CHARACTER BREEDS FAITH1
By Nimfa C. Tangcuangco, TOCarm
Have you ever wondered why a baby cries as soon as he leaves his mother’s womb and enters this world? I guess it is symbolic of the suffering awaiting him to which he is being introduced to at the very outset of his birth.
Suffering, pain, trials and all sorts of tribulations is a necessary requirement in order to survive in this life. Certainly we cannot escape from this reality. As Christians and followers of Christ, suffering and the Cross take on a greater meaning and significance because it is something we can never and should never avoid. To follow Christ is to share in His redemptive suffering. Certainly we fully realize that now, don’t we? But how many of us had this kind of awareness when we were growing up? How many of us tried to inculcate this same value in our own children when they were growing up as well?
I think I had this awareness because my own mother taught this value to us at an early age. We were taught the value of mortification when we were kids; the value of restraining our wants and desires that were not essential in life; the value of simplicity in life; the value of honest and hard work, of toiling with our hands. "Beautiful hands are those that do" – this was fed into our young consciousness day in and day out. I remember an enlarged framed copy of the poem with the same title [it was given by my mother’s sister who was a Nun] hanging in the girl’s bedroom to constantly remind us that if we want beautiful hands we should know how to use them for productive work; idle hands are never considered beautiful no matter if they’re soft and dainty….
In this age of advanced technology where various electronic gadgets are in one’s easy reach and one can produce work at the touch of a button, young people of today have lost the love for hard work, sacrifice or any semblance of pain and suffering. The word ‘mortification’ has probably lost its meaning to this present generation. Young people have been accustomed to the "easy" life and the "instant" culture. And who’s partly to blame? I think it is us parents who failed to inculcate the value of suffering and sacrifice in our children when they were growing up. It is us parents who over-protect our children from pain and difficulties necessary to build character. It is the grandparents who are always perceived to be "spoilers" of their children’s children, trying so hard to indulge their every wants and desires, spoiling them with material things instead of teaching them the value of self-denial at a young age. Without being aware of it they are probably indirectly contributing in bringing up individuals who would be incapable of making sacrifices in their lives as adults, in short, persons who do not have the strength of character to cope up with problems, difficulties and sufferings later on in their adulthood.
My eldest daughter who is presently the Chief Resident (Internal Medicine) in one of the leading hospitals in Metro Manila confided to me her frustrations regarding some of the present crop of residents under her supervision. It is to be noted that from out of an original 12 resident trainees which started out more than two years ago there is only two of them from that batch left to finish the training program in Internal Medicine; all the rest have chosen to terminate their training during their first or second year of residency because they could not cope up with the pressures of the training program anymore.
"This generation is really turning out a new breed of resident doctors," she lamented to me a few weeks back. "They cannot seem to cope up with the pressures and the difficulties. They go on leave or absent from duty even when they are not supposed to. They lack the necessary commitment for the work. They have no desire to make sacrifices or to sacrifice their personal wants for a greater good which is to serve the interest of the patients they are attending to".
Although my daughter belongs to this same generation she speaks of, she may presumably be of a different mold having been brought up in an entirely different atmosphere. As a mother I never indulged my kids’ every wants and desires that were not essential to their well-being at certain points in their lives. I made sure however that everything they needed, they were provided for. As I place so much value on books and reading materials, I indulged them with all the children’s books and activity books they desired and needed. With regards to other non-essential things however I taught them the value of self-denial.
I remember, when my eldest daughter was six years old in prep school she had a friend and classmate whose mother (as I perceived her then) had been somewhat over-indulgent towards her little girl. My daughter would tell me each time her classmate had a new lunch box which was almost every month: "Mommy, Trisha has a new lunch box again," probably trying to implicitly remind me that her lunch box was the same old lunch box she had when she was four years old and hey, couldn’t I perhaps buy her a new one? I would assure her every time that her lunch box was still functioning as it should anyway and that I would buy her a new one when she really needed a replacement. And it was the same with shoes because Trisha had a closet-full of pairs in her room.
Because my eldest daughter had signified her desire to be a doctor as early as 4 years old (she never had any other career in mind while growing up other than being a doctor) I had to prepare her very early on for the rigorous medical study ahead of her. I had to properly make sure she developed a study and reading habit at a very young age.
I never had to hire tutors for my children. I tutored them myself and I must admit I was rather a very strict tutor. I decided to be a full time mother and left my office job (when my youngest was a year old) totally behind me to be able to undertake this. I continued to tutor and to closely monitor their studies until they were in 2nd grade. In the succeeding grade levels I had withdrawn little by little from tutoring them because by that time they already developed a study habit requiring minimal supervision from me. By the time they were in 5th grade they were entirely on their own. I never had to worry about their grades in school from thereon.
Very recently my youngest daughter (now 25 years old) and I were discussing about the deprivations we experienced when we were growing up and she exclaimed in remembrance:
"Hey, yeah! I was a deprived kid, Mom. Did you realize that? I remember I had wanted so much for you to buy me those big crayolas but you kept saying ‘no, you make do with your present set of crayons.’ And I had always wanted so badly a set of those Play Doh things like the ones my other classmates had but you kept buying me those cheap molding clays. Aah! That was mean. You were a mean Mommy", she recalled with amusement.
And I guess this ‘mean-mommy-streak’ in me resurfaces each time I, as National Prioress, try to implement the rules on attendance very strictly refusing to make compromises because I would want to instill the value of self-discipline and of commitment among the members perhaps in the same way that I tried to instill the same values in my own children when they were growing up.
Nowadays I am very lenient with them because I know they have already imbibed the value of self-regulation as adults. I don’t worry much about them straying from the path of righteousness because of the value formation I gave them when they were young children. In the same way I would probably turn very lenient in the years to come just as soon as the whole TOC membership has undergone complete re-formation. After all what is there to be strict about when each and every TOC has learned to follow the rules dutifully at their own initiative without having to be reminded every time?
I believe it was those little deprivations in their young life (they had to answer the children’s activity books that I bought for them or do their school assignments first before they could watch TV or play outdoors), those opportunities at self-renunciations that certainly built their character and strengthened them to bear with frustrations and disappointments later on in their growing-up years and into adulthood. It was those ‘little pin pricks’ they have experienced early on that is helping them cope up with difficulties and hardships as they presently go through life in this world. Indeed "character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."2
Suffering and the Cross are very essential ingredients to live a genuine Carmelite life or genuine life in allegiance with Christ. Suffering builds our character and strengthens our faith in God. "Suffering breeds character, and character breeds faith, and in the end faith will prevail."3 We ought to always welcome every opportunity to suffer with Christ and to share in His redemptive suffering for others because we shall only be "made perfect through suffering" (Heb. 2:10)
And yet (again, may I ask!) how many of us truly appreciates the value of sacrificing our time, talent and treasures for the good of the Order? How many of us willingly & joyfully attend community meetings even when we would prefer to be at the mall or elsewhere? How many of us eagerly reads formation materials without complaints? How many of us follow directives obediently no matter how difficult it is for us? How many of us are truly willing to undergo the difficulties for the Third Order of Carmel?
The Cross. Suffering. The Dark Nights. The Desert. The Mount. These are images and symbols closely associated with Carmelite Spirituality. We do away with them and we do away with Carmel altogether….
1 Jesse Jackson
2 Helen Keller
3 Jesse Jackson, 1988 Democratic National Convention Address