It must seem strange that I am writing you a letter. When you finish reading this you will hopefully understand the reason. First of all, I want you to know your mom and I love you both very much and we could not be prouder of you. We are not perfect parents, but we have done our best to help you make your way through these difficult growing-up years and prepare for the future.
There is so much I wish to share with you! I want to tell you what it feels like to fall in love with the woman you will marry. I want you to know the indescribable joy I felt when both of you came into this world. I want you to understand the rough years I spent in the spiritual wilderness with no faith and the profound conversion experience I had when I surrendered to Christ and found the Truth I was seeking for most of my life in the Catholic Church. The list of rich experiences and lessons is almost endless, but perhaps I will share some of them now and save the rest for future letters.
To keep it simple, here are eight things I want you to think about, pray over and hopefully remember for the rest of your lives:
Faith. God loves you, no matter what. Stay true to yourself and always love and serve Him. Stay devoted to our Catholic faith despite all the temptations you will have from the world to leave. Be men of prayer and observe the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Never forget you were made for Heaven and not the world.
Values. Your mom and I have taught you the difference between right and wrong. Our Catholic faith has helped you learn to love your neighbor and serve others. Never lose touch with your values; they define who you are. Don’t be tempted to sacrifice your values for a little temporary comfort or pleasure. It is never, ever worth it.
Education. School isn’t always going to be fun. It wasn’t for us either. But, it is very important to have a quality education if you want to have good career options. Never be satisfied that you know enough. Become lifelong learners. Be insatiably curious about other people and life in general.
Work Ethic. Nothing in life is truly free. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Pay your dues and out-hustle everyone around you. No matter what you hear later in life, I promise you there is no easy path to riches and there is no substitute for hard work. I know, I know, this part sounds just like Papa!
Love. You will meet lots and lots of girls in your lives. Treat them all with dignity and respect. Care more about their inner beauty than their outward appearance. Treat your bodies like holy temples and don’t give in to sinful behavior. You will know you are in love when your knees go soft, your stomach has butterflies and you can’t stop thinking about her as the most beautiful girl you have ever seen. Then what? Get to know her, build a relationship and take the time to see if she is the ONE. You will eventually know if she is and she will be looking at you in the same way. Be counter-cultural, do the right thing and save yourselves for marriage. The world might make fun of you, but Jesus will love you for it.
Responsibility. You have heard your mom and I say this a million times: “You need to be more responsible!” Well, you do. Someone has to be responsible, why not you? If you are involved in an activity or project, act responsible and be a leader. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you say you will do something, do it. One of my old bosses told me years ago that if “I touched it, I owned it!” This has always served me well and helped me in countless ways. Don’t wait for somebody else to take responsibility. It may be up to you.
Friendship. Be true to yourself and your friends. Hang out with people who share your values. Be a good enough friend to others that you always tell them the truth. This is the sign of a true friend. If your friends go down a path you know is wrong, stand your ground and do not follow. The tricky thing about friendship is you sometimes find yourself alone because you are committed to following the teachings of the Church or the values you learned. Trust me on this one – never abandon your faith or your values to follow the crowd. On the other hand, you will hopefully have a few close friends who stay with you a lifetime and they are to be treasured as gifts from God.
Be Real. Don’t ever pretend to be someone else. You are who God created you to be. Don’t be tempted to hide your true self, your faith or what you really think from others. Reflect on my favorite quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
I will stop with these eight lessons and we will dive into other valuable topics again in a future letter. I hope you read this and come to me and your mom with lots of questions. I promise we are here to help you. Did you know your mom and I have a vocation (job) given to us by God? Our vocation is to help our family (and everyone else) get to Heaven. That is our number one responsibility as parents. You are going to stumble and struggle at times in life, but always remember we are here for you and we love you. Most importantly, God loves you and he will never abandon you. He wants you to learn, grow and think for yourselves, but never stray from His love.
Boys, your mom and I want one more important thing for you. We want you to be happy. Really, truly happy! You know what? You can’t be truly happy unless you have joy. Do you know where joy comes from? Joy comes from putting Christ first in your lives and loving Him so much that everyone sees Him at work inside you. Then, you will have true joy which will make you really and truly happy.
With all my love,
Randy Hain, Senior Editor and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of three books by Liguori Press: The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith and Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life.