Little Way of the Family


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!

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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.



Marriage Is Not a Game
August 13, 2013, 10:31 am
Filed under: Culture, Love, Marriage | Tags: , ,

Baseball season will soon be upon us. We’ll have two boys in Little League, and practices are intense, three times per week to start, leveling off at twice a week once games get going. With two boys, that means we’re at the ballfield just about every day.

Little League ballgames are thrilling, sometimes too exciting for some parents. There is plenty of action – hits, stolen bases, runs – and you have the benefit of a loved one right there on the field. Even if your child isn’t one of the All Stars, there are always opportunities for parental pride to kick in as you watch your child do things he or she could not do just a few weeks before. But even when we lose, we can go home feeling good about playing the game, and the pain of the loss is short-lived.

Our culture is treating marriage as a game. Kids start living together as practice, to see if they’re “compatible”. Premarital sex is like sandlot baseball, just getting out there for the fun of it, with nobody keeping score. People jump into marriage for the wrong reasons – pressure from parents, an overeagerness to please, or because their friends are doing it – just like some kids play baseball for reasons other than a love of the game. But they don’t worry about that, because to them it is just a game, one they can walk away from if they’re not performing well.

But divorce is not the same as losing a baseball game. It’s not a matter of dealing with a little pain and then getting on with your life. Divorce is a life-long scar that doesn’t heal. It scars the couple. It scars the children. It scars extended family and friends. It scars the community. People who divorce are very unlikely to ever find a happy marriage on a second go-round. They are more likely to end up depressed, sustance-dependent, stuck in poverty, or divorced again.

Men and women treat marriage as a game even while they are in it. Even while things are going well. Even when they still feel as if they are “in love”. They hide things from each other – secret bank accounts, secret friends, secret Facebook accounts, secret web browsing. Will they get caught? Who knows, it is all a game. Arguments are games to see who will win. They play games over how to spend their money – his golf clubs or her car. They play games over where to go on vacation or whose parents to spend Christmas with. It becomes a contest over who will exert the behind-the-scenes control over the relationship. The loser of that game becomes more and more resentul, and soon they want to take their ball home, and find another game to play.

Marriage is not a game. It is a vocation. It requires the kind of single-minded focus that a prima ballerina gives to dance, that a concert violinist gives to music, that a professional baseball player gives to sport. To these people, those activities are a profession, not a game. They practice every day, in season and out of season, orienting every aspect of their life to make themselves a better dancer, violinist, or ballplayer.

Marriage, if it is to be something real, something that will last a lifetime, must be like that. It must be something we work at everyday, something we strive to excel at, something we orient every aspect of our life towards.

Men and women were not meant to use each other, or to play games with each other. They were created to become one in body and soul, and that takes work and dedication. If you give it that work, if you make that sacrifice, the rewards you get will be out of this world. Literally.



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?”



Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Little Way

Yesterday’s Office of Readings contained a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that nicely summarizes The Little Way.

The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly,to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly,to do it because it is his will.

For those of us who are married and parents, the will of God in our life, our daily work, is simply to love our spouses and children, to live out our marital vocation, and to teach and raise our children in the faith. It is not to make a bunch of money, move into the nicest neighborhood, or raise a sports star, pop star or otherwise hyper-successful child.

What is the manner in which he wills it? We do our daily work as perfectly as we can, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. We don’t cut corners in order to make time for TV, partying, or ladder-climbing. We focus on the task at hand and are grateful for it, even if it involves mowing the lawn or cleaning up after a sick toddler.

We do it because it is God’s will. We don’t do it because it makes us feel good, though satisfaction and joy may come as a grace. We don’t do it with the expectation of gratitude from wife/husband or child. We don’t do it to impress others. Others might not be impressed. Gratitude might not be forthcoming. This daily work might include suffering such that satisfaction and worldly happiness is a rare experience. The fact that God wants it must be enough for us.

So let us today resolve to be an instrument of God’s will. We don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Padre Pio or John Paul II or Elizabeth Ann Seton (who, by the way, was a wife and mother). We just have to be a devoted husband, wife, father, or mother.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!



Radical Parenting Tips for the 21st Century

The 21st century, with the Internet, cell phones, gay marriage, condoms in public schools, and a 50% divorce rate, poses unique challenges to parents. We want to protect our children from predators, from themselves, and from the moral corruption that is running rampant in our society. This requires a radical response from parents. Anything less puts our kids at risk of following the world’s way of life and not God’s. Here are some radical tips to put into practice that radical response.

The Don’t’s

  1. Don’t let your kids on Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites. There is nothing positive to be gained from a child or teen being on those sites, and there are so many ways they can be hurt.
  2. Just pull the plug on cable TV. It sucks money, time, and vitality from the family. There is little of value on cable TV and much that is dangerous. Do our kids really need to see who’s sleeping with who on Jersey Shore or the Real World? Do they really need to know about the glorified life of Teen Mom?
  3. Don’t allow video games into the house. As with cable TV, video games are, at best, a colossal waste of time. Time that could be spent in reading, music, hobbies, or sports.
  4. Keep the computers and phones out of the bedrooms. The internet is one giant near occasion of sin for everyone, especially teenagers. Even the “good kids” can be tempted by porn that is one click away. Keep the computer in an open, highly trafficked area, and monitor its use religiously,
  5. Kid’s don’t need cell phones. Well, not all the time. If there is a legitimate need – such as for calling home when an after school or weekend activity is finished, then get them a simple no frills phone and let them use it during those times. The rest of the time, it is back in the parents’ possession. Texting, sexting, and camera phones are another huge opportunity for sin.

The Do’s

  1. Pray together as a family. Morning prayers, evening prayers, and grace before meals. That’s a minimum. From there, move on to the family rosary.
  2. Eat dinner together as a family. Turn the cell phones off. Turn the TV off. Pray, eat, and talk. You will be surprised what you learn and how much you enjoy it.
  3. Go to Mass together. Don’t divide and conquer; replan those weekend activities around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Nothing is more important.
  4. Father’s, bless your children before bed. You are a priest in the domestic church. Your blessing counts.
  5. Fill your children’s lives with good things so there is no room for bad. Kids who are at ballet lessons aren’t out with questionable friends, getting into trouble, and they aren’t sneaking onto internet sites better left un-surfed.
  6. Start Family Fun Night and don’t miss it. Give your kids a reason to want to be home with you. Make them feel they will be missing out if they spend Friday or Saturday night with their friends.
  7. None of these steps should be radical, but our culture makes them that way. Our lustful, gluttonous, voracious culture tells our kids they must have everything, especially freedom they aren’t ready for yet. It is our job as parents to put our foot down on the brake and stop the insanity.