From a recent column in The Catholic Weekly.
Obligation and love
Last Sunday’s Hannah’s first holy communion Mass was wonderful. After the reflection hymn ended and as our priest invited the children to the altar to receive their certificates, I thanked for God for the privilege and joy of raising children in the faith, and seeing days like these.
This is our obligation as Catholic parents, to ensure our children receive the sacraments of initiation; baptism, communion, confirmation. And I don’t know about you, but I belong to a generation which is at least mildly allergic to words such as ‘obligation’ and ‘duty’, because they seem to connote a need to do something out of psychological coercion or manipulation as opposed to doing it out of authentic love.
But here was our whole family, especially Hannah, enjoying a perfect blend of obligation, love, and joy.
What was the source of this joy? I wondered, as the parental paparazzi were invited up to take a photo and I let Peter out of the pew with his camera.
Was is simply parental pride, the same that you get when you see your child go up to receive an award at a school presentation night, or see them endure a doctor’s needle without crying?
I remembered a long time ago, when at around 20 or 21 I talked to a priest about my desire, and the same time reluctance, to give my life fully to God.
The priest agreed with my glum assessment that loving God the way I wanted to would mean I couldn’t have any ‘fun’, meaning the sort of fun I’d kind of been hoping to have in what were meant to be the best years of my life.
But he promised that I would not ever regret choosing Christ as orthodox Church teaching and practice reveals him to us. That in fact I would receive much more happiness than I was giving up. Give yourself to God and, “it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” he quoted.
It was this image I remembered as I watched my daughter smiling shyly for the cameras in the front of the church in her white dress and veil, stockings and gleaming white shoes.
The happiness God gives overflows partly because the gift is not only about me and what I want to receive. One person’s ‘yes’ to God, which he rewards, brings life to others as well. It is always generative.
I can’t speak for Hannah about her special day, only for myself as her mother. For me there was only gratitude that I was given the grace to move towards marriage and family relatively early in life rather than first chasing another kind of life which ultimately wouldn’t have suited me.
And there’s no container that could hold the joy of being mother to this shining girl and having the duty of seeing her set apart, holy, part of the royal priesthood of believers, the life of God fairly running through her veins.