I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
As my mother approaches her 84th birthday, my thoughts take me to my childhood home. I never doubted Mom’s love for me – and I never doubted what she expected of me.Principally, obedience.
When she told me to share with my younger sister, she wouldn’t tolerate my selfishness. When she told me to be home at 5 PM, I knew I’d be in trouble if I opened the door any later. And the time or two I defied her to her face, my backside bore stinging testimony that she wouldn’t tolerate rebellion.
So great was my respect – and yes, my fear – of Mom, by the time I was 17, outweighed her by 50 pounds and stood several inches taller, if she told me to be home at 11 PM, I was home at 11 PM.
As an adult with three children of my own, I know why Mom did as she did. Had she not set clear standards – and enforced those standards – I do not doubt for a moment I would not be the successful person I am today.
Sappy, indulgent love, is not really love. It’s cowardice and it’s destructive of the very one we say we care for. That’s not my idea; it’s God’s. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophets, warned: Do not hold back discipline from the child; Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.1 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.2 He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. 3 And “But if you are without discipline . . . then you are illegitimate children and not sons.4
Everyone reading this sentence knows what it is like to be in the same area as a rude and disobedient child. Whether on a plane, in a restaurant, at a supermarket, or on a playground, incorrigible children ruin the tranquility of every environment in which they set foot. And I have often watched the child’s mother smile apologetically at the nearby adults and shrug her shoulders as if to say, “What can I do? I’m showing little Suzie how much I love her.”
And we know what kind of incorrigible adults disobedient children become. Which is why what I see and hear occurring today in the Church causes me a great measure of angst. My experience and my knowledge of Scripture wants to scream at some leaders in Mother Church who – in the name of sappy, indulgent love – refuse to discipline her disobedient children. Nor does it seem to matter how terrible their behavior or scandalous their disobedience. What Catholic does not know of priests – or even bishops – who permit lay members of their congregation to lead choirs, act as lector or usher, teach Faith Formation or adult Bible studies, and yet flaunt their sins and are openly critical of Church teaching about sexuality, marriage, abortion, the priesthood and other doctrines central to Catholic faith?
And to most Catholics and non-Catholics, it seems Mother Church is simply smiling, almost apologetically, as if to say, “What can I do? This is how we demonstrate our love for little Suzie or Johnnie.”
As my mother approaches her 84th birthday I plan to thank her for loving me enough to swat my diapered rear-end when I got sassy. I will thank her for loving me ‘tough’ enough to do the hard things like restricting my freedom, taking away privileges and yes, slapping me across the face when I so rightly deserved it as a teenager.
From my perspective, Holy Mother church needs to do the same with her rebellious sons and daughters. To do as she is currently doing is cruel. And maybe borders on child abuse.
1. Proverbs 23:13-14
2. Proverbs 29:15
3. Proverbs 13:24
4. Hebrews 12:7-8