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My sister-in-law recently posted on Facebook a challenge to think of any current television shows that teach goodness and moral lessons. Not surprisingly, no one could think of any expect for a couple of PBS cartoons for children under the age of six. She ended her post by say; “how are we as a culture raising our kids?!”
This got me thinking… How are “we” raising our children?
I think it is too easy to blame others, let’s say the secular cultural, for its general lack of goodness, kindness and mercy. But I realize I am also part of that culture and I have a great responsibility to lead by example. Not to dictate, but to lead with love, kindness, goodness and mercy.
I have the great privilege of working for what I like to call the 3 “C’s” of the Catholic Church; Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Each week I meet people who share with me their stories. I am sure you can imagine that many stories involve heartache, or a sense of hopelessness, but I would also hear incredible stories of hope. As I would listen I am struck that there is an underlying theme in all of them - mercy.
I found that those who were hardened and expressed bitterness did so because throughout their life there was a lack of kindness and mercy shown to them. I would also meet people who should be bitter, but they weren’t. These were individuals, and mothers, and fathers, and children, who were poor by all standards, but there was still a sense of hope. When I would listen to their stories, I would hear how God’s mercy touched them through the hands, words or actions of someone in their life, and they hadn’t forgotten it. I am always humbled by these individuals. I am even more humbled when they ask for me to pray for them.
Which leads me back to the question posed by my sister-in-law; “how are we as a culture raising our children?” We have a spiritual and moral obligation to teach our children love, goodness, kindness and mercy. Yes, parents are the primary teachers, but we are all obligated to teach mercy and goodness. Whether we are priests, nuns, aunts, uncles, neighbors, how we live our lives reflects back to the children that are always watching us. We are their filters.
So, here is the challenge. We all know children will mimic what they see. As their filters, are we living as a Christian example or as an example of uncharitableness? It is so easy to let our feelings get the better of us when we speak or show disapproval of the homeless man at the corner, or the migrant who may be here illegally. Or perhaps there is a family member or friend who may be making choices that are morally wrong. Do our actions, deeds, words show mercy or disgust?
How children mimic the behavior of the adults around them hit home to me through the prayer of my daughter Emma when she was four years old. Each morning, on the way to school, I have all my children pray a decade of the rosary. Before we begin, I ask each one to say what they would like to offer up their rosary for. On one particular morning, the children offered up their usual petitions that ranged from “for our family” or “that it wouldn’t rain today on our school fieldtrip,” when it was soon Emma’s turn. She was quite for a while before she spoke. Then in her four year old voice she said “I would like to offer my rosary that abortion will end, mommies and children will be loved and that ISIS will stop.” I sat in silence after her prayer; I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew she had no idea what abortion was or even what ISIS was, but she knew that both did not reflect goodness and mercy. That day, my four year old daughter witnessed to me that as a culture, there is hope in our children.
So, I would like to tweak my sister-in-law’s statement by saying “how are we as a culture to raise our children?” By surrounding them in our homes, schools, churches, and playgrounds with what it means to live their faith though love, mercy, kindness and goodness. Instilling in them that this is the norm, not what they see on television or watch on social media. That when we mimic for them simple acts of goodness and mercy, that this will become their foundation on which they judge things around them. Pope St. John Paul II stated “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Blessed Mother Teresa summed up mercy and goodness nicely when she said; “Smile at each other - it doesn't matter who it is- and that will help to grow up (in us a) greater love for each other."