On September 10, 2011, St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas, hosted the 2011 Orthodox Christian Parenting Retreat. The speaker was Fr. John Peck, priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Prescott, Arizona, and the topic was “Orthodox Christian Parenting in the 21st Century: Guiding, Guarding, and Discipline for Parents, Grandparents, and Godparents in the Orthodox Tradition.”
Good morning. How many people here are parents? Parents of infants? Youth? Teenagers? Adults? All right, that’s good to know, because I’m going to hit all those for sure.
I remember the moment I remember I was being a parent, my wife had been in labor for three days, and the doctor had left and she hadn’t progressed, so the nurses were very angry. He finally showed up a couple of days later and was astonished she was still in labor. We were, of course, astonished that they allowed her to remain in labor. Finally, we had the C-section, and behind two sets of double doors, I heard my son screaming for the first time—the first time—and I went and I called my dad.
And this is what I said to him. I remember it; it sticks out in my mind. I didn’t think about it. I said, “Dad, if you ever loved me this much, I am so sorry for everything I’ve done.” And he laughed. He just laughed at me. He said, “Go be with your wife. Go be with your son.” It was two o’clock in the morning. I don’t remember the day of the week because I was really tired. I was living in Lansing, Michigan, the hospital was in Owosso, and I worked in Kalamazoo, about an hour and a half that way. So I was going, zipping back and forth.
Parenthood is one of those moments sort of like graduation, where the world doesn’t change and you don’t change, but everything is changed forever. Nothing’s the same. Suddenly, you’re sucked completely inside a whole new universe. One of my favorite little cartoons—I forget which magazine I saw it in—there was a guy sitting on a beach, and he was thinking to himself, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and in front of him there’s a bird looking down, saying, “I have feet! I have feet! I didn’t know I had feet!”
The world and the universe, of course, is a very different place when you have children. You see everything differently when you have children. You pour yourself out in love. It’s just how it is. It’s the natural way of things. St. John Chrysostom says, “Having children is a matter of nature, but raising them up in virtue and goodness, that’s a matter of the will.” That’s a function of the will.
Now, like most parents, I read books by the truckload in anticipation of my first son’s birth. I tried to bring myself up-to-date on everything. Right, we all do that? Remember the Dr. Spock book? Are parents still reading that? Okay, yeah. “What does Dr. Spock say about it?” right? Well, he’s not here. It didn’t make any difference, but it allowed me to be as prepared as I could possibly be for it.
Well, here’s the thing: the Fathers of the Church have a lot to say about children and adults, mostly, I think, because they understood what a lot of people don’t understand, and that’s Christian anthropology. They understand how we understand a person to be. I’m not going to speak too much in generalities. I’m going to talk very specifically about this. St. Theophan the Recluse, who actually has also a lot of things to say about parenthood—some of you know the quote, I’m sure—that “of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” They don’t mean teaching them reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic; they mean raising them up in virtue.
Preserving the grace of baptism: that’s the big challenge for us, isn’t it? We know we can teach them reading and writing. We know that eventually they’ll get fractions. I say that because I was one of the smartest kids in my sixth-grade class, but I was the last one to learn how fractions work. I was just not getting it. “It’s like a pizza.” It’s not like a pizza. I can eat a pizza. But I cannot understand the 1, 2, 3 thing. Eventually I just gave up, and it sunk in eventually. Those things, again, are almost a matter of nature. They’re not, but in our society and culture, they kind of are.
Now, the word “culture” is interesting. I teach Latin, so you’re going to learn a few English words that don’t mean what you think they mean. “Culture” is one of them. “Culture” comes from the word “cult” or “cultus,” which is, of course, a religious system of activities and beliefs, how you do things and how you say things in a certain way. Now sociologists have decided that, in fact, civilization, culture, started, not with farming or economy or market economics, it started with worship. People gathered together—where they found that temple in Turkey, one of the earliest human things going on. Yeah, religion is the source of human culture.
