Children must be taught to love God more than they love Mom and Dad. I mentioned this in a homily recently. It provoked shocked faces and angry voices. I responded by quoting Jesus, "Anyone who loves mother or father more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Mt 10:37). People looked confused, and still angry. I gave an example.
A 15-year-old boy received a rifle from his dad for his birthday. Soon afterwards, the father shared with his son a plan to spend a weekend in the mountains hunting deer. He loved to hunt, and so did his son. The boy reacted with enthusiasm. But then he thought it over and asked his dad, "How will we get to Mass on Sunday? Is there a village nearby?" His father told him not to be such a holy Joe, that Mass on Sundays is for little old ladies. "We're heading for the hills to try out your new rifle!" The boy responded, "If it means missing Mass, dad, count me out."
The people were silenced, but not satisfied. They still didn't understand this teaching, or if they did understand it, they refused to accept it. I didn't mention that the young boy in the story is now a priest, because it would only have hardened them in their hostile attitude. And because it wasn't really relevant: every young Christian, no matter what his or her vocation, would be called to make that very same decision.
It is common knowledge that many Christian parents, including Sunday Mass-goers, resist their children's vocation to the priesthood or religious life. But parents who have that possessive attitude towards their children cause lots and lots of problems in marriages too. Often, they blight the lives of their own children and of their in-laws.
A married woman once told me that she was used to being her father's little girl, the apple of his eye. Soon after getting married a problem arose in her life and she went to talk things over with dad, as usual. He said to her, "Why have you come to me about this? You have a husband now. Go talk to him." She was taken aback, but quickly understood that her father had just given her the best piece of advice she'd ever heard from him, reordering her relationships.
Whether he realized it or not I do not know, but that man was putting into practice the teaching of Christ: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Mt 19:5). The sacramental relationship takes precedence over all other relationships. Breaking that down, it means that the relationship between husband and wife is more important that the relationship between parents and children; i.e., between father and son, mother and daughter, father and daughter, mother and son.
Even in the life of Jesus and Mary, who were perfect and never sinned, there is evidence of a gradual development in the relationship. "Did you not know I must attend to my Father's business?" (Lk 2:49). "Woman, what is this to you and to me?" (Jn 2:4). Clear boundaries are being marked. Jesus is always prioritizing the Father and the Father's will. Mary "did not understand but pondered these things in her heart" (Lk 2:50-51). It must have hurt. It did hurt. "Why did you do this to us? Did you not realize that your father and I were in anguish looking for you?" (Lk 2:49). But Mary always said yes, even to the foot of the cross.
Elsewhere Jesus says, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Mt 19:29). This means that parents, siblings, children, must grow towards God in their lives, subordinating everyone and everything else, and must facilitate that others do the same. Very often that translates into getting out of the way. Wise grandparents understand that their role is "reduced" to one of pure, patient, and powerful prayer.
It is sad to see parents and grandparents who fail to find the right place in the lives and hearts of their children and grandchildren and in-laws. Often it causes great tension and even destruction. Children--I mean adult children, not grown-up children--are inhibited for religious life as well as married life. A mother once said to me, "My daughter suffers greatly because she gives her all in the relationship and sees nothing in return." The husband felt he was giving his all in the relationship too, and was receiving in return nothing but criticism for falling short. How much was his mother-in-law really helping her daughter?
The fourth commandment to love, honor, and obey your mother and father does not eclipse the first commandment to love God with all your being above all else. To love God above all else is the only way to truly love one another. The law that parents should love their children does not entail that they should love their children more than God. On the contrary, they must love God more than their own children. That, precisely, is the best way to love their children. And their in-laws. God is truth and love. If your in-law is in God's truth and love, and your son or daughter is not, then support the in-law. And if your heart makes it impossible for you to discern this, stay out of it!
In fact, even if it is possible for you to discern, it's better to stay out of it. It's not your role.
My blog “Random Reflections”
Fr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother.
Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the Blog "Random Reflections", which can be found on the website www.familiesfullyalive.com.