HELPING OUR CHILDREN TO FIND THEIR VOCATION IN LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80 ]
The birth of every child brings great joy to the parents and to those who know them. This was the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth. “The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.” Indeed, we can imagine the joy of a mother and father when the child is born. It calls for celebration and rejoicing.
But once the rejoicing is over or at the back of the mind of the parents and friends, there is the question, “what will this child turn out to be?” This is by far the most crucial question. The anxiety of parents begins now. All parents are worried about the future of their children. What will become of them? Will they be able to be admitted to a good school? Will they excel in their studies? Will they be of good character? Will they be happily married? Will they get a good job and be successful in their career?
In order to answer this question, “what will this child turn out to be”, we need to come back to the cause of rejoicing. Why do we rejoice when a child is born? Why do people want to have children? Why are some couples so desperate to have children? In the past, children used to be an investment for old age. Now they can be a liability rather than an investment. Why, then, do we have children? Is it because we need them to look after us? Or we need someone to amuse us like a toy or a pet? The truth is that parents experience the joy of loving, caring and giving. It is our nature to love and be loved. This explains why grandparents and relatives like to pamper children with gifts and love. What greater joy can one have than to share this joy with someone who is the product of your love?
Consequently, we must also ask what we hope for our children. Is it simply hoping that they will be healthy, do well in their studies and in their career and have a beautiful family? If that were so, our vision for our children will be rather myopic and even self-centered. Rather, the gospel reminds us that every child is not just a gift to his or her parents and relatives but to the nations. In giving life and love, they receive life. Of the Suffering Servant, the Lord said, “I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” For this reason, when John the Baptist was born, Elizabeth and Zechariah named him, “John” which in Hebrew means, “God is gracious.”
John simply means that he is the gift of God not just to his parents but to humanity, as we read later on in the Benedictus when Zechariah under the inspiration of the Holy Spirt sang praises to God saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk 1:77-79)
Indeed, we have been chosen, like the Suffering Servant, to be at the service of God even before we were born. The prophet said, “Islands, listen to me, pay attention, remotest peoples. The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.” We are gifts from God for others. We do not live for ourselves. We have a mission to fulfill in life. King David too was chosen for a role. St Paul said: “God made David the king of our ancestors, of whom he approved in these words, ‘I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.’” God knows us and has a plan for each of us.
Within this perspective is the question of how, as parents, we are called to form our children. They are not our possession and property. As parents, we have been entrusted with the children so that they can be of service to God and to humanity. Every child is called to be a light to the nations. Every child is called to bring all men and women back to God. “And now the Lord has spoken, he who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, to gather Israel to him: It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is the calling of every human person. Every one of us is called to be the light that leads all of humanity back to God.
The work of parents is primarily the work of discernment and guidance so that their children can fulfil not the parents’ desires but to find their vocation in life. We need to consider what are their charisms and calling in life. Not everyone is called to be a preacher like John the Baptist. “He made my mouth a sharp sword, and hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver.” Our gifts are different and so parents have the necessary task of helping their children to discern their calling and to guide them accordingly, just as John the Baptist’s parents did for him. They did not stop John the Baptist from going into the desert, living an ascetic life and becoming a preacher of repentance. As parents, they were simply seeking to fulfill the plan of God for John the Baptist, not theirs.
As parents therefore, our task is to help and equip our children to become shepherds after the heart of Christ and to be servant leaders in the world. Like John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for the Lord. Parents have a serious duty to ensure not so much that they do well, be successful and wealthy in life. Rather, the preoccupation of parents must be to discern their vocation in life so that they can live out our common calling to be the light of the nations. Our task is to help them to be true servants of the Lord.
The future of our children will depend on the formation we provide for them. The kind of values they will adopt, the depth of their faith in God, the extent of their generosity towards others and their ambition in life will depend on how the parents impart these values. Most of all, values are given not so much through words but by their very lives. In other words, the future of our children depends on parents living out their faith. They themselves must first be shepherds after the heart of Christ before they can prepare the way of the Lord for their children to accept Christ and His love. Parents are the first and primary educators in love, life and faith.
So the joy of having a child must be followed up by forming the child in the likeness of Christ. The psalmist expressed, “For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation.” We need to ensure that, like John the Baptist, our children not only grow in knowledge but in grace and maturity. The evangelist says of John the Baptist, “And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.”
This process of formation is challenging and difficult. Formation is one of the most difficult things in life. Quite often we feel like giving up. It is not easy to form children nowadays because of the exposure they have to so many philosophies of life. Although extremely challenging and trying, it is fulfilling when we see the end product of the future of our children. Thus we need to persevere in faith, love and prayer. This is what the Lord is assuring us in our task of bringing people to Christ. He said to the Suffering Servant, “You are my servant (Israel) in whom I shall be glorified; while I was thinking, I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing; and all the while my cause was with the Lord, my reward with my God. I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord, my God was my strength.”
So in our struggles to form our children to be God’s children, let us be patient and rely on His grace alone. Let us trust in God as Zechariah and Elizabeth did because God is gracious! He will show us the way. Indeed, the psalmist assures us, “O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising, you discern my purpose from afar. You mark when I walk or lie down, all my ways lie open to you. Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret and moulded in the depths of the earth.” At the end of the day, it is grace. This is what John is reminding us, the Lord is gracious!
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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