Parents are called to evangelize their children – to be evangelical parents. Yet, all too frequently many of us fail to answer the call to share the “Good News” with them because we never preach the Gospel to our children. We leave that to the priest in the Sunday homily or the religious education teacher or the youth minister. We turn it over to someone else. We do not take responsibility for delivering the message. While we do not diminish the seriousness of this failure nor do we wish to forget to ask parents in this category to step up to the plate and accept this God-given vocation, we primarily want to address those parents who do desire with all their heart to be God’s messenger.
For those of us who attempt to answer this high calling and attempt to deliver the message, we fail as our children’s first and primary evangelists because we, as Pope Francis points out, do not have “certain attitudes which foster openness to the message” (Evangelii Gaudium, 165). In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis gives all evangelists (and therefore all parents) a list of attitudes we must cultivate within ourselves if we hope that our children will be open to the Gospel. Hopefully, this column will serve as a kind of “examination of conscience” for those of us who are evangelist “want-to-be’s”, for those of us who take seriously our call to be our children’s “first heralds” of the Good News, the Gospel contained in the words, “Jesus loves you”.
For us and we hope for you, this list will be a call to further conversion – a call not to merely deliver the Gospel to our children but also a call to change our attitudes towards them and towards the message, helping foster an openness in them for the most important of all messages. Bottom line, if we strive for these attitudes and rely on the grace provided us by God, we will move closer to fulfilling our vocation to evangelical parenthood. We’ll lay these attitudes out in this column. We’ll also provide some questions to help us examine those attitudes in ourselves. Then, over the next several weeks, we’ll lay out some practical ways of realizing these attitudinal changes in ourselves. Here you go, compliments of Pope Francis, the four attitudes of Evangelical Parenthood:
- Approachability – Can my child approach me about anything? Does he, does she, feel comfortable coming to me about really difficult and sometimes awkward issues? We’re not talking about whether she can ask you to go see a movie with her friends, but rather can she approach you about her doubts about whether God exists. It’s not about whether he he’s comfortable asking you if he can spend the night out, but more about whether he can and will approach you with questions regarding his feelings he has for a girl in his English class.
- Readiness for Dialogue – Am I willing to dialogue? Dialogue means two are involved. Do I really listen to my son? Do I want to understand what my daughter thinks or questions about serious topics – about issues like so-called same-sex marriage or pre-marital sex? Or, if I’m honest with myself, am I only ready for a monologue? Do I have the attitude that says, “I want to hear what you, son, have to say even if I don’t agree”? Can we discuss topics like this lovingly?
- Patience – Can I wait for my son to come around? Do I have a patient attitude or do I just want him to say, “yes, ma’am”, and do what I tell him?
- A Warmth and a Welcome which is Non-Judgmental – If you asked your daughter today if she would always feel warmly welcomed by you if she wanted to discuss her belief that contraception was a good thing, what would she say? Can you welcome her with her differing view in a non-judgmental way?
If you’re like us, you feel challenged right now. So, let’s take time together over the next couple of weeks and be honest with God and with ourselves on where we stand with these attitudes. Let’s pray that each of us will be open to the promptings of Holy Spirit, to the call to change these attitudes so that we can fulfill our mission as parental evangelists. Then let’s come back together and join us as we attempt to make these attitudes our own! Pray for us. We’ll be praying for you.