Little Way of the Family


Humility and the Holy Family

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One of the virtues of the Holy Family that I try to emulate is humility. It’s a challenging virtue, and easy to forget in this competitive, success-oriented world.

It’s so easy, in the day-to-day effort to grow in holiness, to become judgemental and preachy, especially toward those who don’t seem to share my values. “I can’t believe she dresses like that for Mass.” “Their children are completely out of control. They probably let them watch too much television.” “You can tell they’re using contraception. Otherwise they’d have had another child by now.” “I’m just glad we’re not like that.”

It plays out in the abortion debate too, with some pro-lifers more focussed on condemning than saving, overwhelmed by their anger at the injustice of it all.

We all do this, to one extent or another. It’s in our nature, and it’s certainly an integral part of our culture. We like nothing more than holding up others’ faults to make us feel better about ourselves.

The thing is, we may very well be “correct” in our assessment of others. The young woman may be dressed inappropriately for Mass. The family may be letting too much culture rot into their home, with the resulting influence evident in their kids’ behavior. The couple may be using contraception. But self-righteously pointing that out – and basking in the pride that we aren’t like them – will win no converts and help no one get into heaven.

What that will lead to is our own humiliation. For when we sin – and we will – others will see that as a confirmation that we were full of hot air. That all that talk of holiness was just another attempt to one-up the next guy. That it was all a lie. And we will be like the television evangelist caught in adultery or theft or some other scandal. Just another holy roller with skeletons in our closet.

Instead, we have be aware of our own sin (the log in our own eye). And we have to publicly acknowledge it’s presence and our need to overcome. We have to be little in our own eyes, and our words and actions should acknowledge that littleness. Then we can become an example to others of following the path to holiness. Then any good actions we do point to Jesus and not to ourselves.

The Holy Family – Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – is a perfect example of this humility. Mary did not go around preaching to the other mothers in Nazareth, pointing out their faults, making sure they knew that God had chosen her to be His mother and not them. Joseph did not try to become the next great rabbi or get followers of his own. Instead they tried to obey God’s will the best they could. They suffered the humiliation and scandal of a pre-marital pregnancy. They lived the life of a simple carpenter’s family, all the while keeping knowledge that would change the world held close in their hearts. They knew their limitations, that all the good that was to come would come from God and not from them.

As parents, this humility is doubly important. Our kids know our faults. We can’t hide them. If we aren’t genuinely humble, our kids will think (and possibly rightly so) that all our “religion talk” is simply a way for us to control and manipulate their behavior. I think that a lack of parental humility is one of the quickest ways to ensure that a child leaves the faith as an adult. During those difficult, rebellious teenage years, they will be quick to jump on any hypocrisy, any “do as I say, not as I do.”

If I tell them not to drink but put down four beers every night after dinner, they will find no reason to avoid drinking when they have an opportunity. If I tell them to be pure and then they find pornography in my internet history, they will decide that porn must really be ok. If I tell them not to lie then brag about cheating on my taxes, lying and cheating will become second nature to them. If I tell them they better love Jesus but they see no love for Jesus in my actions, they will put Jesus in the box with Santa and the Easter Bunny and walk away forever.

If, however, I tell my children that I am weak. That I make mistakes. That I am a sinful man just as St. Peter was. If I tell them these things and say that with God, however, I am working to overcome those weaknesses and that He is making me a better man. Then they will see the reality of the journey that I am on and the journey that God is calling them to. Hopefully they will decide that is a journey that they want to take.

I wrote this post for the Feast of the Holy Family, which was this past Sunday. Obviously, I didn’t finish it in time. Just another example of where I don’t quite measure up to where I want to be. And that’s ok. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t be here, I suppose.

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Blessed John Paul II: Teacher, Hero, Saint

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I am thinking today of our former Holy Father on his memorial. He was an inspiration to me as I converted. Earlier I described my conversion story, but what I didn’t mention then was that during my “searching” period in Italy, I actually saw Pope John Paul II. I was on one of my weekend jaunts to Rome, when I happened upon a very large crowd in St. Peter’s Square. After a bit I figured out that the Pope was speaking right there in the square! I couldn’t get close – he was barely a white speck to me – but he was a discernable white speck, even in the 35mm photograph I took and still have today.

To many in the world, I fear that John Paul II was just another historical figure, akin to a politician, one of those characters of the cold war who are only interesting because of the times they lived in. I fear they think the Church is canonizing him just because he was Pope, and that maybe they canonize anybody that was Pope. He was so much more.

He was a teacher. His books are marvelously accessible, and he broke such important theological ground, both in his work as a bishop and cardinal, particularly with respect to Vatican II, and as the Holy Father. He gave us a much more profound understanding of human sexuality, of our roles as male and female, and especially of the family.

