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The Importance of Faith-Talk in Love

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The manner in which parents and their youth dialogue will change as members get older.  Parents take absolute charge over small children.  As the children become adolescents and teens, it becomes increasingly important that parents both speak and listen.  Parents are still owed respect and obedience, particularly while children live under their roof.  Youth need to temper their natural rebelliousness and desire for independence as they get older.  All should seek a level of patience and true understanding.  Parents need to do all they can to share their faith and values with the young.  However, there will come a time when they will have to let go and hope that it was enough.  Each of us is his or her own person.  Sometimes we will be disappointed or upset at the life-choices of others, but we should never close the door to love and affection.

We must understand that we do not absolutely control the dialogue or the faith-talk.  Given that the conversation genuinely reflects the truth of the Gospel, we must be disposed or open both to listen and to talk.  It is a prerequisite that faith-talk is backed up with an honest discipleship.  Hypocrisy will poison the best of moral arguments and exhortations.  Before we speak, we must first listen.  The conversation is not limited to the parent and the child.  They must both listen to the voice of God that speaks to us in Scripture and in prayer.  Our Lord tells us that there will be graced times when the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.  Otherwise, the conversation will be entirely horizontal in its scope, focusing on the earthly needs and wants but bypassing the heavenly.  Indeed, if not properly informed, dialogue can become trite and consist of merely sharing banal platitudes.  A mutual sharing of ignorance does little to procure truth and wisdom.  Faith-talk must also engage the head and the heart.  It is insufficient just to be right; we must also be compassionate and merciful.

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ He summoned the crowd and said to them, ‘Hear and understand’” (Matthew 15:8-10).

When we talk and share our faith and ourselves there is an element of self-donation.  A parent is to pour out himself so as to satisfy the thirst of the children.  What is this thirst?  It is many things— a desire for the truth, a yearning for transcendental meaning, a longing for acceptance, etc.  Preliminary to this faith-talk is having an ear to hear.  We must listen first to God and then to one another.  Too often we hear only what we want to hear.  Listening means a receptivity that alternately summons both satisfaction and great displeasure.

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).

Members of families may become afraid of what they might hear and they will try to run away— refusing to talk and to listen.  They may surround themselves with noise or distractions.  But running away is not really the posture of Christians.  We are called to take up our crosses and to follow the Lord.  Look at Matthew 16:22-23.  The apostle Peter is remembered for both listening and closing his ears.  After Jesus prophesied his betrayal, passion and death, Peter rebukes, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  Jesus immediately responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What is the ultimate purpose of faith-talk?  A message is given and received.  Faith-talk is always a summons to greater understanding and fidelity.  It requires a response.  We must each answer the call given us.  Faith-talk is geared to a change or confirmation of direction.  We are called to action.  We are also called to a continuing transformation and growth in holiness.

“Whoever has ears ought to hear. To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:15-17).

Within every calling there are other callings.  Each of us is to called to know Christ and to be holy.  That is the precious gift that comes with faith and baptism.  We all have differing God-given gifts.  We also have varying crosses— mental, physical and social.  While we can know the Lord’s grace, we are each wounded by weakness and sin.  It is within this that we receive our vocations to love and service.  While it might seem a contradiction, there are many paths on the one road to Christ. The specifics of one person’s journey may differ from another’s.  Hopefully, we are all going in the same direction, even if there are detours along the way.  Sharing our faith and values is important as it helps us to get our bearings when our journeys intersect the paths of other pilgrims.

Children will always be obliged to honor their parents, no matter how old they may become.  The nature of obedience changes, but respect and cherishing persons remains the same.  The deepest of pains a person can experience is when a parent is dishonorable or when a child hurts himself through rebellion or walking away from the good, the true and the holy.  Parents weep for their children.  Children suffer when parents fall from their pedestals of honor by giving bad example or by closing their hearts to them.

The expression faith-talk is deceptive because sometimes the conversation does not need words.  I remember a family that had lost their five year old son in an accidental pool drowning.  They did not speak English and my Spanish was poor and broken.  I sat with them and we cried together.  Sometimes just a presence can speak volumes about love.  Because of the incarnation, the human-connection makes possible the God-connection.  Family members can be there with each other.  Ministers and friends can enter this circle of love and help with healing when they have no words— yes, even when words get in the way.

When I think of unconditional love I recall the story of a poor woman whose son was sentenced to life in prison for murder.  When everyone was convinced of his guilt, she was the one person who never lost faith in her son.  Guilty or not, she loved him.  He insisted that he was innocent.  Since they were poor the court appointed a lawyer who quickly made a deal and manipulated the young man to take it.  The judge broke the deal and gave him the harshest of sentences.  Years went by and most forgot about the case— but not his mother.  She worked long hours mopping floors and scrubbing toilets for minimum wage to raise money for a good lawyer and a new trial.  She spent twenty years in fatigue and tears but never losing hope.  When she had raised what she needed, she got him an attorney who found problems in how the initial trial was conducted.  Still most thought she had wasted her life for a scoundrel of no worth.  But to her, he was the whole world.  As it turned out, the evidence was mishandled and a follow up investigation ensued where another man was found to be the real assailant.  Her son was released from prison.  The one person to meet him when he passed through the gates was this woman older than her years but filled with joy.  She had her boy back again.

This woman was a living parable of the Christ-story.  She sacrificed her life to liberate and save her son.  Such people show us the depth of unconditional love that God has for each of us as his children.  Along with all the other things shared by mothers and fathers, this may be the most important message to which they witness.  The mother in the story had few facts about the case.  Indeed, for all she knew, her son was guilty.  He did hang out with the wrong people.  He had committed a few juvenile offenses.  He was no saint.  But she became a saint to save him.  She sacrificed herself not because she knew he was innocent, but because she loved him.  Our Lord lays down his life for the guilty.  Again, it has all to do with unconditional love.

Questions for Parents

  • Your daughter comes to you in tears and reveals that she is pregnant out of wedlock?  Is your immediate response anger and condemnation?  Can your love for her and the unborn child overrule your anger and shame or would you counsel her to have an abortion and erase a mistake?
  • Your son adopts a swinging lifestyle.  Would you as a father boast about him “sowing his oats” or would you challenge him to be modest and to respect women as persons with dignity and as potential wives and mothers?
  • Your son lazily hangs around the house and will not get a job.  Would you nag him and label him as a bum?  Would you challenge him to step up, find self-respect, and give him assistance in moving forward?
  • Your teen drops out of school, starts drinking and taking drugs, hangs out with a dangerous crowd, and gets arrested.  Would you throw him out and disown him or would you seek intervention so that he might turn his life around?
  • Your kid tells you that he is gay or that she is a lesbian.  Is your response riddled with words of derision and strong disappointment?  Do you turn your back on him or her? Do you affirm that there is still a place in your home and in the church for your kid?   Most Catholic people who identify as LGBTQ want help to preserve the faith and family bonds.  Do you know how to love someone even when you cannot support all of his or her actions?  Are you willing to witness Christ as one who will never abandon such loved-ones on their life-journey?