Not a surprise for Christians, but in a lot of ways we really do forget that the basis of human civilization is human worship. That’s important. That tells us a lot about who we are. John Eldridge, in writing about man in his book Wild at Heart, makes some astonishing and very Orthodox points. “Why do men congregate outside around firepits and women congregate inside in the kitchen?” I had an interesting experience of this myself a couple years ago, when my oldest son, whose birth I just described to you, got married. I was outside, grilling, and all the guys were around me outside grilling, and I walked inside to get something, and all the women were inside the kitchen. Nobody forced anybody to do anything.
Well, John Eldridge says, rightly, “Men were created in the wilderness.” Adam wasn’t created in the Garden of Eden. He was created in the wilderness and put in the Garden of Eden. Eve was created in the Garden. Now humanity all makes sense to me. It makes perfect sense why, when my wife dressed my son up—my poor son, he’s going to get a lot today—in a white shirt, white pants, white socks, and blazing-white new shoes, finds not just dirt, black dirt. Goes straight for it. “Why is he doing that?” She didn’t grow up with boys in the house, so she didn’t know. Well, that’s just what boys do. Why? ‘Cause they’re getting back home. They’re getting back to the wilderness.
It’s important, and in our society, of course, today, after 30, 40 years of blaming men and fathers for being such schmucks—a technical term—people don’t know any more what a father’s supposed to be and what a father’s supposed to do. We’re going to talk about that today, too, because that’s really, really important. That’s not just important for men, for boys, to know what it means to be a father, because boys imprint very quickly on what guys are supposed to be like—and, nothing personal, ladies, but you can’t tell them that; you can’t show them that—but women, girls, desperately need fathers, because what girls want is not to have massive prowess and kill lots of zombies; girls want to be noticed. Girls say, “Look at me!”
Those of us that are clergy know what it’s like to walk in the mall in a cassock. I wear a cassock for two reasons: one, my beard is usually longer and you would never be able to see a collared shirt if I was wearing one, but two, nobody mistakes me for anything but an Orthodox priest, although one time I did get called “Rabbi,” which was interesting, by a Jewish family. I said, “Uh…” [Pointing to cross.] They said, “Yeah, that was confusing us a little bit.” True story. In Fairbanks, Alaska, of all places. But you know, if you wonder why little girls put on dresses and twirl a lot, they’re saying, “Look at me. Notice me.”
At one point when I was a young priest, a girl came up to me. My wife was going to the bathroom or something; she was away from me at the food court. And she came up to me and she had pink hair and forty piercings, all up and down, every possible orifice, black leather, spikes, the whole thing. And, of course, what is she screaming? “Look at me!” She came up to me and said, “Can I have my picture taken with you?” “Of course! Come here.” I put my arm around her, gave the camera to my wife, and then all of her friends suddenly showed up out of nowhere. See: we all wear chains; we all wear black—it’s all cool.
But the truth is… No, really! I sat down for an hour and a half, and it was the most amazing thing. I literally just sat on the edge of a fountain, and around me were about 50 kids. Now, as you can see, I’m not very tall. I’m not very distinguished-looking. I’ve got kind of a tinny voice. Nothing really interesting, but this represents something. Counter-culture kids understand that the culture and society really don’t have any answers for them. That’s why they’re rebelling. They know there’s no answer there. That’s exactly what the Church says. That’s exactly why we dress the way we do. Death to the world. We’re supposed to be dead to the world, and alive to Jesus Christ. They don’t hear that answer at youth group, happy-clappy stuff. They don’t hear that, but they want to hear it.
St. Theophan understands Christian anthropology very seriously. To train up children for piety and virtue is a significant thing. As I said, I’m going to teach you a little bit of Latin today. The word, “virtue,” for example, comes from the Latin word for man, “vir”: “virtute,” which is “manliness.” “Virtue” means “manliness.” By the way, for those of you that have sons, there is a website called “The Art of Manliness.” It’s done in classical, sort of soap-dish style, but it’s touted as “classic skills for modern men”: how to change a tire, how to select a suit. All the little skills that our grandfathers were actually taught, but we don’t get taught any more. And we don’t have anybody to teach them to us. How to select a desk. Ridiculous articles, but they’re fun. They’re fun to read, and there’s always those 1890s illustrations, wood-cut–type illustrations, which make it kind of “retro.” It’s a lot of fun.
