Family Life By J.F. Pisani
At the back of the church during weekday Mass, a mother I’m told is an immigrant and her two daughters sat down beside me. She corralled them into the pew on either side of her. One was about 14 and the other 12, and I wondered what they thought about going to Mass on a weekday during a school vacation.
They seemed to have that disaffected look of teenagers, a little uncertainty, a little awkwardness and a little of the sentiment that suggests the question, “Why do I have to do this?”
With four daughters of my own and a long history of failed attempts at influencing their behavior through my power of example and countless failed attempts at telling them what to do, I realized this young mother was going for the gold medal in parenthood ... but that she’d probably settle for bronze. When we started to say the Gloria, one daughter wasn’t responding. She was standing there, staring into space as teenagers are known to do, until her mother poked her and pointed to her lips. The young woman responded immediately, word for word – she knew all the words. “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth ...” The mother practically shouted it out in broken English, proud to know the language and even prouder to be praising God.
When we finished, she wrapped her arms around each daughter and pulled her close to her and kissed her. Nothing, of course, embarrasses a teenager more than a PDA, otherwise known as a public display of affection, especially from their mother. But probably not as bad as from their father.
Before the Gospel, we sang the response to the Alleluia and again the woman’s voice reverberated through the church. Some people looked at her with amusement. She had no qualms about praising God, and there was even a rosary wrapped around her wrist.
Standing, sitting, kneeling, the girls knew what they were supposed to do at every point in the liturgy, and it was apparent their mother raised them that way. She was clearly a Catholic “tiger mom” with a lot of love. When one of the daughters did a sort of half-hearted kneel, with her backside on the seat, the mother poked her in the ribs and she straightened up. The woman was a little like a drill sergeant, and it was apparent the girls were accustomed to it, and occasionally they responded even before their mother prodded them.
At the sign of peace, she gripped my hand, vigorously shook it and smiled broadly. The girls did the same. In that moment, I saw a loving family, a family committed to Christ and proud of their faith. In many ways, the woman reminded me of my mother when I was growing up. Every occasion was an occasion for learning, especially at Mass. When we said the name of Jesus, my mother gestured to me that I should bow my head as an act of reverence, which is something I do to this day. And she was always directing me to stand, sit, kneel and, worst of all, sing.
That’s what parenting is all about. Disciplining and instructing with love. It takes commitment and a lot of energy, but the results pay off, especially if your kids grow up to be reverent young adults who understand and love their faith. And even if they fall away, you’ve planted the seed and someday they’ll return. A fundamental education in the faith is so very important. That’s where my wife and I made our mistake when we were young parents. We weren’t persistent enough. It took a while before we got into the spiritual groove and realized how necessary it is to educate your children in the Catholic faith.
We eventually began praying together as a family, and every Sunday when we were driving home from my parents’ after dinner, we said the rosary in the car. My wife Sandy still uses any occasion to tell the girls how important it is to practice their faith. She also encourages them constantly to have a conscious contact with God and talk to him throughout the day. All of us, children and adults, should have a personal friendship with Jesus and be comfortable talking with him.
Make no mistake about it. Everything in secular culture will try to undermine your kids’ faith. This is a responsibility we have to take seriously because it’s our obligation as parents and as Catholics. As they say, the family that prays together stays together. It’s true, especially if you pray with and for one another. There’s no greater lesson in life.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.