Envision sitting in the shade of a tree to rest and hearing a good story.  How many stories has that tree overheard over the span of its life?  How many people have stopped right there to rest with their children, friends, parents or grandparents?  At various times maybe this tree has stood as a silent witness to stories in different languages.  Or maybe this place to stop and rest has seen many trees over the years come and go, just like the people.

I can imagine St. Joseph sitting under this tree, pausing in his work to sit with Jesus in the shade.  Jesus, like many children, most likely loved to hear a good tale.  Joseph, being a great storyteller, would perhaps retell the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden or how Moses was saved by Pharoah’s daughter.  These stories were told to him by his father Jacob, Jacob learned these from his father Matthan, who was taught by his father Eleazar.  These fathers, and their wives, taught the children living in their community about their faith as we read today in the richness of Psalms 78:5-6, He commanded our ancestors, they were to teach their children; that the next generation might come to know, children yet to be born.

Why was it so important to pass these stories on?  One might argue that it was a great way to pass the time. More than likely, as most people could not read or write, these oral stories were what they knew.  These stories were more than just fairy tales or fantasy, these were stories of real people – our ancestors.  Relating stories about relatives and ourselves are worth telling and passing on.  In the Book of Psalms, we are asked to teach these stories as part of our shared history.  This is our family faith story.

Don’t “our” children deserve to know their shared faith history?  This begins with the Old Testament and proceeds through the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels of the New Testament.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that parents should begin to teach their children early about our faith, by modeling and bearing witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel.  How does this happen, some might ask, if parents aren’t visibly present at the weekly Mass?  We are all called to be disciples of our faith, all united as God’s children.  The choices we make and the behaviors we exhibit are also witnessed by those around us.

Imagine a school bus full of children on their way to school who witness an altercation between two people. The windows on the bus are down, the words being expressed between the two adults are rated MA (for Mature Audiences), and their expressions are explosive.  Some children may be indifferent or oblivious in their reaction as this is their “normal” or what they experience daily at home.  Other children might slink into their bus seat in fear of what physical blows might occur, as they witness both verbal and physical abuse daily.

The bus moves further down road and one of the children observes an elderly woman walking down the sidewalk.  A man walks out of a nearby house, holding a bag, moving briskly in her direction.  The child, after witnessing the traumatic altercation minutes before, fears that the man might harm the elderly woman.  Instead, the child sees the two smiling warmly at each other and the man walks with the woman, handing her the bag.  The child sits up in his seat, forgetting all about the previous situation, and thinks about visiting his own elderly neighbor after school; the neighbor who always asks him about his day and is interested to talk about just about anything.

We are not always aware of the innocent who are watching or observing us.  During those times when we are aware, do we act or respond differently? God calls each of us to holiness, to walk vibrantly in His love.  We are given the gift of choice.  We can choose and practice living our faith rather than subjecting ourselves to the vices or spiritual battles that can be landmines to navigate.

We can choose to emulate the people we read about in the Gospel: Job, Ruth, the woman at the well and Jesus himself.  Our actions either contribute positively or negatively to the growth of “our” children, both present and future.

Our “children in turn contribute to the growth of holiness of their parents … generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect;” (Catechism of the Catholic Church  2227) teaching us to be like children “for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14).   We are all God’s children, loved as we are, forgiven for our errors in judgement and called to be in communion with one another.

Be bold, walk in God’s love, share your faith journey and listen to the faith journey of others.  Rest in the shade of the tree.

—Terri McCormack is marriage and family life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.