But I actually bought my sons the book called The Art of Manliness from the website. Classic skills for modern men: it’s funny inside, it’s loaded with practical information, and I know they’ll read it, because they think it’s funny.
If virtue is manliness, then our culture right now is really not very virtuous. It’s very “Oprah-fied.” It’s not a real word, I know, but the Oprah-fication of our culture is destroying it. You can quote me on that; it’s okay.
Children imprint very fast, very early. Infants, particularly. I want to tell you a story about Fr. Roman Braga. Does anybody know who he is? Fr. Roman Braga is a Romanian hieromonk in Dormition Monastery in Michigan. Fr. Roman spent 17 years in a Communist prison, being tortured, 10 years in solitary confinement. He lived in a four-by-six-foot cell with no windows for ten years. And when they let him go, he turned around and kissed the floor of the cell, and the guard said, “Why did you do that?” “Because that’s where I learned to be a monk.” If you can’t go out into the world with your mind, you have to go to the interior universe. And the interior universe is real, and it’s just as vast and it’s just as varied as the exterior universe.
Well, Fr. Roman’s story—I’ll abbreviate it here—they let him out after 10 years, and they said, “Just don’t talk to young people. Don’t talk to anybody about the Christ.” And five feet outside the gate, he immediately starts talking to teenagers. So they put him back in prison. They eventually let him go, and they’d had enough of him, so they sent him to Bolivia or something. Brazil. Sent him out into the deep woods, where he could be eaten by cannibals. Well, one day, a group of Evangelical missionaries found him and said, “They’re looking for you today. The cannibals are looking for you.” So they swept him up, and they sent him to America, and here’s this Romanian monk. They don’t quite know what to do with him, so they send him to this little monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. A way out of the way. And who’s in charge of the monastery? His older sister, Mother Benedicta.
She told me this story. She said when Fr. Roman was little, a baby, the house was very small. So his crib was underneath the icons that the mother used to pray at, and the mother would go to bed, and then she would begin the prayers, and he would fall asleep. And then, in the morning, she would go in and say her prayers and he would wake up. He thought she was praying over him all night long. That’s what he thought was happening most of his life. That’s good parenting!
I have three sons, one married, thank God. Do you know how old they were when I started praying for their future wives? Three days old. I’m serious. Because those girls are choosing my nursing home, and I want to make sure—see, I’m a mission priest; I don’t have a pension. I want to make sure that they look at me and don’t say, “Babushka will be fine to throw him out by the side of the road,” but instead they’ll say, “No, this is a person we need to take good care of.” It’s personal investment, but at the same time I think it’s very valuable, because if, like the Psalmist says, bad company spoils good morals; how much more a bad choice of a wife?
For those of you that have teenagers—we’ll sort of start in reverse, here—something I always do with teens: A lot of times our kids come to church from a very early age, and that’s, of course, excellent. That’s what we want. We don’t send them off to Sunday school during Liturgy. If you want children raised in the Church, they have to be in church. Very important. Very important. They hear things from the Scriptures. They hear rich theology. They don’t know what it means, but by the time they’re 10 or 12, they know what those words mean. What does “glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating, undivided Trinity”—what does that mean? It means that by the time they’re 10 or 12, they don’t ask themselves, “Is there one God or three gods, and who is this Jesus fellow, and why is he so important?”
I always ask the teens, and I’m asking you, by the way, if nobody’s asked you this: Have you ever actually decided yourself, for sure, decided to follow Jesus Christ as his disciple? Now, they say, “I’ve come to church my whole life.” Sure. But I also stand in my garage; that doesn’t make me a car. (I didn’t make that up. That’s a G.K. Chesterton one.) “Standing in your garage doesn’t make you a car any more than being in a church makes you a Christian.”
