belong to him also know him. The Good Shepard searches out for us and we will hear his voice, and we will be gathered to him. These are the promises of the Good Shepard. These promises are the cure to our fear.

Gathered here today, together, in front of this altar, we have brought with us many things. We have brought with us our prayers and hopes for intercession and relief. We have brought with us our joys and thanksgivings, and our praises for the blessings of God in our life. We have also brought our fears and our concerns, our doubts and our despair. We have come before the altar of God exactly who we are; with our good and with our not so good. And for this we are thankful and celebrate the beauty and mystery of God’s grace. I encourage you, each and every one, that this day, as you approach this altar, that you bring with you all of who you are. Every part of you- the good and the bad- and place it all, in its entirety, at the feet of the Good Shepard trusting in his promises.