Step back in time with me, about twenty or so years. I would be forty-six and raising the younger ten of our fourteen children, ages one to eighteen, the oldest four having moved on to school or their own next chapter. I was a homeschooling veteran (not to be confused with “expert”) and would have delivered the third child of my forties. I ran a tight ship, although my husband and I had learned from experience, trials, and tragedy to be parents who were able to offer boundaries while remaining dedicated to staying “in relationship” with our children.
In today’s first reading from Samuel, Saul has gone in search of David, his enemy. David sneaks into Saul’s barricade in the night and finds him asleep. Though David’s companion encourages killing Saul, David refuses to harm the “Lord’s anointed.” He leaves stealthily with Saul’s spear and water jug. David had a conscience: He refused to kill the king, knowing it would have been a wicked thing to do.
Conscience . . . We tried hard to form our children’s consciences. The first encounter usually started with “Stop-look-listen” . . . and then, “What is your heart telling you?” A child by five or seven can learn to listen to his or her heart, and often, when challenged or asked, will choose to do the right thing. Over the years this becomes ingrained morality: choosing to do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way. Do they become sinless? No. But, as adults, they frequent the sacrament of confession and try hard to live good lives.
The Responsorial Psalm today is Psalm 103: The Lord is kind and merciful . . . Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion.
Compassion and Kindness . . . Our children have always shared their lives with other people. This was not their choice, but ours; not their call, but ours. Still, it did become their life. Through it, they were able to learn about serving, compassion, kindness, and acceptance. It was not always easy, and it was a particular journey. We had one son we were pretty sure was going to live alone when he grew up, in a perfect little cottage with a white picket fence, where all was ordered and neat. He is the one who became a priest and who daily lays his life down as a missionary. God knows what he is doing. My adult children never shy away from a person with disabilities and are aware of those who struggle in life: awareness that begets compassion and kindness.
Our Gospel reading today is from Luke on love and forgiveness. Forgive and you will be forgiven . . . be merciful, just as your father is merciful.
Forgiveness and Mercy . . . This has been a tough journey for us. As a family we were thrown into a situation we would never have dreamed, certainly not desired. I spent years teaching, encouraging, and bidding our family to travel the road of forgiveness and mercy. It was the road which led to transcendence, which became our freedom.
Raise them kind and merciful.