So the question is: Has anybody ever asked you? And if nobody’s ever asked, I’m asking you: Decide for Christ right now. Well, statistics tell us that 99% of all Christians decide to be Christians before they turn 20. That’s a good statistic. I spent most of my life teaching my kids to make sure that they decide themselves. I say, “Look, guys, I love you. I’ll give you everything I can. You know I will. But God doesn’t have any grandchildren; only children. You have to decide if you want to be a Christian.” And by being a Christian, I mean being worthy of the name “Christian”: living as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the Orthodox faith.
You know what? Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Once you ask, they go, “Yeah, of course!” But if someone else asks them that, “Have you ever given your life to Jesus Christ?” They’ll say, “No.” “Well, you need to do that. Just going to church won’t make you a Christian.” So I think we should do that. I think we should be the ones to be sure and make kids understand that they have an obligation to decide for themselves.
Has anybody here ever been in sales? No? Yes? It’s okay; don’t be embarrassed. I did sales for many years before I went to seminary, worked very, very hard, very rough. And in sales, you always ask questions that have what answer? “Yes!” You always ask “yes” questions. Why? Because if somebody spent two and a half hours saying Yes to you, when you say, “Time for you to sign,” it’s much more likely that they will say Yes, just out of habit. We’ll talk about habits, too.
But likewise, when it comes to living the Christian life, growing people in piety, you have to ask “yes” questions of your children, although some parenting websites will tell you your job as a parent is to impress your will upon your children, force your will upon your children—yes, you can do that. But it doesn’t work, because as soon as they turn two… Who has two-year-olds? What happens at age two? “No.” That’s right. What’s the meaning of life, because they know that, too. Right. If you try to control a two-year-old, they go crazy! Right? And what do you have to do? Yeah. You have to start listening. This is the key thing to parenting, I think. You have to listen to your child.
My wife loves to watch Nanny 911. Has anybody seen that? Ha! What a nightmare! Because the children are crazy, but it’s not the children’s fault. The parents are lunatics! They don’t know what they’re doing. They either try to control too much or they’re completely hands-off and the kids are running around screaming because no one’s listening to them. Nobody says to you, “Why are you upset?”
Little girls want to be seen. Little boys want to be heard. If we want to train them in piety and virtue, if we want them to obtain grace, there’s a couple of things that we need to do. And by the way, St. John Chrysostom says that fathers particularly who do not train their children in virtue, who will spare no expense to make sure that they are educated properly so that they have a good career, they make lots of money, they’re successful in the world, that they ignore their spiritual upbringing, he says they’re murderers of their own children. And I completely agree. I completely agree.
A lot of immigrant Orthodox in this country have become very successful. They’ve moved here; they’ve sacrificed. And they sacrificed for the right reason: for their children. But sometimes the children have just not taken part in that at all. They’ve done things for them, but they actually haven’t shown the kids how to do things.
Prescott is a huge area for rehab. I don’t know if you know that. (Why would you know that right?) Everyplace, there’s rehab centers everywhere. And I mean a lot of Orthodox young adults, 20, 25, they’ve actually never learned to say No to anything. “Let’s get drunk.” “Okay.” “Let’s get high.” “Okay.” They’re completely weak-minded. Their parents, who have slaved to become successful, to give them all the best things in life, completely neglected their willpower, to teach them the ability to say yes or no. And that’s really what we need to do as parents.
You start off by showing your child how to make a Christian choice, explaining how you make the Christian choice, demonstrating how you make the Christian choice, and then getting them to practice making Christian choices. It’s like any skill, but we don’t treat it like a skill. We don’t treat these things like actual skills our children have to learn.
How, when faced with two choices—a good choice and a bad choice—do you make a Christian choice? Well, you choose the good one. Yeah, but people know the right answer! People know the difference between right and wrong and sometimes still do the wrong thing, and if adults do that, and they see elected officials do that and leaders of the free world doing that, what are the consequences? “I’ll just do what I want.”
This is where fatherhood is really important. This is where it’s absolutely necessary for a loving father to say, “No, we don’t do what the world does. Yeah, these people are admirable as far as they go, but we lead a different life. We have a different culture.” And I’m not talking about Old World culture. I’m talking about the culture of the kingdom of heaven. We speak to each other in different ways. We act in different ways. We do things that other people don’t do, right? We say, “Christ is risen!” at Easter. We say “Pascha,” usually. There’s a whole bunch of things that are part of this culture that we want our kids to have, and it starts very young.
