Henry Ward Beecher, the famed preacher and orator once said that the two most important gifts that parents can give to their children are roots and wings. It begins with roots, as it has to – to protect, love, nurture, and raise the most helpless infant in the animal kingdom to a point where they can fend for themselves. Most parents do the best job they are able to do in that regard. They kind of have that role down.
The roots given to Jesus are plain to see in the gospel. In the only snapshot we are given to see about the hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth, we are told simply: “Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover.” That small fact tells us that Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. It is no small feat to go to Jerusalem. It is not like they picked up a taxi, or the Metrolink. It is a ten day walk, one way. Yet EACH YEAR, they go. Those roots were set down well, for we are told at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, that he “went according to his custom into the synagogue.” Jesus is solidly rooted into his faith, by both his parents’ example, and then his own practice. Mary and Joseph knew how to give Jesus roots that would last.
But how do you give the Son of God wings? How does any parent teach their children to fly?
Don’t you face it in increments, almost like snapshots? Click: Mom takes 5 year old Sally or John from the sandbox to the first day of Kindergarten. Click: Dad runs besides his daughter as he teaches her to ride a bike. Click: Both parents hold their breath while sitting in the passenger seat with their proud 15 1/2 year holding their driver’s permit. Click: “Mom, I’m going to Creighton for college.” Click: It is the Father-Daughter dance at the wedding reception. Click: “It’s a girl!” Each of these moments is a snapshot into that core truth – that our children are NOT OURS TO KEEP – they are ours to give wings to.
That was the truth that Hannah knew as she dropped Samuel off. Samuel, the long desired child of her old age, and the fruit of her fervent prayer – is to be dedicated back to the God who gave him to her in the first place. She knew he was not hers to keep – only to give wings to. That was the painful truth that Mary and Joseph wrestled with on that ten day journey back from Jerusalem to Nazareth. They observed that Jesus was uniquely at home in God’s house – so much so, that He can respond to their frantic searching with that teenage type of dismissive reply: “Didn’t you know – here is where I have to be?” Click: Time to start that letting go…
On this feast of the Holy Family, where we celebrate being a family of faith around this altar, the same truths come into play. Roots and Wings – these are the two gifts we bring to each other each time we gather around this altar. We support one another in our struggles, and we call one another to greater holiness and service. So, what would it be for us to pledge to give roots and wings to each other?
Click: Be a family faithfully at prayer this year. Don’t miss these Sat eve/Sun. morning opportunities to be together around this altar. Commit yourself to be here, come what may, every weekend during this Year of Faith. (And though I could pray for you to be ON TIME for that, I not asking for that miracle…)
Click: Notice one gift in one member of your family this year – be it biological, chosen or faith family. Perhaps you notice how much you daughter likes to cook. Introduce her to the St. Patrick Center Casserole experience. You son loves to work with his hands? Sign up for a habitat for humanity workday. That parishioner in the pew has a lovely voice? Invite them to sing in the choir. Your neighbor has a green thumb? Volunteer to weed the garden area that fronts Natural Bridge in front of our church.
There are two gifts every good parent strives to give their children – roots and wings. Our God has given us both. May we use them well….