This summer was one of the best I recall since childhood. First, God blessed Sonya and me with the birth of our first son. Michael Xavier Benedict was born a healthy 8 pounds, 3 ounces. Mom and baby are doing well and Xavier’s two older sisters cannot get enough of him.
Second, my oldest daughter and I took up archery. Jasmine is merely five years old, but she has taken to the bow and arrow with as much panache as she took to gymnastics. Although she will not be accompanying me on the bear hunt this fall, she can already hit a target at ten yards.
These two events are not unrelated. I love to hunt and shoot. Before Xavier was born, I would visit the local range once or twice a week to shoot with rifles, shotguns and revolvers. Yet the birth of a third child was threatening to curtail the number of visits to the shooting range. On the one hand, even my oldest is too young to handle firearms safely; on the other, it was not fair to disappear with the guys and leave my wife with three young children after a long day.
Thus Jasmine and I took up archery. I knew it would be fun for father and daughter to take up a new skill together, and given our respective ages it is easier for her to master the bow and arrow than me to master the balancing beam at the YMCA. What I did not foresee, however, is how much archery would teach me about Catholic parenting. For our time together not only allows me to develop her skills, but her character as well.
This is a problem I often observe in tribunal ministry. Parents today do not know their children. Spending a couple hours in the bush with a five-year-old particularly outside of cell-phone range has forced me to get to know my daughter. I have learned more about her in the last month than in the first five years of her life. Helping her learn archery has taught me about her various strengths and weaknesses. It has also taught me how to encourage the former and correct latter. These parenting skills can be taken off the range and applied to development in other areas of her life.
As an example, in archery grouping is more important than hitting the target. Hitting the target is self-explanatory: the arrow either hits the target or it does not. Yet this is not always a measure of skill. An archer can hit a bull’s eye on his first try and completely miss the target with his remaining two arrows. This has happened to me on several occasions.
Grouping, on the other hand, measures how closely each arrow lands to other arrows in a particular group. Grouping involves consistency. It is easy to correct a problem when the arrows form a tight group. If the arrows consistently land too high and too far to the left, the archer simply lowers the bow and aims a little to the right. In contrast, it is much harder to correct an archer whose arrows land all over the place.
I have found the same principle applies when teaching my children Catholic virtue. It is more important that they aspire to perfect all virtues than that they master one and neglect the others. If my older daughter is consistently whiny, then I can easily correct the problem. At the first hint of her whining, I stop whatever I am doing, switch to a firm voice, and warn her that whining will lead to the withdrawal of the treat or privilege she desires. In other words, I simply move her in the opposite direction.
My two-year-old’s temper-tantrums are much more difficult to correct. Her behavior, like that of most toddlers, is inconsistent. She is generally a happy child, but her temper is fierce on the rare occasions that she loses it. And the catalyst is always something trivial. Thus I often find myself attempting to sift symptoms from the cause when dealing with her temper-tantrums. This means I am never quite sure which direction to move when applying parental correction.
Patience is another lesson archery has taught me about parenting. My oldest is not going to become an Olympic archer after a couple of shoots, but at least her arrows are moving toward her target. They often fall short of their target. Nevertheless, they are flying in the right direction.
This reminds me of something Fr. Peter Stravinskas once shared during a homily. “Christ does not expect perfection overnight when it comes to your spiritual life. But He does expect progress.” I find this comforting when applied to myself. Yet like the minor lord who failed to forgive his subject after receiving the forgiveness of the great Lord, I often forget to apply Father’s adage to my children.
Archery and virtue are similar in this respect. There is a difference between falling short of the target and aiming in the wrong direction. My children may not always practice their Christian virtues with perfection. What is important, however, is that they make a sincere effort and aim in the right direction. If they still fall short of the target, then any correction ought to be couched in encouragement.
Archery has taught me many other lessons about raising Catholic children, and I have come to appreciate God’s blessing in both. Like the Psalmist, I pray that God may always bless our family with a full quiver both in the literal sense and in the figurative.
Lo, sons are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Ps 127: 3-5)
Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic author. He recently co-authored Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law (Servant Books) with Michael Trueman and More Catholic Than the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor) with Patrick Madrid. He lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.
This article originally appeared in Challenge magazine and is used by permission of the author.