By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — After listening to Kathleen Chesto try to convince her that the call to be a parent is a holy calling, Linda McGannon agreed with her that parents don’t realize how holy their regular lives really are. It struck her forcibly, she said, when she tried to coordinate attendance this month at a program for confirmandi at Holy Trinity Parish in Orangeburg, where she is the director of religious education.
“After phoning everyone, I was overwhelmed with the stress these parents are under,” McGannon said. “They both work, sometimes two jobs and night shifts, they take their children places …. They have so many demands on their time that they don’t realize their own holiness.”
Chesto realizes it. Her mission, she said, is to break down the old perception that “the professional holy people are on the higher path and that we, somehow, must take a lower one. We were taught that.” The prolific author and nationally famous speaker argued her case at a workshop at the Holiday Inn Northeast on Jan. 13. She was dramatic, dynamic and minced no words.
“There is but one call to holiness in the Catholic Church and that is baptism. To be holy is to be like God, and God is not a church, God is a family. Yet, we have grown up with a spiritual inferiority complex. It’s the church’s fault; not the hierarchical church, but us. We’re all about the same thing, nourishing the future of the earth. Some do it with psalms, some of us do it with (mother’s) milk,” Chesto said.
She blamed St. Paul’s call for celibacy and infant baptism as two barriers to the realization of family holiness. For 700 years, until 1204, the church debated whether noncelibate people were even capable of praying. Chesto also pointed out that few parents have ever been canonized as saints by the church: “Almost all have been priests and nuns.”
She said that infant baptism, which she supports as building the body of Christ, has had the side effect of eliminating the preparation for a holy life that adult baptism once required. The result was that for millennia monks and nuns wrote all the books on spirituality.
Those causes, plus the attitude that parents must bear the burden for the sins of their children, eventuated into this feeling of spiritual inferiority that has been handed down from parent to child in Catholic households. Chesto sought to ease the burden: “We are not good parents because our children turn out right; we are good parents if we turn out right.”
She told The Miscellany during a break that priests and nuns no longer feel threatened by her message.
“We’re not in any way putting down their vocations,” she said. “Sister and Father need you to recognize your own vocation. Our role is simply to tell people that they are leading holy lives.”
Dan Rogers, who teaches baptism preparation classes at St. Peter Church in Columbia, has come to realize exactly that. His wife is quitting her job soon so that they and their three children can become “more of a family.”
“We all need to have people like (Chesto) to come here and refresh us in our faith,” Rogers said. “The world out there doesn’t remind us that we are part of God’s plan.”
Chesto spoke of the pull of society against Christian values. She and Rogers agreed that family life is crucial to a faith life. The presenter spoke of the daily miracles parents observe in their lives and don’t record as such. She said that we examine our consciences and are forgiven, as we live out each day. At bedtime, she said, we should count our miracles.
“You are not a person of faith until you can tell your story of God in your life. The family is called to be the cradle of faith.”
She also addressed the topic of raising children in a violent world.
Kathleen O’Connell Chesto earned her doctor of ministry degree from Hartford Seminary and among her honors is the Distinguished Alumna Award from that institution. She has written dozens of books, including the F.I.R.E. series for religious education. Her books and videos are available from Liguori Press. She is a director of retreats and is a national consultant and presenter on religious education and spirituality issues.
Her workshop was co-sponsored by the offices of Social Ministry and Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation of the Diocese of Charleston.