Little Way of the Family


Violent Video Games Delay Development of Moral Judgement in Teens

If you needed more reasons to keep violent video games out of your home, here it is. New research shows a clear connection between playing violent video games and a lack of moral development in teens.

What struck me most about this particular article was not the confirmation of the obvious – that video games are bad for kids – but one throwaway comment by the author of the study.

Bajovic concedes that “prohibiting adolescents from playing violent video games is not realistic.”

The notion that it’s unrealistic for parents to prohibit destructive behavior in their teens is self-evident to a Science Daily journalist and accepted by a researcher in teen behavior. It’s a pretty common delusion. I know parents of 2nd graders who can’t say no when their kids ask for a smartphone. I have had other parents tell me to just send my kids to public school. You can’t keep them from being exposed to that stuff anyway, right?

It’s so wrong-headed it makes me want to hit my head against the wall. Our kids don’t have to play video games. They don’t have to be sexually active. They don’t have to try alcohol as a minor.

As parents, we must have a firm loving hand. We need to show strong moral leadership. We have to keep them away from bad influences and surround them with positive.

It’s a ton of work, it requires sacrifice, and there are no guarantees. Our children are humans with free will, after all. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless to try. Car seats and seat belts aren’t guaranteed either, but we’d never consider not using them.

Be strong and protect your kids while you can. They’ll enter the big bad world soon enough.



Advent is Upon Us
December 10, 2013, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Advent, Children, Culture, Daily Life, Family Time | Tags: , , ,

Hard to believe there are two purple candles already burning on my kitchen table. Hard to believe that Thanksgiving has passed and the leftover turkey is a pleasant memory. Hard to believe I haven’t posted since October.

It is a time for reflection and preparation. Our Lord has given me opportunities for reflection that I would rather He hadn’t: health issues kept us busy throughout the month of November. Kept me from blogging. Put us way behind on our decorations. (Yes, that’s important!)

It has put me in a reflective mood, though. The little worlds we build up for ourselves can come crashing down so easily. When we treasure the wrong things, we are crushed when we lose them.

In this life, nothing is more important than faith. In this world, nothing is more important than family. Sure we treasure those things in our thoughts and promises and declarations. But what about our actions? Do we treasure them in our actions? Or are we dismissive and impatient? Do we neglect, thinking that God and family will always be there, but this TV show/game/work opportunity will be lost if I don’t act now?

Treasure every little grace from God. Treasure every moment with your family. That is the best way I know to keep the oil in the lamp, ready for Him to come.



Thoughts on 20 Years of Marriage
July 10, 2013, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Culture, Joyful Christian, Love, Marriage | Tags: , , , ,

My wife and I recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary. It was a good celebration, full of love and joy and happiness.

The sad fact is that most marriages don’t make it to twenty years. We are blessed to know people, including our own parents, whose marriages have lasted much longer. But more recent marriages often do not. It is important to reflect on the why of that, and not just to chalk it up to some half-imagined attribute that some have and some do not (good communication, for instance).

The first important thing to realize is that no marriage is easy. It is simply not true that the only marriages that work are marriages in which there are never conflicts and the couple is “made” for each other. The concept of the “soul mate” is on the top ten list of modern inventions most toxic to marriages. (Also on that list: contraception, no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, pornography, and so forth.) Every marriage has difficulties. Ours has. We have had our share of crises. We have gone through those moments where we really couldn’t stand each other, where we hurt each other in ways no one else had or could, where we desperately and seriously thought about divorce. Human beings are capable of great cruelty to each other, and we have been no exception.

So with that in mind, how did we survive? How does anybody.

Is It Faith?

Is it simply a matter of faith? Faith does help, of course. But the fact of the matter is that the divorce rate of Catholics who profess to believe the faith is really no different than the divorce rate of seculars. At the same time though, faith is essential. “The family the prays together stays together,” is not a falsity.

It all goes back to this: “Faith without Works is Dead” (Jm 2:17). A faith that remains unacted on cannot help our marriage or any part of our life. Only faith that is lived through daily actions and decisions can bring graces into lives or into our marriages. This is born out by other studies that show that couples who do not contracept or who actively pray together daily or who are active in their parishes are much less likely to have a divorce.

Committment

We all know that a marriage is a committment. But there are the normal kinds of committments – lukewarm, only kept until things get difficult – and then there are the serious kinds of committments – the kind you keep even if it means suffering and death. The latter is the kind of committment both spouses have to have if a marriage is to be strong. It is basically an attitude that divorce is not an option.

