ColumnsNaming Grace

Forming young hearts to bear fruit

My mother always said, “As you age, you become more of who you are. If you’re a complaining young woman, you’ll probably become a crabby old lady. If you’re a young girl who tattletales, you’ll become an old gossip. Or, if you’re a kind young woman, you’ll probably be a sweet old lady.” As the Psalmist wrote, “They shall bear fruit even in old age.”

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus warns us to pay attention to the heart, which produces good or evil fruit. If young hearts are well-formed, we eventually become beautiful men or women of faith and com­passion. However, if our hearts are unformed or ill-formed, we may end up as a grouchy old man or bitter old woman. So much depends on how a child is raised, treated or discipled. From the first reading of Sirach: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.” It is from the heart that we speak!

Parents are primary formation leaders in the home as they are the most influential in forming the hearts of their children. The parents’ care, through word and deed, often determines whether the child will bear good or bad fruit. If formed with faith, truth, goodness and beauty, the child’s heart is more likely to bloom and bear good fruit. However, if formed by a parent who is critical, mean-spirited, envious, gossipy, the child’s heart will probably shrivel and bear little fruit — unless grace breaks through in a radical conversion to Jesus Christ.

Mostly, parents form their children through authentic witness. We train our children in discipleship by bringing them close to the heart of Jesus: folding their little hands in prayer, reading the beautiful stories of Jesus, speaking gently with them of Jesus, and teaching them to care for another’s heart. Children will embrace Jesus when they witness Jesus’ heart in us by experiencing unconditional love and hearing tender words of faith and joy. With hearts swelling with God’s love, our children will then bear good fruit for a lifetime.

As parents/grandparents, we name grace — God’s merciful presence — when we teach our children to live with a compassionate heart, using their tongues for speaking well of a sibling or protecting the dignity of a classmate. We name grace by using our tongues for encouraging, loving and forgiving one another in the home. We witness to the truth of our faith by using our tongues for praising God — in all circumstances.

I have a friend, whose sister often teases her: “My prayer is that someday when you’re in the nursing home, you’ll be fat and foul-mouthed.” I won’t comment on the first part, but I highly doubt my friend will ever be foul-mouthed, as I have never heard an unkind, mean-spirited or vulgar word come from her beautiful heart. I would bet money, my friend will become only more of who she is: kind, giving, encouraging and loving (assuming she never suffers from dementia, which can change a personality). When we form young hearts in faithfulness, they will speak the goodness and kindness of the Lord all the days of their lives. Now, that’s good news!

How are you forming your child’s heart?

How will you grow closer to the heart of Jesus this Lent?