He was a hero. This is a man who became a priest durin the Nazi occupation of Poland, a bishop during the communist regime. He risked his life on a daily basis to bring the faith to others. And once he had the world stage, he made the boldest statement of all. He could have stayed safely in the Vatican, out of controversy and out of harms way. But he went to Poland – almost forced himself there against the wishes of the communists. And he took them to task on their own turf. He gave the people of Poland – and the people of all Eastern Europe – a voice, and he was one of the great catalysts for the miraculous changes that seemed to take place overnight.

He was a Saint, no doubt about it. He met with and forgave the man who tried, and almost succeeded, to kill him. He suffered at the end of his life, in a very public way, showing the world that old age, that the slow decay of disease cannot and does not take away an ounce of a person’s humanity or value, and he stayed at his post until the most painful end.

I am so lucky to have lived during the lifetime of such a man. If only some fraction of his holiness might rub off on me I would be assured of finding my way to the feet of our Lord when my time comes.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!



Consecration of the World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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My wife and I were moved today to read of the Holy Father’s consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. According to Vatican Radio, over 100,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square to witness the consecration.

This was a renewal of the consecration originally performed by Pope John Paul II in 1981, in absentia due to his hospitalization due to the assassination attempt, and again in 1984. This was the consecration asked for by Our Lady during the Fatima apparitions early in the 20th century. It occurred in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was visiting the Vatican.

I can’t help but wonder why the Holy Father chose to renew the consecration now, when so many years since the first consecration have passed. Mary asked for the consecration specifically to avoid Russia spreading her errors (communism) throughout the world. It was not long after that the Soviet Union fell, and with it communism lost its terrible grip on much of the world. I wonder if Pope Francis sees new errors, similar to communism, spreading again through the world. No doubt we need the prayers of our Blessed Mother. We need her, sitting at the feet of her son, pleading our case.

Just as importantly, all of us need to recognize ourselves as children of Mary, brothers and sisters of Christ. We are a part of the family, and we need to turn to our Mother in times of happiness and in times of need.

If you are reading this and you haven’t consecrated yourself to the Blessed Virgin, I urge you to consider it. I can promise you that if you give yourself over to it, it will be a life-changing decision. Go to http://www.myconsecration.org to learn more.



Teach Your Child to be a Prayer Warrior!`

Today our six-year-old son Elijah earned his Prayer Warrior trophy. He’s been looking forward to this moment all summer, working hard toward the goal, and today he accomplished it.
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What is a Prayer Warrior? When we moved to our new parish, we wanted to instill in our younger kids a more reverent attitude toward Mass and toward daily prayers. Our son Elijah is an accomplishment-oriented child. He loves competing in sports and games, and he loves earning trophies and medals. Even the medals from the summer reading program at the library are special to him. We thought that a trophy would be a suitable motivation for him to learn to really pay attention and participate at Mass, so we set up a Prayer Warrior program, taking advantage of the fact that the whole “spiritual warfare” concept would be appealing to a six-year-old boy.

We set up on the refrigerator a paper with ten blocks. Each day, if he paid attention and prayed out loud during our nightly prayers, he would get a star in the block for that week. Then on Sunday, if he had achieved six stars, and if he did a good job of sitting still and paying attention at Mass, he would earn a sticker for the block. As the weeks progressed, our expectations for his behavior at Mass and during prayers increased gradually. He knew that once he received ten stickers, we would send away for his Prayer Warrior trophy.

He did a great job, and his behavior at Mass has been transformed. It was never particularly bad behavior, not distracting to those around us, but he fidgeted and didn’t really pay attention as well as he should. Now he sits like an angel, faces forward, and participates as well as he can. It is inspiring our four-year-old as well, who can’t wait until she is old enough to be eligible for the Prayer Warrior program.

We’re thinking about extending his Prayer Warrior program further. Perhaps having medals akin to those achieved in Boy Scouts, perhaps having an “advanced level” trophy. He could achieve these levels through memorization of prayers, regular reading and/or memorization of scripture, saying the rosary on his own, and so forth. The biggest benefit is that he sees that prayer life is important to us, both our own prayer life and his prayer life. These little motivations help to instill a sense of that importance within him.

It was really easy to put together the “program”. All it took was a quick printout formatted in MSWord, and a trip to the local trophy shop for a $4 trophy. But it will be something that he remembers for a very long time.



A Different Approach to Family Prayer Time
July 31, 2013, 9:40 am
Filed under: Children, Devotions, Family Time, Passing on the Faith, Prayers | Tags: , , ,

Recently, we shook up our family evening prayers, and it’s been such a blessing that I thought I would share it.

