Need I say — but I will — that I have no way of knowing whether or not St. Paul was including parents in that category of “those in authority” whom he asked people to pray for? Maybe he had in mind only social or political authority, at least in this letter he wrote to Timothy. But I don’t think it would be unfair for us to extend the term to mothers and fathers, because they certainly do exercise authority, perhaps the most formative, influential and lasting of all.
Sometimes I discover quite accidentally that people I’ve known for a long time and whom I have thought to be happy and satisfied actually carry the terrible burden of being mother or father of children who are for one reason or another a profound disappointment to them. It may be because these sons and daughters have rejected the Catholic faith in which they were born and raised. It may be that their marriages have failed or that they have married in an unacceptable way. It may also be that they have adopted a style of life that seems contrary to traditional Christian teaching. Whatever the circumstances, it is a very heavy burden that they can neither escape nor deny. They pray quietly, sadly, and they wonder what helpful answer is possible even from God.
And so, we pray for them, that some measure of peace will return to their lives. We pray that they will come to know, first of all, that we love, honor and respect them for their conscientious efforts at being good parents. We hope that they will feel our understanding and compassion for whatever errors they have made in their life-long commitment to marriage and parenthood — especially as we confess to them that our own lives have been far from perfect, too.
We ask the Spirit of God to convince them that we appreciate the odds against them as they tried to be good parents in a world full of unprecedented forces that mock the Christian way of life. We pray also that they not judge too hastily or harshly the conscience and the motives of their disappointing children, who are required to follow that conscience even against the opposition of the church, their parents and all other authorities. The Spirit that presides over their lives is gentle and patient and persevering. The Spirit is the supreme agent of change.
We are not a community of confirmed saints; we are sinners, all of us, struggling to change our ways so as to resemble more the ways of Jesus. The church is at once beautiful as the Body of the living and risen Jesus and also deformed in the weaknesses of its members — including its highest leaders. It has to be a true home, a haven of security, for all. That’s why our great pope, Francis, keeps reminding us that the church is a very wide tent that has room for all who seek it and from which no one is ever to be turned away.
May those who exercise the authority of Christian parenthood not condemn themselves for their apparent failures. May they not envy those who seem to have done better than they have in raising their children. Instead, may they draw life and strength, peace and dignity, from the love of Jesus that comes to them in the love of us all, their brothers and sisters in his church.