Raising the Next Generation of Apostles

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OWhen I was younger, I remember being regularly inspired by the missionary journeys of Saint Paul and the Apostles. I dreamed of new mission fields, extreme situations and heroic crusades that the Lord had in store for me. In fact, one of my hopes in discerning priesthood and celibacy was the perceived freedom to radically follow Christ to the ends of the earth. Today, I find myself married and happily responsible for five children. I guess there’s a reason spouses are called “the old cannonball” because I now have about as much freedom as a mountain to get up and move anywhere. Needless to say, family life was not what I imagined in my missionary dreams.

Yet today we hear repeated pleas from pastors declaring that the whole Church, at least in the West, is in a new apostolic era. They tell us that we can no longer live as if we were in Christianity and assume that the surrounding culture owns our values ​​and our vision of the world, that we must embrace our missionary callings and each take our part in proclaiming Christ to all creatures. I get what that looks like for St. Paul; the question is, what does that look like for a family?

At first glance, I tend to think that the family is not really built for an apostolic age. After all, we know St. Peter was married and may have had children, but we don’t see him coming out of the Sermon on the Mount to change a diaper or discipline a screaming toddler. I think of an apostolic age as an unpaved, winding, treacherous mountain side road and family as a Winnebago—I’m not always convinced it’s built for it.

On the other hand, families are, by design, the place where you really learn everything. They are also, unfortunately, quite temporary. Any parent who has watched their children grow into adulthood knows the longing of the early years and the realization that Christmas and many other holidays will never be the same as before. Families are needed in every age of history, but we must adjust our understanding and practice of family life to better meet the needs of the times in which we find ourselves. Here are three principles that can dispose our families to the apostolic call of Jesus Christ. .

Your conversion and your relationship with God are just as important as those of your children.

A priest once asked me when I was engaged to my wife, “What would you do if you got to heaven, but your wife didn’t?” I told her that if she wasn’t doing it, it was probably that I hadn’t done my job well and probably wasn’t coming in either. Either way, there is no possibility of swapping places or thinking that we can sacrifice our salvation for someone else’s. This is a lie. Somehow, as parents, we may believe that we are not “worried about ourselves”, but about our children. In this, we become very unfocused on our own spiritual health, but try to make sure the children go to sacrament preparation and youth group. The only useful thing we can do for the spiritual welfare of our children is to convert our lives to the gospel and live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to skip this step or even come back to it later. Your conversion must precede your children’s discovery of God.

Bible Stories Make Great Bedtime Stories

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When it comes to bedtime, the Bible is my go-to. It’s not just because it’s full of compelling drama, but because by experiencing the stories, we come to know God. Full disclosure, I usually tell the stories rather than read them and yes, sometimes I can embellish or make the language more colloquial. However, I always try to stay true to the spirit of the text. I encourage families to know their audience and tell funny stories that may shock their children. For example, I have two young boys whose minds were blown when they learned that the prophet Elisha, after mocking him, cursed a group of boys who were then mutilated by two female bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). You might be wondering what’s the point of telling them a story like that? Believe me, they are both extremely confident that the Lord is protecting them. I asked them, “If the Lord sent two bears to defend his prophet, what do you think he would do to defend you, who are his prophet, priest and king?”

The experience will be
take precedence over instruction

Ultimately, to be apostolic families, we must do apostolic activities, which means intentionally building the kingdom in response to God’s call. Again, parents must first discover it and introduce their children to it. Children are great at helping in the ministry and will thrive when invited to accompany their parents. It is good to start by asking yourself, what do you want for your children in terms of commitment to the mission of Jesus? If you want them to provide a side dish for a parish funeral luncheon, ask them to help you prepare it. If you want them to go to Mass anonymously and leave without speaking to anyone, then show them that. If you want them to know God to the point that others see the spirit of God in them and actively help bring others to Christ, then get to work! There are plenty of opportunities for things like that!

I had the opportunity to bring my seven year old son to a youth retreat I was speaking to. His main job was to guard the relic of Saint Francis Xavier. As we sat and watched the other speakers, he began to create a sign-up sheet, covered in his own religious art, for the children to sign so he could continue to pray for them after the retreat. When I spoke, he accompanied me on stage and when we embarked on a time of inviting the presence of God in the room, he became my prayer partner. We walked through the crowds, praying with several teenagers and watching God do amazing things. I spoke and he pressed the relic against them and prayed. By the time we left he had collected six names to continue praying and he was full of zeal, confidence and enthusiasm for what God was capable of. I couldn’t have taught him anything without him experiencing it.

I don’t think there’s ever been an “easy” time for parenting or raising a family. We are certainly in a time with its own unique challenges, particularly when it comes to our faith. I am convinced, however, that if the Lord has enabled the Church and the family to live in a time like this, then He has a plan for how we are to remain in Him and communicate His gospel to the world. As parents, we must double down on our own commitment to Christ and take the position to share our living faith with our children who will in turn become the next generation of apostles.

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