My wife started a subscription to the Magnificat about six months ago, and that his been a great boon to her spiritual life. We were inspired a couple of months back to incorporate it into our family prayers, and it has evolved into something special. Here is what we do:

Setup
As always, family evening prayer takes place in our bedroom where there are no distractions of TV, computer, toys, telephone, or food. We have a little prayer corner with crucifix, statue of the Blessed Virgin, and a few icons as well as a Bible and Holy Water. To this we added two candles, the kind you find at the store, in tall glass containers with a picture of Christ on them.

Procession and Hymn
Yes, we have a procession! Mom, Dad, and oldest daughter sing the hymn, usually accompanied by music off of youtube (I continue to be surprised, finding music to almost every Catholic hymn on youtube). We will sing a capella if we have to. The younger three process in with the crucifix and candles.

Prayer Leader
Dad leads the prayers. We choose either the Magnificat evening prayer or night prayer, which are based on the prayers from the Daily Office. I start us off and pray the introduction as well as lead us through an examination of conscience.

Server
Our second son is the server. He is too young to be an altar server at Mass, but he longs to be, so this lets him live out that desire now. He takes the book from me and presents it to each reader in turn, bringing it back to me as necessary.

Readers
There are three key readings: the Palm, the Word and Mary’s Magnificat or the Canticle of Simeon. These are done by Mom, oldest son, oldest daughter, and even occasionally the younger kids with help from Dad. We have a special place in the room where the reader stands.

Intercessions
Dad leads the intercessions. After those of the Church, each person adds their own special intercessions.

Group Prayers
After the closing prayers, we prayer our group family prayers:
Our Father
Hail Mary
Glory Be
St. Michael
We will also add any others here that the younger kids have to learn for school, though that won’t be an issue till the fall.

Latin Prayers
Our summer project has been to learn our core prayers in Latin. We did the Ave Maria in June, the Pater Noster in July, and we are now working on the Gloria Patri for August. So at this point each person (even the 4-year-old) says their Latin prayer of the month as best they can. Then as a group we pray the Latin prayers we have already learned.

Collection and Announcements
Yes, we do a collection and announcements, but only on Sunday nights. Added on behest of the kids, we moved them to only once a week just to keep bedtime from getting too late. The kids are responsible for deciding what charity the collection will go to. The announcements are nice because they give the younger kids a little taste of public speaking.

Recession and Closing Hymn
And we end it with a hymn and a recession of the crucifix and candles. Then it’s off to bed!

The whole thing takes about half an hour. The blessings it has brought are:

1. All the kids are enthusiastic about prayer time. They have ideas for how to make it nicer and more holy.
2. The nightly prayers aren’t rote and they can’t be rushed.
3. Our nightly prayers are united with the nightly prayers of the Church, and the kids get a taste of the Divine Office.
4. Everybody participates and has a unique role.
5. We are praying more and better and enjoying it as a family.

So that is our new prayer tradition. I would love to hear about your family prayer traditions!



16 Ways To Be a Radical Catholic Family, Because Pope Francis Wants us to be an Apostolic Nuisance!

Today in his Thursday Mass homily, Pope Francis called on each and every one of us to make ourselves a nuisance. To be annoying Catholics!
No, I am not kidding. He was talking about St. Paul:

“Paul is a nuisance: he is a man who, with his preaching, his work, his attitude irritates others, because testifying to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of Jesus Christ makes us uncomfortable, it threatens our comfort zones – even Christian comfort zones, right? It irritates us.”

But our pews today are not full of St. Pauls. They are full of St. “Bland”s who annoy no one:

“There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal.”

Our Holy Father is praying for something else, something far grander for us:

“So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!'”

So how can we as Catholic families, become “nuisances” like St. Paul? I am far from where I need to be, but here are sixteen ideas to get us on the path:

1. Be annoying to your kids and get the smut out of your home. Cancel cable TV or satellite TV or whatever you have. Get all TVs out of bedrooms, leaving only one TV in a family area. Police movie rentals and keep away anything with negative morals. Now go tell everybody at work.

2. Let your faith show in public. Wear prolife tshirts, crucifixes outside your clothes, crucifix rings. Put Catholic bumper stickers on your car. Hang a crucifix in your cubicle.

3. Write letters to the editor defending religious freedom or prolife values.

4. Say grace before meals at restaurants just as loudly as you do at home.

5. If someone is telling you about their divorce, be sensitive to them, but don’t pretend as if it is a good thing. Show sadness and ask if there is anything you can do to help them get back together. (Three times this has resulted in us being asked to help them, and divorces have been averted.)

6. If you have a big family, take it places and let people see the joy that choosing life brings.

7. If someone asks you to donate to a charity that funds abortion, population control or other immoral causes, refuse and tell them why.

8. Learn your faith so that you can share and defend it under any circumstances.

9. Be the person at work who always has something nice to say, always a good deed to do, and never complains about his work.

