A friend asked, “You mentioned once that having kids brought you and your husband back to the Church. Can you elaborate what that was like?”
I remember the exact moment it dawned on me that, after several years of being indifferent or even rebellious Catholics, there could now be No More Coasting.
We were sitting across the desk from the parish priest after the birth of our second child. In this parish, they were willing to excuse parents from mandatory baptism classes, but they did want us to give some indication that we knew what we were getting into — that we intended to raise the child in the Faith. They wanted to make sure we knew the difference between setting up a photo op and agreeing to put an indelible mark on a baby’s immortal soul.
It was a kindly old priest in Coke bottle glasses, a matter-of-fact French Canadian servant of God with no desire to act as Grand Inquisitor. But His simple, basic questions did the job they were intended to do: They let us know that this was real, this was serious, and our responsibility was not going to go away. Here was a child who didn’t know anything; and it was our job, if we intended to claim her for Christ, to make sure she learned what she needed to learn, either directly from us, or from other teachers, and from being exposed to the kind of lifestyle that would help her take seriously what we taught her about her heavenly Father.
Humans are not made to be alone; they are made to be in relation with other human beings. This is how we find out who we are and what God is to us. This truth is rarely more obvious than when we have children. Suddenly, with the responsibility of making our child Christian, certain casually-accepted ideas come into stark, demanding reality — facts like: Our time on earth is limited. Like: We serve God by serving each other. Like: If we hope to gain salvation, then now is the acceptable time. Not later. Not sometime in the misty, distant future, when we plan to grow up and get ours act together. Now.
Did you notice I said we realised these things when we came in with our second child? We had brought our first child to be baptized as an infant, too, but somehow this day of reckoning didn’t land as insistently. It took us two children to really recognize the gravity of our situation as primary stewards of our children’s souls. At least that’s the way I remember it.
That was almost twenty years ago. Now that we have ten children, we’re still learning, bit by bit, stage by stage, about what our obligation really entails, and what that implies for our own relationship with God. Baptism may be a singular event that changes your soul, but learning how to live as a baptised person is a lifelong lesson.
That’s how it is as a parent, and that’s how it is as a child of God: You’re not going to figure it out all at once. Circumstances change, requiring you to respond in new ways; but more importantly, there is simply more and more and more to learn. Once you know something true, you’re always called to know it more and more deeply.
As parents, and as children of God, that all-demanding “now” of our Faith periodically gets shouted down, by distractions, by exhaustion, by ennui, by cynicism. But our children keep waking us up to Christ’s call to choose Him now, to renew our baptismal vows now. To go to confession again, to rejuvenate our prayer lives again, to forgive each other again, to recall our responsibilities again. To recall one more time that this life is not our final home, and it’s the next world we’re preparing for. To recall once again that there is no end to learning about Christ and His love for us.