Remembering That I’m a Father

When you try to write a blog regularly and are in need of subject material, you sometimes need to look to the newspapers to find information or ideas.  At other times, things happen to come your way for no particular reason, provided that you are paying attention to the world around you, and not ignoring the direction in which you may be led.  This means being open to the possibility of perceiving the connections to be made even if you cannot see why.

This morning on the way to work, my bus passed a young couple in their early to mid-20’s. The young woman had pale, celtic features and dark, long, curly hair piled on top of her head, and was visibly rather pregnant; she looked as though she was in some distress.  She was clutching tightly to the right arm of the light-haired, preppy young man with her, who was holding what looked to be a large, quilted baby bag, like women often take with them when they are going into the hospital to give birth.  My guess is that they were walking across the circle, to George Washington University Hospital a few hundred yards from where I saw them; let us hope that it goes well for all.

Now as it happens, last evening I received an email from a good friend containing the first pictures of him with his wife and their new baby girl, just home from the hospital.  And within some minutes of this, another good friend told me of his baby son’s need to visit a pediatric specialist today for a consultation on a possible surgery; he texted me a smiling photo of the two of them together this morning.  Since there appears to have been a plethora of baby-related incidents crossing my radar over the past twelve hours, and I am trying my best to pay attention, I suppose this means I ought to write something about having children.

Of course, the problem is that I do not have any biological children of my own.  Nor am I a teacher, with a new crop of children every school year to tend to, nor a priest, with a flock of children to shepherd in my parish.  Indeed, as our departing pastor noted at mass recently, before being transferred to a large suburban parish with many children, he would suddenly find himself the spiritual father of many, many children, whom he would have to guide and help raise in the Church – a daunting task to be sure, though one he is more than up to fulfilling.  That being, said, this spiritual fatherhood is perhaps something which those of us in the laity ought to consider in our own lives a bit more closely, even if we ourselves are not blessed with children, if we happen to be a godparent or a confirmation sponsor.

In my own case, I have a goddaughter who was born here in the United States, but is now living in England, and whom I have not seen for a couple of years.  There was a time when, in love with her smallness and funny nature, I would make a point of going up to visit her several weekends out of the year, just to be able to spend time with her.  Once she moved away that ended, of course.  Now she is in primary school, has made her First Communion, and is busy with friends and activities.  And as happens in such instances, there can be a drifting apart due both to the absence of physical separation, and the child growing older.

Perhaps the lesson or reminder here for me is that I made a promise, in front of God and Father George Rutler – difficult to know which one I ought to be more careful about displeasing – that I would do my best to make sure my goddaughter receives the guidance and example she needs to grow in her spirituality.  At this distance, that role must be largely left to her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and teachers, but that fact alone does not get me off the hook.  The godparent always has a role to play throughout the life of the person whom they have agreed to watch over in the Faith, as the Catechism tells us:

1255    For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized—child or adult—on the road of Christian life.  Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium).  The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism.

Thus, even though I may be neither a father in either the biological or in the roman collar sense, I am still a spiritual father to a little English girl.  She needs some periodic guidance and reminders from me to say her prayers, obey her parents, and partake in the life of the Church, and I am responsible for attempting to at least do that to some extent for the rest of her life.  And that, gentle reader, is a more important realization or reminder for me this morning, rather than the question of simply coming up with a blog topic.

Detail of “The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece” by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1445-1450)
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp

Come On In, The Water’s Fine

There’s nothing like plunging in rather than just standing around at the edge of the pool, waiting for things to happen.

Many of us have made New Year’s resolutions for 2012 which we will eventually abandon, for most experts will tell you that it takes at least several weeks of consistency to form a new habit.  Human nature being what it is, we will tend to go at it with gusto, and then for various reasons will put things aside and forget about these things until someone asks us, some months down the road, whether we have made any progress on that goal or project we announced we were going to undertake.  We will then feel guilty about it for a day or two and then forget about it until next year.

While we do not have to wait for the turn of the year to try something new, or to change course on a particular aspect of our lives, for most of us going it alone is not a realistic way to achieve what we set out to do.  We need some kind of accountability, even as adults, to know that if we do not stick to what we feel called to do, someone will be there to remind us of what it is that we ought to be doing.  There are whole industries devoted, in whole or at least in part, to this sort of thing: from doctors and lawyers and financial planners, to personal trainers, coaches, and counselors.

On the plane back from Barcelona after Christmas, I had plenty of time to sit and think about some of the goals I hope to achieve this year in my personal/professional life, as well as with respect to my writing.  The exercise proved to be particularly helpful last year in regards to writing, as I switched to WordPress and purchased domain names, and made more of an effort to get involved on Twitter. The results have been measurable, and because of that the hope is to build upon what has already been done by improving my online writing: seeking opportunities to write articles and guest-post; adding new features to Catholic Barcelona; thinking about a re-design for my author site and finally getting around to having some proper photographs taken rather than snapshots by willing friends and relations; etc.

Knowing that the various goals, both online and otherwise, that I hope to achieve are likely doomed to failure without some of that aforementioned accountability factor, I am taking the advice of, as it happens, a friendly voice on Twitter and lining up a couple of people to serve as “responsibuddies” on these goals.  Putting aside the admittedly twee nature of that term, the idea is that if you know someone will be checking up on you, you are more likely to actually try to achieve what you set out to accomplish, if you are going to have to report to someone on a regular basis with regard to how things are going.  Thus in my case, for example, a friend who is very knowledgeable about sports and fitness matters has agreed to help with keeping an eye on my fitness goals for the year, and another who is very prominent online is going to help out with keeping focused on improving what I write online and getting it to a wider audience.

Yet as fun or as challenging as some of these goals are, they really do not mean anything if they are nothing more than vanity projects.  They have to, in some way, be contributing to my own spiritual and temporal welfare, and/or that of others.  If I am to use the talents and abilities I have been given, it is because I recognize that I have a responsibility to do so, rather than to simply allow them to linger or collect dust, unwanted and ignored.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the more technical end of Christmastide in most places, since we go back into Ordinary Time tomorrow until Lent begins.  We remember when Jesus presented Himself to St. John the Baptist, in order to be baptized at the beginning of His public ministry.  By so humbling Himself – as St. John commented to his Cousin, “YOU should be baptizing ME!”  – He set an example which Christians still follow today, in baptizing children and adults in acceptance of the Christian faith and in the rejection of sin, with the ultimate goal of getting to Heaven.  Yet He also set an example of creating a starting point, which we recall this time each year, for a renewal of the self and a focus on what lies ahead, and doing so with the help of an old friend.

As you consider what you hope to achieve over the next year in your own life, these goals do not of course have to be all seriousness.  It is perfectly fine to want to save up for a special trip to visit some old friends, for example, without trying to turn it into the equivalent of the Camino de Santiago.  Yet one of the benefits of asking one or more of your friends to help you in achieving those goals is that it will hopefully not only draw your friendship closer together, but also give the other person the opportunity to reflect on their own goals for the year, or for their life, as you consult together.  You may end up planting a seed for something profound in someone else or in yourself, if you reach out to make that happen.

And to that end, gentle reader, I wish you the very best of luck in jumping in at the deep end of things.

Detail of “The Baptism of Christ” by Pietro Perugino (c. 1490-1500)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna