The Bishop's Bulletin

My first teachers of the faith: Mom and Dad

One of the fascinating things about little babies and young kids is how they learn to mimic others. It’s something parents learn quickly as their children grow, and they also realize the impact parents have on their children’s lives by their own example, especially their spiritual lives.

The exemplary impact and role of healthy, happy and holy moms and dads helps us through life to choose to be healthy, happy and holy ourselves. Their words, actions and shared motivations for all good things significantly impact our world and personal views for good or for bad. Of course we are all limited humans and make mistakes and even sin, and some things like physical and psychological health are beyond our control. And of course, we are dependent upon God’s grace in order to be made holy if we choose to receive and respond to that grace.

We often think here of the Holy Family: Mary and Joseph raising Jesus as a child. Or more recently, perhaps, of Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, the first spouses to be canonized as a couple. But more personally, I am extremely blessed by my first and ongoing teachers of my Catholic faith: Mom and Dad.

By their shared reasons of wanting us to be healthy, happy and holy, they witnessed to their faith in many ways. And what they didn’t feel equipped for, they relied upon the Church and Catholic schools to assist us in coming to know, love and serve God and others.

Sometimes it was their words and expectations that taught me. I suspect, though, that what was most impactful, though often overlooked as a kid, were their many prayers and hidden sacrifices so us five boys would love God and others through our Catholic faith.

As Dutch and German immigrant parents to the United States, my mom and dad passed on what they came to know and love: their Catholic faith from farm families. Catholic faith, family and farming were “in their blood,” joyfully lived and passed on to us five boys. As the first and ongoing teachers of our awesome Catholic faith, my mom and dad lived and breathed Catholic faith in our homes, at church and our Catholic school and neighborhood. What an incredible gift it was and is to me that my parents attended Sunday Mass (unless seriously ill), went to confession and shared in the full sacramental life of the Church.

They made great sacrifices in order to pay for a Catholic school education because they wanted us to be formed in a Catholic culture when we were off the farm. With very little money to begin their farming, they worked hard and spent little money on recreation or expensive things for the house or farm. They did so in order to use the money to support the Church, pay tuition for our Catholic education and try to set things up financially so those who wanted to farm could but also paid us for work on the farm when we were teenagers. That way we could use that money for post high school education and get a start in whatever vocation and occupation we would choose.

Thanks be to God there was no question whether or not we would go to Mass, confession, or receive the sacraments as kids. There was no question they would find a way to pay for Catholic education because they did not have that opportunity growing up but wanted it for us. There was no question they wanted the best for us not just materially or emotionally, but most especially spiritually. Their firm faith and resolve to pass it on is just one example of how they are my first and ongoing teachers of my Catholic faith.

Perhaps most influential, however, was their prayer and humble example of living the faith not just in word but in practice. When they would kneel down by our beds to pray at night when we were little, and in later years, I would see them consistently kneeling by their own bed in the morning and evening saying their prayers. It made clear that faith was real and powerful in their lives, which taught me the importance of living my Catholic faith.

Even in times of great personal trials like when my father was on hospice, his “is Fr. Don coming home for Mass this week?” and “Joanne, God has a plan and we must follow it” (which was my dad’s response after he was informed his cancer was terminal) reminds me that my first and ongoing teachers of our Catholic faith are my mom and dad.