Building Castles in the Sand

A Refection on Catholic Ministry and Parenthood

“Doesn’t it sometimes feel like we’re just building sandcastles against an incoming high tide?” my husband asked me as we sat preparing a teaching on God’s existence for our youth group. He had a point. Here we were, trying to determine the best way to present the proofs of God’s existence in two hours smooshed between pizza and free time!

Would our words ever be enough? Would our presentation ever be compelling? Would the teens be inspired to become faithful Catholics if youth group went just right?

This feeling of hopelessly building castles in the sand is one that permeates both worlds where I spend my time; in the world of lay ministry and that of parenthood. And I’m nearly certain it pervades the minds of priests, sisters, and teachers as well. After all, we have a daunting and important task! For all of us entrusted with souls, it can feel like we’re frantically building sandcastles only to have the waves creep closer, threatening to wash our work away.

As a mom, I’m trying to form those little consciences and teach them the truths of the faith before they grow old enough to become skeptics. As a youth minister, I’m trying to explain these same truths to young people who have already heard the voice of so many skeptics, with more looming as they enter college. I so desperately want them to know and love the God I love so much. So, I try and learn and plan and teach…but will it be enough? Or am I just building sandcastles to be swept away by the tide?

Every time I see a former youth group teen fall away from the Church as a young adult, I wonder. When the culture of impurity claims another victim and another heart ends up broken, I wonder. Why continue preaching faithfulness, purity, and authentic love when the pull of culture is just too strong?

Every time a child of mine is disobedient, or disruptive at Mass, or whales on a sibling, or is unkind to a kid at the playground, I wonder. Will it ever sink in? Will they ever automatically act like Christians? Will they embrace virtue before secular culture catches them in its undertow?

Am I just making piles of sand? Am I spending my time, energy, prayers, thoughts, love for naught? What’s the point of trying when there’s no guarantee that their souls will withstand the rising tide?

But through prayer and God’s grace, I am reminded: my work, as both parent and youth minister, isn’t to create the final “product.” My work is to help set a solid foundation. To pour some concrete beneath that shifting sand. To lead the children in my care to the Master Builder. To whet their appetites so that faith isn’t something they “get” before they leave me, but something they desire to learn their whole life long. Maybe my youth group session won’t cover all of Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence, but perhaps they will remember to return to the Summa when confronted by an atheist professor or friend. My work is to introduce them to the One who loves them best, better than I ever could. To point them toward a relationship with the One who can guide them through life’s journey, so they run to Him after choosing to go astray. My work is to pray for them long after they leave my home or parish. Of course, as parent and minister, I promise to offer counsel, encouragement, and support whenever it is needed, but the total formation of their souls is not up to me. God is writing their story and I am blessed to play a part, but I am not the story’s hero. He is.

What a relief! At the end of my life, God won’t ask whether any children in my care left His Church. He will ask if I brought them to Him. Did I invite, encourage, counsel, and pray to the best of my ability? Whether they turn away is their free choice. When or how their conversion is completed is up to Him.

So, to all Catholic parents and ministers working hard to spread the Gospel, do not be discouraged! Do not place undue burden upon your shoulders. Instead of frantically building castles in the sand, patiently do what you can to inspire the children in your care to fall in love with their Savior so that they might seek Him their whole life long. Give them the tools and resources to find the answers when questions arise.

Take a deep breath, and remember, it’s not all up to you. Then get to work doing what you can. Here’s a reflection to sum it all up:

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

We lay foundations that will need further development. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

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