Apologetic & Other Free Essays
Becoming an Effective Parent
by Jim Seghers
The Second Vatican Council makes a profound observation about the relationship of parents to the guidance of their children: "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute."1 When the Church speaks about educating children the emphasis is not on SAT scores or earning PhD's but forming children to become saints. Personally, I find this to be my greatest challenge as a parent, because I am reminded of the wise saying: "You can't give what you don't have!" Thus there is a very real sense that my effectiveness as a parent depends on what I become rather than what I say to the children. The awareness of my inadequacies in this area together with recent comments by Pope John Paul II has led to a great deal of reflection on the subject of personal holiness, which is the key to effective parenting and the subject of this essay.
In a recent address Pope John Paul II spoke about the holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In particular he observed that her humility was foundational to the profound relationship she has with God. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. observes in his classic work on the spiritual life that "humility is considered in all Christian tradition as the foundation of the spiritual life, since it removes pride, which is, says Holy Scripture, the beginning of every sin because it separates us from God."2
St. Teresa of Avila calls humility "walking in the truth," because it recognizes our correct relationship with God: creature to Creator, sinner to Holiness, nothingness to Everything. Pride, on the contrary, inflates our value by attributing qualities to ourselves as if they did not come from God's goodness. Blessed Josemaria Escrivá observed with humor: "The best business in the world would be to buy men for what they're worth and to sell them for what they think they're worth."
The Blessed Mother gives a wonderful lesson in humility in her Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). She is aware that she is the Mother of God, but at the same time she is profoundly aware that her prerogatives are gratuitous gifts from God. She marvels in awe at God's bounty: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Yet, at the same time, she acknowledges that it is all God's work not hers: "for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." When Mary was invited to be the Mother of God, the angel Gabriel addressed her as "full of grace," (Lk 1:28), but Mary viewed herself as "the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38) - God's slave girl.
A good examination of ones progress in the virtue of humility is to evaluate ourselves in relationship to St. Anselm's seven degrees.
If God asked us, as he did St. John of the Cross: "What do you wish for a reward?" how many of us would reply like this saint: "To be scorned and to suffer for love of Thee." Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange reports St. Francis of Assisi telling Brother Leo: "If when we arrive this evening at the door of the convent, the brother porter does not wish to open the door for us, if he takes us for thieves and receives us with blows and leaves us outside all night in the rain and cold, then we must say: Santa Letizia, that is, what joy, O Lord, to suffer for Thee and to become a little like Thee." Jesus tells us to learn from him because he is "meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).
Pride is contrary to the virtue of humility. It inclines us to follow our own will and to seek what exalts us. Pride makes us resistant to be directed by others while desiring to command and guide others. Pride chafes at obedience. It also creates a kind of spiritual blindness. In this regard I'm reminded of the man who boasted: "If there is one thing I am proud of it is my humility!" Pride is also like a poisonous, multithreaded snake. Once we lop off one head we are under attack by another. To define the multifaceted manifestations of pride would require a book. Listed below are examples of pride that challenge good people who are sincerely making an effort to commit their lives to Christ.
Spiritual Body Building.
Humility with a Hook.
Recently, I was studying the passage in St. Matthew's gospel where Jesus warns about scandalizing the "little ones" (Mt 18:6). What struck me about the passage is that in Jesus' eyes we are all "little ones." Thus when we see ourselves from God's viewpoint, as helpless little children not quite out of diapers, it radically changes our whole perspective. This is the reality upon which humility is based. Let me conclude with a powerful quotation from St. Augustine.
This citation comes from his letter to Dioscorus: ". . . I wish you to prepare for yourself no other way of seizing and holding the truth than that which has been prepared by Him who, as God, saw the weakness of our goings. In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third humility: and this I continue to repeat as often as you might ask direction, not that there are no other instructions which may be given, but because, unless humility precede, accompany and follow every good action which we perform, being at once the object which we keep before our eyes, the support to which we cling, and the monitor by which we are restrained, pride wrests wholly from our hand any good work on which we are congratulating ourselves."4
January 3, 2001