In the year 1906, the song “Pomp and Circumstance” was first played at Yale University at a graduation ceremony during which they honored the composer, Edward Elgar, with an honorary doctorate. Since then, other universities, colleges and high schools have claimed it as “the” song to celebrate their graduates.
If there was a song that could be nominated as an anthem to new beginnings, this would be a top contender. When I heard this song as a young high school and college graduate, all I could think about was my life ahead and the opportunities that were to come. As a parent hearing this song for my child, I had mixed feelings of accomplishment and pride, jumbled with emotions about my child now leaving home. The new beginnings are not just for the graduate, but for the parents who are transitioning to an eventual empty nest.
I must have heard hundreds, if not thousands of people in my lifetime tell me to appreciate all the moments with your child, with everyone saying “it goes so fast.” When I was knee-deep in diapers, car seats and an overwhelming lack of sleep, I could not even imagine the concept that, one day, they would move out of the home and start their own lives.
As the children got older, life transitioned from endless days to not having enough time in the day as we went from activity to activity. Then, suddenly, as my child announced they would be going to college out of state, it hit so fast how short the time with my children really is. I even remember having a slight panic as I thought of thousands of things our child still needed to know that we haven’t had a chance to teach them yet. It was then I had a deeper realization that our children are not our own.
As parents, we receive our children from God as a precious gift and a precious responsibility. We are given time with them, and it is our duty to not only equip them for the things of this world, but for their ultimate goal, which is to return to their true father in heaven.
The beauty of our Catholic faith is that we have a rich history of saints, some of whom were parents, who have gone before us and can be our mentors on this journey. One such saint, St. Jane Francis de Chantal, while being the foundress of a religious order, was also a mother of four children who was widowed at age 28. When her children were grown and gone, she founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, but continued to “parent” her children through her now famous letters. I came across a blog post from author Theresa Barber titled: “St. Jane Frances de Chantal’s perfect advice for parents” (aleteia.com) that highlights her parenting advice to her daughter.
The author highlights three main points St. Jane made to her daughter. The first is to be at peace about your children’s safety and future. The saint reminds her daughter to trust in God first and foremost. “What have you to fear?… (He) who is good enough and rich enough to nourish them and provide for them as is expedient to His glory and their salvation.” Trusting in God’s providential care is what we should desire for our children.
The saints’ second piece of advice is to dedicate our energy to caring for our children in the present moment: “care for them, cherish them tenderly and bring them up not in vanity, but faithfully in the fear of God.” Our energies and efforts in parenting will build with time, and they will eventually rely on what we will teach them about the world and about God.
The third and final point St. Jane makes to her daughter is to live in harmony with her husband and work to create a happy home for their family: “Be brave then, dearest daughter; employ your time and your mind not in worrying and being anxious about the future, but in serving God and your household, for such is the divine will. Act thus, and you will see how blessings will attend your undertakings.”
The author reminds us that St. Jane knew well both the blessings and hardships of parenting, but she didn’t want her daughter to lose sight of the main thing, which is that these children, first and foremost, belong to God.
Parents of graduates will soon get to enjoy the fruits of many years of hard work, as they see their child go forth. They will also be once again back on their knees praying to God to guide their graduate in the years ahead. Proverbs 22:6 reminds us to: “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.”
So as you hear the familiar tune of Pomp and Circumstance this time of year, let it be a reminder that our children are a gift given to us by God and also a treasure to be returned to him, and that the time with them really does go by so quickly.
Tremblay is the marriage and life ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.