Picking the path that God the Father paves for us
Luke 2:41-51A Each year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them.
It’s a truism to say that parents always want what’s best for their children. Or, more modest parents might say, “I just want my son or daughter to have a better life than I’ve had.” Precisely this desire drives parents to work countless hours, to lose sleep, and to sacrifice personal goals in order to give their kids the best, or at least a little better than they had themselves. But sometimes, children don’t always follow the path their parents pave for them.
A perfect case in point is my own parents and me. I am in awe at my parents, who moved to a new country with little or no money or resources, saved and sacrificed, and built a beautiful life for their children. Even more impressive, they sent us to Catholic schools which meant they gave up lots of personal perks and creature comforts. They paved a way for me to have a successful career in any field I chose: I could have become an engineer, a doctor or businessman. Instead, I turned my back on all that and picked the priesthood. I sometimes see homeless people begging for money on the street corner, and I don’t think I’m very different from them. They beg for donations outside the church, and I beg for donations inside the church. Not exactly what my parents had hoped for me. Children don’t always grow up to lead the life their parents sacrifice to give them.
In the gospel today, we see Jesus likewise picking a path that surprised his human parents. When Jesus was twelve years old, and his family made their annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, Jesus decided to remain behind. This caused great grief for his parents, and Mary speaks for both of them (she is, after all, a Jewish mother, and she has an opinion). She says, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus calmly answers: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph, like all parents, were trying to give their son, Jesus, the best, or at least better than they had, and his choice to stay in the Temple both surprised and saddened them. But Jesus realized that he had to please another Parent, namely, his heavenly Father. Indeed, again and again, Jesus would say and do things differently than his mother would have liked, the highest and holiest example being the Crucifixion itself. What mother wants that for her son? Children do not always pick the path their parents pave for them.
For all you parents who might be a little surprised or saddened by the choices your children make, let me offer some words of advice. First of all, no one has any “right to have children.” They are a gift from God. Remember that not all means of conceiving a child are morally good. Children are only “loaned” to you for 18 years, and you should cram as much goodness and grace as you can into them before they fly the coop. They do not ultimately belong to you; they belong to God. Secondly, encourage them to seek God’s will in their life above all. That means they should seek God’s will above your will, and even above their own will. I did not become a priest because it’s something I wanted to do, but because it’s something (I hope) God wanted me to do. The same with marriage: choose to marry someone not only because you want to, but above all because you think God wants you to. Thirdly, teach your children to pray daily, first and foremost by your own example of personal prayer. I always recommend the rosary. Here’s the sober fact: one day you will die and leave this earth and leave your children. Help your children to have a living relationship with their heavenly Father, who will never leave them. Don’t just leave your children an inheritance of a bunch of money; leave them a legacy of a bunch of grace.
If you keep these things in mind, you might not be so surprised or so saddened when your children do not pick the path that you have so sacrificially paved for them.
Praised be Jesus Christ!