I want to check the time here, because I know I’m supposed to leave question-and-answer between each session.
If you have infants, my number one recommendation is that you pray over your children. Say your prayers, over your children, because prayer is powerful. “The prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses”? You’d better believe it. But better because an infant only observes and loves. They can’t do anything else. And what do we do with a child? We love them.
My poor friends—I was the first of my friends to have a child—every time we got together, I caught myself talking about dirty diapers and Kool-Aid and all the other things, and they’d just stop and look at me, just waiting for me to stop. “Oh, I’m so sorry. This is my whole world now. This is my entire world now! And you guys don’t have any idea what I’m talking about.”
Because I try to physically train once… I’m married to a French chef; that’s why I’m a little portly. That was just an excuse, but she’s a good cook. A lot of people will write me, and I spend two or three hours a day—I was telling Fr. James—almost every day talking to people from all over the world, on Facebook, by email or other chats, asking questions about the Orthodox faith, asking questions about “I’m a Baptist pastor; could I become an Orthodox priest? What would be required, how would I convince my wife?” Blah, blah, blah. All kinds of things like this.
But sometimes people ask me, “You don’t have that much time to train, so let me ask you a couple work-out questions.”
“Okay, go ahead.”
“What do you recommend for me nutritionally? What should I eat? How much protein? How many calories?” That sort of thing.
And I always say the same thing: “Do you eat breakfast?”
“Then don’t talk to me. If you don’t have the sense to eat breakfast, nothing else matters. Don’t waste my time.” That is what I say.
“Oh, you mean I should eat breakfast!”
“Yes. You should eat breakfast.”
“What should I eat for breakfast?”
“Start with Captain Crunch.” I’ll tell you my Captain Crunch story later, how I met my wife.
If you don’t eat breakfast, don’t bother talking to anybody about nutrition, because it doesn’t matter. Now, if you want to raise children in the Church, ask yourself: Do you come to church other than Sunday? I can give you a guaranteed method to make sure that your child abandons the Church at age 18. I can guarantee it. And that’s just come to church on Sunday, and only Sunday. That seems unduly harsh, I know, but the truth is that the Sunday service is resurrectional; it’s bright. There’s a little bit of theology in it, but it’s mostly celebration.
The theology of the Church takes place at the Vespers and the Matins and the Requiem or Memorial services, and I’m not sure what they’re called in the Antiochian Church; in the OCA Church they’re called a Molieben, a service of thanksgiving and intercession to a certain saint or for a certain reason: I want my son to find a good wife or I want my daughter-in-law to conceive, so we have a special service to Joachim and Anna, or something like that. These services are loaded with not only theology, but the direct experience of the Church and the Holy Spirit. They are powerful and profitable. So I say to you again: If you don’t want your children to abandon the Church at age 18, take your infant to Vespers every time Vespers is available. “I don’t have gas money for that.” I understand, but it’s a matter of habits.
In my parish we just had a glut of babies being born. (That’s not really a nice way to say it, is it?) A whole bunch of babies born! And they’re running all over the place, scooting in the back, screaming and squealing. It’s a wonderful thing, but a lot of them are from convert families, and they’re still getting into the cycle of the Church. But there’s one guy that brings his baby son every Vespers: Wednesday night Vespers, Saturday night Vespers, the eve of feasts. That baby is there all the time. He’s about a year and a half old now. He’s probably been to more services than our converts who’ve been here for several years.
This is home to him. He knows there’s a time to come out and watch me cense. He knows there’s this cycle of these things. He grows up with the smells of it. It’s one of his earliest memories. You can see this; he’s very comfortable in church. It is his own, and it’s not just an adult thing, with all the adults doing all their thing on Sunday and then going and having coffee and bagels in the afternoon. It’s rich and it’s powerful. Once he’s at the level where he’ll be able to understand what’s going on, he’ll know more Scripture, just from singing it most of his life, than most Evangelical college grads. I firmly believe that, because the Liturgy is made up completely of Scripture. It’s easy to remember.
