From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has led by example. He has put flesh on the message, so to speak. He as our “Papa” has taken ideas, concepts, and truths and concretely put them into action in front of his family, the Church. All of us, as parents, should learn from this and know that the best way we can lead is to lead through the concrete actions of our life, to lead by example. We must, in a sense, make truth, grace, love, and mercy “incarnate” so that our children can experience them in the flesh, in concrete form. We must lead by having a sacramental sense, by making visible, the invisible.
It is important to note that this is the way God chose to interact with His children too. He provided concrete examples, in and through His body, of the invisible realities which He came to reveal. He didn’t just tell us the way. He was – that is, He is – the way. His life, passion, death, and resurrection point us in the direction we need to head. All Pope Francis is doing stems from his taking the way God chose to communicate to His children and putting it into action in his own life. As parents, we must follow suit – not only telling our children the way, but also showing them the way. In fact, we are called, to the extent that we follow Jesus, to become the way – to be conformed into His image that they may come to know Jesus through us. Here are a few practical ways to become the way for our children:
1. Pray – The invisible God exists. He makes Himself present in the Eucharist, in the Liturgy, in the Bible. Do we really believe it? If this God really exists and He loves us and we truly desire to be in relationship with Him, wouldn’t we spend time with Him? Do our children see us in the Adoration Chapel or on our knees at home? Does the Mass become the highlight of every week? Do they see us reading the Bible? Do we talk to Him in prayer throughout the day in a way that our children can see? Children know what and who we care about based on the time and effort we spend on those things and with those people. To lead by example, to show them the way, we must be seen in our actions – in this case, in our prayer – putting God at the center of our life. So, when you take your kids to religious education or faith formation, instead of dropping them off and leaving, stick around for 15 minutes and read your Bible in the adoration chapel or better yet, go early and have adoration time with your children. Let them catch you reading the Bible in the morning before breakfast. If He’s important, make time for Him and make sure your children know you are making time for Him.
2. Forgive and Ask for Forgiveness – We learn about forgiveness through example. Oddly enough, the Church seems to suggest that the best way to be an example of forgiveness is not by forgiving as much as it is by asking for forgiveness. In the Catechism (2223), we are told, “by knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.” When was the last time you thought that the best way to correct your child was first to acknowledge your own failings? The next time you mishandle something with your child – i.e., lose your temper, over-react, not deliver on a promise, etc. – try to be an example by actually telling them specifically what you did wrong and then asking for forgiveness from them. Say the words, “will you please forgive me” and wait for the answer. Please don’t accept, “it’s ok.” Ask them to say, “I forgive you.” Trust the Church on this one and see the impact.
3. Make Sure our Actions match our Teaching – Check your actions against what you say to your children. For example, if we tell them that they should obey our rules or the rules of their teacher, do they see us obeying the rules? Do we drive 75 in a 65 mile an hour zone? If we tell them to tell the truth, do we, at the same time, tell them to tell someone on the phone that we’re not home when we’re standing right there? We must challenge ourselves to live according to the same standard to which we are calling our children. We need to be a concrete manifestation of our words and our teachings. As parents, we must be like Christ. That is exactly what Pope Francis is doing.