In times of difficulty, people often turn to art to inspire them. For instance, on the wall of my office, I have a painting called The Triumph of the Innocents. The painting shows Mary and Joseph leading the Holy Innocents—the little boys who were murdered by Herod—to heaven.
Whenever I feel that my efforts in the pro-life movement are insignificant, I spend a few minutes looking at this painting to remind me that my labors are not in vain. In the end, God wins. But whether it is a sculpture, a painting, or a literary work, I’m sure that many of us fathers seek these things for inspiration. Whenever my fatherly resolve is tested, I try to take a few minutes and reread the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling. Though I first read it when I was about 13 years old, I find that as I grow older, his words take on a new level of meaning, and provide a new degree of strength. Though it’s not a Christian poem, it outlines on a natural level those things that compose the character of a good man.
Kipling begins by illustrating that if you are doing the right things in life, people will attack you and claim that you are the problem. He writes:
“If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”
Over the years, I’ve discovered that this is a tricky verse because everyone wants to believe that he is the one who is keeping his head, and it is the others who are losing theirs. And even among those who are trying to live their faith well—by saying the Rosary, by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, by asking for spiritual guidance from priests—they have areas of doubt about how they are raising their children. Are they being overprotective? Should they loosen up and let their children do the things that many other fathers let their children do?
It doesn’t help too much that when we begin to doubt whether we are doing the right things, that others often attack our most closely-held ideals, and whether consciously or subconsciously, plant seeds of doubt. I have found that at the times of my greatest spiritual successes, I have been attacked the most, and sometimes even by friends. Of course, this is the theme of the Book of Job. Job undergoes a series of terrible losses, yet remains patient and just. However, it seems to his “counselors” that he must have done something wrong—something terribly wrong—to deserve his devastation. Was it Job who had lost his head, or was it his friends? At the end of the Book, God Himself admonishes those who had criticized Job.
How do we know if we are keeping our heads or losing them?
If you object to your children listening to music that is perverse and sadistic, and other people don’t object, let me tell you: you’re not the one losing your head. They are.
If you believe that fatherhood demands protecting your children from the mortally wounding influences of modern culture, and other people don’t, you’re not the one losing your head. They are.
If your faith in God’s grace leads you to help your children aspire to holiness, and other people don’t, you’re not the one losing your head. They are.
Fathers, you share a title with the First Person of the Blessed Trinity. It’s helpful to remember that fact as you choose how to encourage sanctity in your children. And it’s important to remember that fact as you are criticized or ridiculed by others who believe you are expecting too much from your children. It is good to expect holiness from our children as we strive to holiness ourselves. For that matter, what is the alternative to expecting holiness from our children?
There is only one person in the entire world who has received the sacramental grace to father your children. That grace has not been given to any of your friends, or to any family member, or to any priest, or to any teacher, or to any world ruler, or even to a single angel in heaven. That grace has been given exclusively to you. That makes you unique, and if I may say, it should make you feel pretty special.
Kipling ends his poem writing:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Minutes are unforgiving, but for reasons that Kipling (who lacked the true Faith) may not have imagined. Every day, every hour, every minute, is an opportunity to grow closer to God. Sadly, many use this opportunity to grow apart from Him. On one of the first days of homeschooling my children, I put a sign up on the wall which read: “Is what I’m doing right now glorifying God?” It’s a gentle reminder of a central truth.
It’s not about running for sixty seconds, it’s more about where the running takes you—it’s about destination. And it’s not about what’s in the earth—many people have attempted to profit from the earth “and everything that’s in it.” What’s more important is what lies beyond. And if you see above the bounds of this world and follow Jesus, yours are the heavens and everything that’s in them, and—which is more—you’ll be a saint, my son!