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Fr. Schmitz: It is possible to fail at parenting
Duluth priest gives four suggestions to parents at Catholic Schools Week event
By Matthew Kurtz
Fr. Michael Schmitz cleared the air right away when he arrived in Bismarck.
“I want to come to you parents in a posture of humility. I realize that I can learn a lot more from you than you can learn from me in some of these things,” Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, said during his presentation at St. Mary’s Central High School in Bismarck to kick off Catholic Schools Week on Jan. 27.
Then, he delivered what he called “the offensive part” of his talk on the topic of parenting.
“If the whole point of being a parent is to help my kids become saints, then we have to realize that it’s actually possible to fail at parenting.”
Schmitz serves as chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth and consequently describes himself as “the spiritual father of 14,000-plus young adults.”
“If my children have left the Lord, I’ve failed. And when I say it’s possible to fail as a dad, I’m looking in the mirror,” he confessed, citing that studies indicate 80 percent of all Catholic high school students will stop practicing their faith while in college.
As a result, Schmitz provided four suggestions for parents regarding how to accomplish the ultimate goal of parenting: raising faithful children.
#1: Teach your children how to pray
Simple prayers (such as a prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Our Father, and the sign of the cross) can bear great fruit when taught to children at an early age, and can remain with them throughout their entire life.
“A lot of times if someone’s Catholic, the last gesture they ever make before they die is the sign of the cross. That’s powerful. It’s the last thing someone does before they see Jesus face-to-face.”
#2: Don’t underestimate the power of a father’s blessing
Fathers should develop a habit of regularly tracing the sign of the cross on their child’s forehead.
“It’s not just a goofy thing. It’s actually an incredibly powerful thing.”
#3: Live the example of an authentic Christ-centered life
Making Mass a priority (even while on vacation or traveling) resonates with children. Blessed John Paul II described his memories of witnessing his father’s faithfulness as his “domestic seminary.” Schmitz recalled that while driving home from Mass on Sundays, his family would (somewhat lightheartedly) critique everything about the service (the music, homily, etc.).
“As a child, I remember that [the habit of critiquing the Mass] has a little bit of a poison to it. It’s hard to get excited about something when, on the way home, we’re going to be talking about how bad it was.”
#4: If all else fails, never stop praying for your children
Parents can turn to the story of the young, rebellious St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, for consolation. They can also offer the graces they receive through Holy Communion for their kids or even fast for them.
“You have to realize that you’re not actually in this alone. There is such a thing called grace. And there is a God in heaven who loves your kids even more than you love your kids. There is a God in heaven who wants your kids to be Catholic even more than you want your kids to be Catholic. If you couple your prayers with God’s grace, that changes the world.”
Knowing that some parents may be disheartened by the idea that they’ve failed in their primary task of raising faithful kids, Schmitz reminded them “God is a dad, too.”
“We know that sometimes we reject our dad in heaven. He’s perfect and He has kids who walk away. He loves with an unending love, and He has kids who give up on Him.
“These four tools in your hands means that you will never be powerless and never be hopeless when it comes to the eternal fate of your children."