Word Magazine December 1998 Page 21-22
THE CHURCH AS A PARENT
By Navene Hanhan
Ever since I can remember, most of the more important events in my life have something to do with the Church. Whether it be within the Orthodox or Roman Catholic faith, my life has been intertwined with the Church. To be truthful there have been times when I have either questioned, disagreed, or been confused by what has been taught to me for the past eighteen years. Yet, with all the good and bad, I can never dispute that the Church has been like a parent to me.
The first real encounter I had with the Church and its teachings was when I was administered the sacraments of baptism, communion, and confirmation as a toddler. I just don’t remember it, due to the fact I was too young at the time. I do remember going to Divine Liturgy and Sunday school. I do remember my first day at a Catholic school. I remember learning about the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. I remember thinking how important it was for me to know all of this for when I became an adult. I remember innocently thinking that God could see me by way of the mosaics in the church, especially the large one of Jesus on the ceiling. I remember seeing things in one dimension in black and white.
Today, things seem to look more and more gray and appear in 3-D. Still, I’ve taken what I have learned from the Church and applied it within my daily life. No, I’m not a saint, but tell me, who is? I am doing the best I can in a world where everything but fairy tales and children’s stories contradict what the Church preaches and ministers to the public.
Let me use the Ten Commandments as an example. One commandment tells us that we shall not bear false witness or lie. Then we go to work or school and we see that our friends, our co-workers, other people blatantly lie all the time, get away with it and even rise to the top. Another commandment tells us that we have but one God and we shall not worship any other god except Him, but then we turn around and see society treat money as if it were the only sacred thing on the planet. Some people will do anything to attain it. Another commandment states that we are not to take the life of another man, and then we hear about those like Timothy McVeigh and Adolf Hitler. The teachings of the Church go up against the realities of life everyday, and yet continually, the Church holds its ground. Day in and day out, we are witnesses to the survival of the Church and its teachings. We wouldn’t be here today if the awful truths of life had engulfed the Church.
Like our parents, the Church has had experiences in the real world. What the Church teaches us comes from its insight and knowledge of the world, from the times when the Church went through prosperity and joy, trials and tribulations. Like a parent, the Church passes down its knowledge to its children in hopes of preparing them for what is to come; in hopes of nourishing their minds, bodies, and souls with love and understanding; in hopes of protecting them with education about the evils of the world. Like a parent, the Church hopes that what it teaches us will stay with us forever. We take this wisdom that has been imparted to us; we take it wherever we go and use it the best we can to be good people. We all want to be good people; we just don’t always do the right things. Why? Because of temptation and indolence: in other words, human nature.
Just to veer off the subject for a second, because it’s funny no matter how civilized we claim to be, our human nature, the most primitive part of us all, so frequently seems to take control of our actions, thus leading to corruption in society. Too many of us are listening to our id, the primitive part of our subconscious, and acting upon those impulses.
The teachings of the Church are everywhere. I don’t only say this because I’ve attended Catholic schools since the fourth grade, but because it’s true. An example that comes to mind is the poem, FOOTPRINTS. For those of you who are not familiar with the piece, it’s a poem about a man walking along the beach with the Lord. As He and the Lord walk, the man sees scenes from his life represented with footprints in the sand. Two sets of prints are seen during the best times of the man’s life, and only one set during his times of hardships. So he asks the Lord why this is, and the Lord answers that during those times when there is only one set of prints, then it was when the Lord carried the man.
This is the first real piece of writing that I was exposed to as a young child, and it’s what started me thinking in a more philosophical manner, and it’s also what sparked my interest in writing. I carry it around with me wherever I go. It has taught me from a young age, through imagery and terms that a young child can understand that God will always be there for me. He will always be beside me to carry me through times of hardship and pain, and share with me the times of pure and unadulterated exultation. It is a poem whose roots can be traced back to Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; … and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Now, being an adolescent, as I am, is not the easiest thing nowadays. New and mortal dangers await us whenever we walk out of the front door. One of the more fatal dangers, being that it is so easy, is to lose one’s faith in the teachings, the Church, and even God. As teenagers, we want, we need tangible proof for everything. If we don’t have it, we go ballistic. Some of us do anyway. Some of us curl up in a corner and ponder the evidence that we’ve been given about God and consider whether or not we ever really believed; if we ever really had faith in something we can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Many of us can honestly say, yes, our faith is there and it will always endure. Some say no. Then there are those in limbo, cursed to be unsure about how they feel.
Adolescence is the time when confusion clouds our minds and our hearts. It’s the time when choices become life-altering and the Church’s teachings influence us in new and surprising ways. Now is when we see, understand, interpret them as adults and are ministered to with maturity and sophistication. As a parent would approach a teen about sensitive subjects with honesty and clarity, the Church emulates this in approaching the same teen about a deeper understanding of its convictions.
Personally, this is as far as my experiences go concerning how parents behave with their children, for I am not yet an adult. I haven’t the knowledge as to how the Church and parents treat their grown children when adulthood has settled in. What I am sure of is that the Church will continue to educate, just as parents would. They would continue, not to help you find a good profession and career, but to keep your mind thinking, working, changing to enrich our lives forever. Because it’s true, knowledge is power. Beyond that, understanding is the pivotal key to attaining that power. Wisdom is when you have both the knowledge and understanding.
Navene Hanhan, 18, of St. Nicholas Church, San Francisco, CA, represented Western Region in the Oratorical Festival.