That kind of attitude – that divorce is simply not an option – brings with it the will to do the hard work needed to make the marriage successful. It makes you willing to take marriage classes, see a counselor when needed, make changes to your own behavior, keep the lines of communication open even when you don’t want to. A champioship caliber football player has the attitude that nothing is more important than winning that Super Bowl. That attitude gives him the will and perseverence necessary to lift weights all summer, to stick to a serious diet regimin, to stay on the practice field long hours and keep the nose in the playbook late into the evening. We, as married couples, have to have that same attitude.

That is it, in a nutshell. An unwillingness to even consider divorce. That committment comes from living the faith, and that committment leads us to do the hard work we have to do to make it work.

And the beauty of all that? It is the happiness and joy that arises. I would not trade the twenty years with my wife for anything. All that work we have put into our marriage has been paid back ten-fold in happiness. She has brought me places in my life I never could have reached myself, and I know I have done the same for her. I pray that all married couples can have the kind of happiness that we have found. If they live their faith and keep their committment, God’s grace can make that happen.



A Father’s Duty: Preparing for an Uncertain Future
June 3, 2013, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Marriage | Tags: , , , ,

image

This year has posed, as does every year, its own set of challenges. At one point I was in an ambulance for my third trip to the Emergency Room in three weeks. All turned out well, by the grace of God, but it brought into sharp relief an issue that my wife and I had already been concerned with: preparation.

One of a father’s primary duties is to provide for the welfare of his family. Yes, this is also a primary duty of the mother, but I’m writing and thinking from a father’s perspective. Thanks to the salary I earn, our mortgage gets paid, we have plenty of money for food, our kids have clean clothes and good shoes, and we live our lives sheltered from any serious existential worries. It is easy, however, to become complacent, to go to sleep in the unexamined belief that since everything is safe and good and prosperous today, that it will be safe and good and prosperous tomorrow.

Yes, Christ told us to worry about today, and to let tomorrow take care of tomorrow’s worries. But one does not have to suffer anxiety about the future in order to prepare for that future. Preparing for that future, in a loving, Christ-centered, and avarice-avoiding sort of way is simply an extension of the work we do to make sure our children are fed, clothed, and sheltered.

There are four key areas where men often fail to prepare, and they risk putting their families into a tenuous situation.

1. Life Insurance. This is a biggee that I almost put off too long. I always thought I would get it later, because I knew I was young and healthy, and I knew I had life insurance through my work. I figured that if I ever became self-employed that I would then get my own life insurance.

That was a mistake.

I developed a chronic illness, Crohn’s disease. It is something that I can live with, but it almost prevented me from getting the life insurance I eventually realized I needed. Most men will, eventually, get some sort of chronic illness. It could be high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or something else. And what we don’t always realize is that such an illness can make a man ineligible to buy ANY life insurance (while at the same time making him that much more likely to need it). In my case, there was only one company willing to cover me with my Crohn’s, the Knights of Columbus, and even then it was only because I had been in remission for some time.

2. Long-Term Care Insurance. This is another insurance that you can suddenly find yourself ineligible for. I can’t get this insurance now, even through Knights. However, I ran the numbers and found that I can do better self-funding the care. That basically means I need to put the money aside myself. But even if that is your final decision, it still must be thought out and planned for.

3. Will. It seems pretty simple. If I die, then by law my wife will get everything, right? Including custody of the kids. The problem is that life isn’t simple, not really. Depending on the state, this obvious inheritance, from husband to wife, or from parent to child, still can get caught up in the legal system, forcing the mourners to spend legal money they probably don’t have. And child custody, well there are horror stories about contested child custody. It’s better to have a simple will and eliminate the possibility of something going wrong.

4. Living Will or other health care directives. As a Catholic, I consider human life, including my own, to be precious. It is a sin to simply let a patient die when other options are available. It is a sin to kill a patient by removing their feeding tube, their breathing tube. And so I know that I need to make my wishes clear in this regard, to protect both myself and also my loved ones who will be in no condition to make life or death choices when they need to be made.

There are other things a man needs to make sure are taken care of in the event of the unthinkable happening. One other thing we realized when I was in the hospital was that there were many things in and around our family that I knew how to take care of that my wife knew nothing about. For instance, I was the keeper of all passwords for all websites. My wife did not know them and therefore would have had a great deal of difficulty paying our bills and otherwise taking care of our business.

The easy answer to figuring out those changes that you really need to make is to sit down with your beloved and just talk. What would you do if I died tomorrow? What would you have the most difficulty doing? What would you not know that you need to know? This has to be answered by both spouses if you want to be truly prepared for what eventually must come.



