By Theresa Thomas
Last night, my husband and I gathered with our daughter and many other graduates and families at St. Matthew Cathedral for the baccalaureate Mass of Marian High School. Since my daughter sings in the choir, we got to sit up in the choir loft with her, a first for us, although she is our sixth Marian High School graduate.
Perched up top with a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Mass, I could easily see all the graduates with their families. Some came with young children. Others were seated with older people, presumably grandparents. Some, like us, came just with their graduates, no doubt enjoying the special Mass and time with one another that this event afforded.
As I looked out over the group I felt a deep appreciation for our shared Catholic faith, and that my daughter had the opportunity to spend the last four formative years with others who also value our faith so deeply and strive to make it a priority in every day life. I thought of the unique gifts and talents of this particular group of graduates, many with their remarkable gifts and talents already being developed and shared.
More important than the accomplishments in academics or athletics, awards, recognitions, and appointments, however, is the development of virtue and character. As I looked at the graduates I know personally, it occurred to me that many of those exceptional young men and women are well on their way to developing that, and I was so proud of them, even though they are not my kids. Some of them I have watched grow for years. What a gift.
Then I began to ponder the characteristics of parents who raise such kids. In having watched graduates for more than ten years now (an advantage of being an “older” parent who has been at many graduations), I’ve come to notice a pattern of parenting that has pretty good results. The following is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it is my opinion that parents who raise exemplary kids share some if not all of the following characteristics:
Parents of exemplary young people gave their attention and time to their kids but did not do everything for those young adults; they taught them then stood back. These parents made their children earn their grades, their money, their own reputations. They let them live with the consequences of their actions, which sometimes meant a short-term fail, but which gave them the best opportunity for long-term success.
These parents taught their children to serve others, not just in clubs and associations and things that “counted” for a college resume, but in real life situations when someone was hurting and needed them. They learned, as St. Francis de Sales said, “Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily.”
The parents of remarkable children gave those children time to explore and develop their interests and talents. They encouraged them to try new things. They supported them in their endeavors. They told them not to give up when things didn’t go as planned and reminded them that they didn’t have to be the best but to simply do their best.
Most importantly, the parents first and foremost valued their faith and brought their children to God — at Mass, in their Catholic school, and in their daily lives. They demonstrated, through their actions, that putting God first is a priority that supersedes all others. “Seek first the kingdom (of God) and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt 6:33) In a society that values self-gratification, these parents often sacrificed much to offer their children an opportunity to know truth, beauty, and goodness Himself.
As I looked out of the choir loft last night, I also thought of the tumultuous times, and the sometimes-dark world, that meets the graduates of 2016. But Bishop Rhoades put my thoughts where they needed to be regarding that. In his beautiful homily, he quoted J.R.R. Tolkein from the Lord of the Rings. Frodo said, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” To which Gandolf answered, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.”
God has chosen the time in which each of us is born and will live. For the graduates of 2016, it is the perfect time for which to begin their adult lives in the world, bringing their gifts and their goodness. They are ready.