On a Friday night about eight years ago, I got myself into an argument with one of my college age children (“the college student”). The argument centered around a certain movie that I thought was morally objectionable. At one point, the college student blurted out: “Dad, most Catholics would not agree with you about this movie. You’re too extreme when comes to things like this. I can only think of two other people who would agree with you: grandmother (my mom) and Aunt Patty.”
I think the college student’s statement was meant to be a criticism of me, but I considered it a compliment and responded, “You know, I seem to recall that about 2000 years ago there was a person who others thought was too extreme and He ended up being nailed to a cross. Our faith requires that we imitate Him and sometimes that means we have to go against what the world considers normal, even if we’re accused of being too extreme. I think I’m in pretty good company with my mom, Aunt Patty, and the Son of God. Do you think our Lord would want you to go see that movie?”
For once, the college student didn’t know what to say (and to my knowledge never saw the movie).
It’s not easy being a devout Catholic parent, especially when it involves going against your own children. Like it or not, all devout Catholics are seen by a majority of the population as being too extreme. They tell us we’re old-fashioned, uncaring, resistant to change, close-minded, intolerant, bigoted – all because we are opposed to all of the things everybody used to be opposed to, such as divorce, abortion, birth control, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, “gay marriage.” We are accused of being “out of touch” when we demand that our daughters dress modesty and that our sons refrain from impure and unchaste behavior.
One thing is certain. In today’s culture, it is impossible for a parent to raise a son or daughter to be a devout Catholic if the parent doesn’t know how to handle criticism (or is incapable of properly responding to it).
Just so you know, Georgette and I have endured repeated criticism for most of the 30 years we have been married – about the number of children we had, about keeping our children out of the school system and home educating them, about militantly “controlling” who our children were allowed to associate with, about our strict dress code for our daughters, about our philosophy on dating, and about our insistence that our children develop a strong work ethic at an early age.
You have people in your life – family, friends, teachers, co-workers, peers – who look for every “opportunity” to criticize, sabotage, undermine, and demean what you do as a parent. Most of the time, their unsolicited opinions not only lack sufficient knowledge and wisdom of who you are and what you are all about, but are based upon deep-seated personal issues that are not apparent to the critic.
Before you give serious consideration to any criticism about your faith, the way you are raising your children, or the way you live your life, you must first determine why the person has made the critical comment to you in the first place. In giving you a critical opinion, the critic may have: (1) unconsciously acted out of pride, envy or jealousy; (2) felt threatened by you; (3) acted out of resentment toward you; (4) attempted to justify his or her own sinfulness or guilt; (5) tried to manipulate you; (6) attempted to make himself or herself feel important; or (7) tried to intimidate you or exert authority over you.
Anytime someone criticizes me, I immediately ask myself this question: “Is this about you or me?” By answering my own question (in my mind), I am able to cutoff an unconscious emotional reaction on my part and objectively determine why the person may have made the comment. Most of the time the answer to my own question points directly back to the critic, indicating that the criticism itself was really about the critic and not about me.
What I’m suggesting here is easier said than done. Because of our fallen human nature, we ordinarily react personally to criticism, which causes us intense emotional anxiety and pain. It is natural for a person to desire the approval of others and to be liked and admired by family members, friends, peers and co-workers. Unfortunately, that particular desire can be very dangerous to us when we are faced with criticism from another person.
So how can a person condition himself (or herself) to react appropriately to criticism and assess the situation before the emotions kick in? I can only tell you what has helped me – something I learned from reading about the lives of the saints. You are never going to be able to consistently and objectively react to criticism until you embrace and practice humility. I want to share with you a daily prayer that I memorized over 12 years ago that has helped to condition me to properly assess and respond to the criticism of others:
Jesus, my Lord, help me to overcome my weakness of giving in to human respect. I seem almost to live by the judgment that others have of me. Yet I know how foolish it is to pay so much attention to what people think or say, as though it was their opinion and not Your infallible wisdom that was the norm of my actions. Deliver me from this tyranny, which it is, by making me so conscious of Your presence, that no human being may interfere with my joyous freedom in Your service. Amen.
If you insist on following some of the suggestions I’ve made in the past about Catholic parenting, you will be attacked and criticized by some of your children, family members, friends, teachers, and peers. Sometimes the criticism will blindside you in a cruel and vicious manner and sometimes it will come at you in a subtle and manipulative manner.
Depending on where it is coming from, criticism can cut open an emotional wound that may never heal. It sometimes feels as though a person has taken a newly sharpened knife and slashed open your cheek. If you don’t react appropriately, you risk permanent injury. The wound can easily become infected which will eventually result in an ugly scar that will affect you (and your relationship with the critic) for the rest of your life.
If you embrace and pray for humility every day, there will be a point in your life where you will immediately feel the healing power of our Lord any time a new wound is opened by the criticism of another person. The finger of God will immediately reach out and touch the open wound causing it to instantaneously heal, just as the touch of our Lord’s fingers instantly re-attached and healed the ear of the servant (after Simon Peter cut it off with his sword). If you fail to embrace and practice humility, your pride will act as a barrier to God’s healing hand and you will, at times, suffer from permanent injury.
If you are a devout Catholic, you know what you should be doing to live a pure and holy life. You know how you should be treating your spouse. You know how you should be raising your children. You know how you should be behaving around your peers and co-workers. It’s time that you pray for and embrace humility – every single day – so that you can consistently and courageously follow through on what you know you should be doing without any concern about what others may think or believe about you.