Walk the (holy) walk

I ran across this blog post recently--another mother/blogger had linked to it and called it "lovely parenting advice." Curious about the content (because who doesn't need just a bit more parenting advice, especially if it's lovely?), I clicked and read through it. 

The author had been inspired by an interview with actor Jason Schwartzman, who recounted his childhood memories of his mother:
"... I witnessed how movies and music can be nutritional, I guess, to a person. I would come home from school; she would always be downstairs with an old movie on. Every room in our house had a different book open, face down. There would be music on in one room, even though she wouldn't be in it, and she would kind of just go from room to room and pick up and read and go and listen and go downstairs and watch ... And so I witnessed how important these things can be to you."
This serves as a lightbulb moment for the author, who goes on to idolize this vision:
Schwartzman doesn't mention a mother that signed him up for a back-to-back roster of classes, helming an endless carpool circuit from one enriching creative activity to another. Rather what seemed to have (at least partially) formed him as a creative being is what he "witnessed" his mother doing (or rather living) -- her love of cinema and books and music…her passions. 
This is hugely important don’t you think? This "walking the walk", this showing your kids that you value art or literature or theater or creative pursuits, not because you get them to participate, but because you do them yourself.
There are parts of this mother's reflection that I understand--for instance, I agree that playing chauffeur to your kids' lessons, practices and play dates should come second to forming them as good people, primarily at home. 

But where was religion in this mix? Before I want to model reading, cooking, musical interests, refined literary tastes and a diverse musical palate for Baby J, I want to show him, first, that we are a Catholic family. 

I'm a lucky girl. My parents didn't leave me to flounder in religious relativism; instead they made sure that their girls knew their faith. And knowing our faith didn't begin and end with going to Sunday Mass. They lived (and still live) their faith within our family--and they've expressed it in hundreds of different ways through the years.

For instance, each January, we blessed our front stoop (and then the entire house) with the Epiphany blessing. Taking chalk to the bricks surrounding our front door and a branch from our Christmas tree, we walked from room to room, sprinkling holy water around our abode. It's always been a family joke that when people come to knock on our front door, we open it to find them quizzically staring at the strange formula on the lintel. Invariably, they ask, "Uhhhm ... what's the C + M + B about?"

When our bishop (the soft-spoken but wonderfully-backboned Bishop Weigand) allowed girls to serve as altar servers in our diocese, my parents encouraged me to sign up. I took on the responsibility with the sort of enthusiasm that comes from knowing I'd be taking part of a hugely important thing: the Mass. While I didn't have the philosophical appreciation then that I do now for receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist, I still knew that being so close to the altar was a great honor. Serving at the Stations of the Cross, too, and at funerals for family friends and parish members further reinforced the lesson: You didn't have to be a full-fledged adult to be a valuable member of a parish.

Second lesson of altar server life: If Mom, from her pew, catches you with a snide look, an ill-timed laugh or a look of boredom when serving at church... you're toast. And rightly so.

On Church holidays also celebrated by our commercial, secular world, it was a given in our house that Mass came first; the party came second. Mass preceded the finding of chocolate-laden Easter baskets; Christmas Mass came before the opening of presents (stockings being the valued exception); Thanksgiving Mass came before the feast. And dressing for the occasion was a given--I even remember my Mom and sister having a conversation over whether pants with pockets were too casual for church. Fashion faux pas or no, it impressed upon my young head the gravity with which my family selected their Mass attire.

Perhaps most personally, my sisters and I were raised with rosary beads. At the age of 42, my Dad learned he had bladder cancer. During his first year fighting it, our family gathered together nearly every night to pray the rosary. Mom amassed a box full of rosaries to chose from; we each had our favorites. Mine was a St. Therese of Lisieux one, complete with red wooden beads smelling sweetly of roses. With five people in our nuclear family, we each said a decade, keeping quiet vigil in our living room.

Our prayers for Dad's complete recovery (and a diagnosis of being cancer-free) would continue for the next 10 years. He would often go nine months without a tumor (three-fourths of the way to a free-and-clear status) only to return home from a scope of his bladder which showed "a spot." The cycle would begin again. Our beads would get an extra workout.

My Dad no longer has a bladder, but he's been cancer-free for over 10 years, praise God. From this experience, my reliance on the rosary, particularly in times of trial, hasn't wavered. I'm nowhere near my goal of praying it daily, but it's my first instinct to reach for my beads when we hit bumps in the road.

For all of these memories and lessons (and so many more), I have my wonderful parents to thank. They practiced what they preached--they "walked the walk." It's my goal to do the same for my children. Sure, we'll show them the better parts of culture--the old musicals, the classic artists, the treasured family recipes.

But when they walk from room to room in our home, I hope they find EWTN playing on the television, a biography of St. Catherine of Siena face-down on the coffee table, and a box of rosaries in the living room.

And, of course, a blessing in chalk over our front door.