How many of you are converted to Orthodoxy? Okay, and do you have children since that time? When we came into the Church, my son Benjamin, who is now at Hellenic College, [was] about a year and a half old. He would wake up in the middle of the night singing songs from the Liturgy. In his sleep! He didn’t wake up. You’d just roll him over, and he’d just be singing the Alleluia that we sang on Sunday or singing the Trisagion, that’s another one.
There’s a group of kids in my parish who converted; I’ve never heard them speak. They’re like little Whos from Whoville: blond-haired, big blue eyes. “How are you today?” Nothing. But the mom caught them playing church. They’d been in the church even less than a year. Caught them playing church, facing the wall, one of them’s got a phelonion on, says “J” on the back, and they’re singing our Trisagion in perfect three-part harmony. The oldest kid is five. I said, “Wow! I wish our choir sounded like this! That’s really good.” It was beautiful. I mean, bringing-tears-to-your-eyes beautiful. I have not heard those kids speak since. They never talk; not to me, anyway. But they sang. Their ears are already tuned to the language at the church, the language of Scripture, the theology, of what it means to be a Christian.
When you raise up a child on that meat and potatoes, and you ask him: “Do you want to be a Christian?” He spent his whole life saying Yes: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Every time. And I know it takes sacrifice.
One of my favorite articles on “The Art of Manliness” is called “The Law of Sacrifice.” We get a little mixed-up on sacrifice sometimes. The word “sacrifice” is made up of two Latin words—Latin again; I told you—“to make holy”: “sacra+facere.” “To make holy,” that’s what a sacrifice is. When you offer something that you can’t get back, in love, and you don’t expect to get it back, you do it out of love, the bond of love—a sacrifice isn’t even an investment; it’s just what you do—it’s a beautiful moment of spiritual growth.
The Fathers tell us that there are three types of believers: there are slaves, servants, and sons. Slaves do what they do because they fear punishment; they don’t want to get punished. That’s actually a reasonable response to certain spiritual impetus, and it gets us to do what we’re supposed to do. Servants, however, don’t do things because they fear punishment; they do things because they want reward. They want to be rewarded for what they’re doing. Again, very laudable, very noble. But son neither fear punishment nor seek reward. They do things because this is how we do them in our family.
This is how we bring our family honor. That’s another thing we don’t hear in America very much. We don’t ever talk about it. And I don’t talk to my boys about it until they’re adults. When I send them on the way, I said, “Bring honor to our name.” It’s not the first time they’ve heard that idea, but the idea is that in our family we take care of things. That’s our family tradition. There’s a whole bunch of manure in that; nobody wants to touch it or shovel it? We’ll take care of it. Do we like it? No. We don’t like doing it, but if it has to be done, we’ll do it.
I’ve had to move a lot in my life, and the boys, my boys, have had to move a lot, too. So whenever we move, we find out who our real friends are, because they’re the only ones that show up. As a result, when someone else needs to move, we go help them, because we know what it’s like to have to do it all alone. It seems like, early in my life, every time I had to move, my wife was nine months pregnant, so I had to do it all myself. When Nathan turned twelve, I was like: “Oh, thank God! Now I’ve got a little bit of help.” But you really do find out who your friends are at that moment, and we will go and do it.
I want to share this story with you because it’s an example of sometimes I think of the wrong stuff. More than once, we’ve shown up to help someone move, and they have a massive truck full of stuff—a family of three. And they’re arguing about the first thing they took off the truck. There’s a washer on the sidewalk, and it’s been there for four hours because they’re arguing about where they’re going to put it. Well, when we, the boys and I, show up, we have a rule: first of all, we’re here to work, not to solve your problems. We’re going to touch it one time, so wherever you say to put it, that’s where it’s staying. You can move it later, but we’re going to unload this truck, and this was a 24-foot truck, packed to the gills. We had it unpacked in an hour, for sure.
