Pope Francis has taught us quite a bit about parenthood. In word and deed and in just the first six months as “Papa”, his words and his actions have taught us and can teach any parent something about raising children. Today, we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned from him and to challenge you, as a parent, to add these to your parenting “tool chest”. So, in this column, we’ll lay out 5 things he has taught us that we have tried to apply in our parenting. In future columns and one at a time, we will focus on them in more detail and attempt to provide you with some practical applications. Here they are.
1. Example – Pope Francis teaches by example first. From the very first moment of his pontificate he has been providing an example. In humility, from the balcony after being announced as Pope, he requested the prayers of all those people there and bowed his head as thousands prayed over him. As an evangelist, he has called us to engage the culture in dialogue, particularly those with little or no faith. As a model of this call to evangelize, he has granted a professed atheist an interview to discuss anything that he would like. To use an overused cliché, he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. All parents can learn from him our need to lead our children by example.
2. Question – Pope Francis uses questions. In his interview with the atheist journalist, he frequently responded to the interviewer’s question with a question. For example, when he was asked about certain issues in the leadership of the Church, Pope Francis responded with, “What do you think?”. This did two things. It made the questioner clarify the purpose of the question. It also provided time to form a response to the question. For at least these two reasons, we, as parents, should also use questions when our children question us.
3. Admit – Pope Francis admits that he is a sinner. He is not afraid to admit to his limitations and failings, nor is he fearful of agreeing with a person who points to certain failures of the Church and its leadership, particularly when that person is accurate in his assessment. The truth sets us free. The first step towards realizing that freedom is found in being willing to face the truth about ourselves and our family. We are sinners. We are not perfect, and our children need to know it . They also need to know that we know it. As parents, we need to be willing to admit to this to our children. Once we do, we can become aware of our need for a Savior, our need for Jesus.
4. Teach – Pope Francis teaches. He teaches complex concepts using simple images. When he wanted to convey the idea of the fragility of trusting in money for one’s security, he called money a “soap bubble”. When he wanted to relay to Catholics the sacredness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance, he said that Confession was not a “laundromat”. He uses simple, every day images that can be experienced by people of all ages to reveal a point he’s trying to make. Who hasn’t experienced a soap bubble popping? How about a laundromat? Parents need to try to mimic the Pope in his teaching. In fact, “steal” some of his images, if necessary.
5. Relationship – Pope Francis builds relationships. He makes himself accessible. How frequently is he seen kissing little babies on the way to his weekly audience? Or washing the feet of an incarcerated youth? He desires to be in relationship with his flock, with the “family” for which he is a “Papa”. We parents need to make sure that our children know that we desire a relationship, that we long to be close to them even if they’ve fallen or made bad choices.
Ultimately, these all lead to being in an ongoing dialogue with our children – a necessity for leading our children into a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Pope Francis shows us the way to remaining in a discussion with our children about our faith and how it applies to their everyday experiences throughout their lives. We never really cease being their parents. It’s ongoing. These five provide a “program” so to speak of remaining in dialogue with our children. In the next several columns, we’ll dig deeper into each of these facets of Pope Francis’ way of leading his flock, of parenting his children. He is a great example of a good parent. I guess that’s part of why we call him Holy Father.
How has Pope Francis impacted your life?