I attended the funeral of a priest friend’s mother last week, and it was sad of course, but also inspiring to hear him speak about his mother whom he was entrusting to heaven along with his father, who died a few years ago. It helped to give me a much-needed dose of perspective, knowing that he is their only child, and a priest, to hear his thoughts on what really matters in life.
“Money, success, prestige, to be focus ed on these things in life is so pointless – it’s stupid,” he said. “The only thing that matters in life is people.”
As Christians we know this of course, and most of us already try to prioritise our relationships over material wealth and personal success. But this priest is a good friend of our family, and there is something about knowing good people, and ways in which they are good, that gives much more weight to what they say.
To be most effective with words a person doesn’t have to be particularly eloquent or well-read or super-intelligent. If the person is good, and we have a relationship with that person, then the words sink in deeper and settle somewhere. And those words change us, often gradually, but sometimes, spectacularly, all at once.
In the same week I interviewed the Canadian author Michael D. O’Brien (see pages 1 & 12-37. – Ed.), and he said something along the same lines of what I’d been thinking.
When speaking the truth, he said that words alone are not enough. They must carry the weight of a person’s work on their soul (through prayer and fasting specifically) in openness to God’s grace.
And that’s what made my friend’s words so effective on the day of his mother’s funeral. As a celibate priest and member of a religious community I knew that his words are backed up by his life and so I was much more receptive to them.
Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey might say the exact same thing about people and our relationships with them being most important in life but from my friend’s mouth they have a much deeper meaning because I know him and the way he lives.
This is why we can trust Jesus’ words, and he is the ultimate Word, in whom word and meaning and Person are integrated.
Now what’s this got to do with parenting?
How often do we feel that our children don’t listen to a word we say? How often do we repeat ourselves? Have we ever said things to our children we really wish we hadn’t?
We can tell our children all the things that mothers and fathers must tell their children. But what they will remember most is not so much what we say, but what we were to them.
And when they do remember what we say it will be because our words impacted them because of the relationship we share over time. Our words have to be animated with the life and love of God, and that means that we ourselves must remember that our own roots are in God.
Then we won’t waste so much time saying what doesn’t need to be said – or should not be said – to our children, and we will know better when and how to say what really needs to be spoken to them.
And our words will have life, and will give our children the fullness of life.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” May all Christian and Catholic parents be servants of this Word and give our best words to our children.