But the thing is: stay out of the way. We’re here to do the work. You can argue about the rest later. And you know what? Just like any child, once things are going, once it’s happening, all the bickering stops. Now you have to decide a couple of things, and it’s the same with parenting. You can read all the books. You can memorize Dr. Spock, and of course, my wife who grew up without sons, I bought her a book called The Little Boy Book, which was written by moms of boys who grew up without boys in the family, so they had no idea “why’s he doing that? driving me crazy.” So they could explain it to her.
But none of it matters. When the child is born, you get to work. When the child is born, things have to take place. They have to be ready. Rules don’t matter any more. And the most expressive explanation of this, the best expression of this understanding of how your life changes, and every one of you that’s a parent knows this, is that I could stand there and watch my son sleep and do nothing for eight hours; I never got tired of it.
When we moved to Alaska, because that’s where I went to seminary, we would take video of Joseph—he was four months old, our new child. Eight hours of baby, doing whatever baby does, didn’t matter. Send it back home—“Send more! We must have more baby sleeping!” It didn’t matter what he was doing. It was captivating. We were entirely captivated. The love we show for our children, we are not, despite what society and the news will tell you, and all the pundits and spin-doctors, we are not helpless. They’re borrowing our time, not the other way around. This is our universe.
In my Latin class, the very first thing I say to everyone, after “Sit down and shut up,” is, “I am Magister Mundi”—which means “master of the universe” in Latin—and you will always refer to me by that name, because when you’re in my class, you’re in my universe. And, no kidding, kids who’ve graduated now write me, “Magister Mundi!” They come to my church. “Where’s Magister Mundi?” They’re like: “What?” “The guy with the beard.” “He’s over there.”
Nothing changes in the world when you become a parent, but everything changes. Perhaps it is the most clear explanation of expiatory sacrifice. For those of you that are not familiar with different theories of atonement, they basically go like this: For those of us that came out of the Protestant environment, we were told that Christ’s sacrifice, theologically, would be considered a propitiary sacrifice, that God is angry, and the sacrifice of Christ makes him happy: God changes. We don’t believe that. We don’t believe that God needs healing, and only by killing his own Son will he be healed. That’s not the God of the Bible; that’s Zeus: blood-thirsty, capricious, cruel, and arbitrary. We say that the Old Testament sacrifices, far from being propitiary—because God said what? “I don’t delight in the blood of bulls and goats. I’m tired of your sacrifices. What do I want? Feed the hungry. Defend the widow and orphan. Loose the captive. I want you to change.” That’s what the Old Testament sacrifices were about. They were not intended to change the Father; they’re intended to change us.
When Christ came, his sacrifice is also expiatory. It’s not designed to change the Father. It’s designed to change us so that we could learn what love was really about, be loved by someone who made great sacrifices like any father would do, and introduce us to the love of the Father, not his anger. Jesus said the Father himself loves you. The Father, from whom [the father of] every family in heaven and on earth is named. Think about that. We say “Creator” in the Creed. What do we say? “I believe in one God—the Father.” Then “Creator of heaven and earth.” It’s personal. It’s based on a Person. It’s based on the bond of love.
What changes when we become parents? We change. And nothing forces that change upon us. It happens by itself. What changes—when we become Christians? We change. And likewise, to raise up children to preserve the grace of baptism requires them to see what we’re doing, to hear what we are saying, whether they understand it or not is of no consequence. Do we understand it? Have we made the change? Yeah, we do.
I want to finish this segment with this: We talked about two-year-olds. As soon as a child is no longer completely controllable, we have a fear. I have a fear, I should say. I’m not going to impress my weaknesses and problems on you. But I had a fear that if I couldn’t control them any more, anyone could control them. Anybody could influence them. But that’s not true. I simply went from being the spiritual wet-nurse to being the guardian of the door. You see, we have to grow as parents, too. The parent of an infant is not the parent of a toddler. The parent of a toddler is not the parent of a youth. And, God help us, if the parent of a youth is the parent of teenagers. You’ll never make it. I earned my gray hair.
They say you get your gray hair from your children, your gray hair from your parish? I think it all comes from teenagers. I really do.