Some time ago I spoke with a parent of one of our confirmandi. I asked whether Pat (gender-neutral pseudonym, à la the Saturday Night Live character) was looking forward to Confirmation. Affirmative, but only after a period of uncertainty that providentially prompted the parent to make this move:
I started praying about Pat, for Pat's heart to crack open and instead of trying to force Pat I gave it over to God to fix. Around the same time I started looking for more natural opportunities to bring up Pat's relationship (and mine) to God. It all flowed really well and I, with the help of the Holy Spirit, had the right words. Pat was touched and over the past few months has really matured. Pat has strong values that we never really talked about.This parental testimony immediately brought to mind a line from a poem: "The child is father of the man." Hopkins penned a comic verse on this saying, but Wordsworth's words were worth more:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.Wordsworth idolizes the spontaneity of his youth, and wants to preserve the best of it as he ages. When it comes to my faith and to other practices and attitudes I've held, I'd prefer to keep growing; but then again, perhaps some of my current good qualities had their start in those tumultuous days.
O Divine Husbandman, I'll let You decide what to prune and what to retain!
What a parent we have in the one quoted above, who took the occasion of the child's Confirmation as a reason to engage in conversation, a reason to engage one's own relationship with the Lord so as to be a holier, human-er person! How can "taking the journey within" not fail to have some effect on those around us?
This parent took time to get to know the child, which helped the child to consider and articulate what is within. That conversation helped the parent, in turn, to do the necessary work of spirituality and religion. After all, these two (spirituality and religion) are meant to stay intact in this life as soul and body are. One dimension can nourish and strengthen the other, and make for a more integrated person.
Parents can't force their children to take their sacramental preparations seriously, but when they join them in that sacramental preparation (even if their own first Penance or Holy Communion, or their Confirmation, was years ago), untold blessings unfold. Children stay out of jail this way. They may not altogether stay out of trouble (who does?), but they are more grounded in Who and What matters.