10. When people ask you how you succeed (at anything) give the credit to God.

11. Make regular use of the sign of the cross, no matter where you are.

12. Say “God bless you” not only when people sneeze but even as a way of saying goodbye.

13. If someone shares a misfortune with you, don’t just say “I’m sorry”. And definitely don’t say “I’ll be thinking off you”. Tell them you will keep them in your prayers. Better yet, tell them you’ll add them to your nightly prayers.

14. Be the person at work around whom people aren’t comfortable using 4-letter-words. Show them you don’t like their dirty jokes.

15. If someone trash-talks the Church, stand up for her. If someone blasphemes the Lord, defend him.

16. Love your spouse, and let everybody know it.

I know, simple stuff, and stuff that won’t make us popular. But if we want to be saints, we have to get started! Because some people will look at all this and go, “Huh? What’s motivating him, anyway?”



A Letter to My Daughter on Her Confirmation

Dear Elizabeth,

Wow. So often today, I looked at you and saw the little four-year-old Catholic school girl bravely marching in to her first day of Kindergarten. I saw the precocious four-year-old reciting the rosary in the front pew of the church. I saw the first grader whose voice somehow rose above all others during the hymns at Mass.

I saw the precious infant, cuddled in my arms, who I thought would never start putting on weight. I remembered the moment the tears came, as the baptismal water was poured over your forehead. And I remembered the task I was entrusted with, a task to teach you the faith, to raise you in the 2000 year traditions of the Church.

A New Phase

Of course, my task isn’t complete. It will not end until the day I pass from this earth. Still, a significant phase has passed. The formative years are behind us.

These first fourteen years, you have been a sponge, absorbing the teachings I have placed or allowed to be placed before you. You trusted me to bring you the truth, and I have tried to live up to that trust. Sometimes that meant putting you in the hands of other trusted teachers who could do what I could not. Sometimes that meant shielding you from influences that might pull you away from the truth, or corrupt your still delicate mind. Lately, however, in the past two years especially, I have seen in you a burgeoning ability to judge, to discern, to think critically. That is why, I think, the Church, in Her wisdom, confirms Her youth at this age. It is time for a more adult life in the faith.

Your Own Personal Pentecost

This was, though you may not be able to see it now, your own personal Pentecost. No, there were no tongues of fire, and there were no tongues in the other sense as well. Nothing quite so dramatic. Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit did descend upon you in a very real if subtle way. It is rare that God makes a big splashy entrance. Rather, He comes upon you the way he came upon Elijah. Not in the thunder, but in the whisper of the most gentle breeze. That gentle breeze brushed your cheek. Were you listening? Are you listening still? Because He is still speaking. He is always speaking.

Into the Battle

So now, as an adult insofar as your faith formation goes, you are now commissioned to march off to battle for our Lord. Wear your spiritual armor: your virtue, your innocence, your chastity, your charity, your love. Wield your spiritual weapons: the Rosary, the sacraments, your prayers. Head off to battle. There are souls to be won!

Yours, for starters. You can do nothing if you do not do what God needs you to do to preserve your salvation. So keep cooperating with His grace. But other souls depend on you as well:

1. The souls in Purgatory need your prayers to complete their holy transition.
2. Strangers still living need your prayers to help bring them the graces they need to persevere.
3. Your friends need your example of virtue and piety to help them to avoid the near occasion of sin and to help them see the value in living a holy life.
4. Your brothers and sisters need your exhortations and your spiritual advice. There my be times when you are the only person they will listen to.
5. Your mother and I need the spiritual sustenance we get when seeing you grow and persevere in the faith. Nothing gives me more strength than to see the fruits of my spiritual labors in you.

My Guidance to You
If I had to give you one piece of advice, it is this: keep learning about your faith. The beautiful thing about the Catholic faith is that intense and honest scrutiny always leads to an increase of faith. This is a hallmark of the truth. As someone who has focussed on learning his whole life, I can attest that the Catholic faith is unique in this regard. When you study history, you soon learn that history is written by the winners, and those winners let their biases show through. The daily news is written by people with an agenda, and the more you learn the less you find to trust. The more you study science, the more you find that we do not know, that the physical world is always much grander than we imagined.

But when you study the Catholic faith you find that what you learn reinforces what you learned before. You find a faith that is historical as well as theological. You find that every piece fits into a bigger whole that is more beautiful than you ever imagined. So learn. Read books. Listen to Catholic radio. Learn new prayers. Join study groups. Always have an aspect of the faith that you are studying. Then take what you have learned and go bring more souls to God!

I love you Elizabeth. I am excited for you as you enter this new phase of your spiritual life. And I am proud that you have made this very public proclamation of your faith.

God bless you on your confirmation, my sweet daughter.