Valediction

A “valediction” is defined as an act of saying “farewell”. Last night my daughter gave the Valedictory address at her 8th grade graduation.

It was definitely a farewell for her. She was saying goodbye to friends, teachers, and priest, many of whom she had known since the age of four. She reminisced about all those little memories that make life so special – the jokes, the laughter, the anxieties – and it all seemed so foreign to me, her own father. I realized as she spoke and her friends laughed, that although I was with her every evening for those 10 years, asking about her day, providing advice, sharing with her our own tears and laughter, that she had all along been building and living her own life there, a life I could only possibly know from the outside.

It was a sobering thought, that my little girl, who only a few short weeks ago had received the Sacrament of Confirmation, was her own person and had been this whole time. When she was an infant, we controlled when and what she ate, what she wore, and even whether or not she would giggle. It is so easy to see a child as an extension of you, as a creation of you, but the reality is that she is an ongoing creation of God. I am at best a facilitator of His creation, trying to help provide the best possible environment for this creation of His that my daughter herself is the number one cooperator in.

I love her so much that I want to be a part of every little joy, every little setback. But I can’t, and I shouldn’t be. I have to give her my own little Valediction, my own farewell to that childhood that I was so deeply a part of. I have to embrace a new role as she marches off to high school, to more little memories I will never even know about. It is a special role, to be sure, a privileged role, and I am deeply honored and moved to be so entrusted.

Good-bye my sweet baby girl. Hello beautiful young woman, assisting in God’s creation. I am more proud of you than you will ever ever know.



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?”



One of the Good Guys

I am taking a musical theater class with my daughter. (I find that participating in my kids’ activities – as coach, helper, or fellow student – brings us closer in a way that’s hard to get otherwise.) My daughter’s vocal teacher, who is leading the class, picked out a song for me: One of the Good Guys from the music revue Closer Than Ever. It is a remarkable song about temptation, mid-life crisis, and the truth about marriage.

Temptation

The song is sung by a self-professed good guy, who dotes on his wife and kids. It quickly becomes a confessional:

But there was a night in Hawaii
On a business trip,
That my mind has suffused with a mystic glow.
She was someone’s friend, and she had this smile…

They become close, but in the end he resists the temptation to cheat on his wife. (Though he should never have been on that beach in the first place!)  And in his reflection it gets interesting:

…one of the good guys
Who trades a flash of heat
To build a warmer fire;
Denies himself a treat
To shoot for something higher
And that’s the part that’s sweet
That only the good guys know.

What is the “something higher”? Of course it is marriage, but it isn’t just any marriage. There are plenty of loveless and miserable marriages out there. It is a marriage that has realized something important. A marriage in which self-sacrifice is recognized as the highest virtue. A marriage built according to this guideline:


Husbands,love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5: 25-31

This is a call to self-sacrifice, a call to the husband to give over his very life for his wife, just as Christ gave up his, a concept out of fashion in our no-fault divorce world. This sort of self-sacrifice, however, which is the definitive sign of real love, is what we were built for, what we are called to, and when we reach it, we have reached something higher. We have reached something holy.

I can honestly say, after twenty years of marriage in which we have seen our share of pain and in which we have failed to love more than I would care to admit, that what you get to after those 20 years of perseverance really is something higher, something transcendent. We have, even in a very imperfect way, attempted to imitate Christ’s love, and even imperfectly it is something wonderful.

But that’s not the end. There is more to the story.

Mid-Life

Fast forward and the singer is now 44 with everything laid out in his life as perfectly as he could ask. But…

Sometimes at night, in the stillness,
Lying wide awake
As the wife I still desire sleeps by my side,
I can feel the wash of the perfumed air
As my mind is drowning in billowing hair…

He is tormented by thoughts of what might have been, of what he gave up, and of the possibility that even now he could seize those fantasies and make them real.

Of course, he doesn’t. After all, he’s one of the good guys. And then he passes on the key piece of wisdom from the song:

It’s not which road you take,
Which life you pick to live in,
Whichever choice you make,
The longing is a given.
And that’s what brings the ache
That only the good guys know.

He has come to realize that no matter how happy you are, no matter which spouse or career or life you choose, you will feel the regret, the questions, the uncertainty, and the temptations. It is just a normal part of life. These things we find ourselves desiring – and the people – are mirages. Worse, they are lies. They promise something they can never give, which is completion. Total happiness.

But why? Why are we built that way? Why can’t we achieve that happiness we desire? St. Augustine understood:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We have an emptiness inside us that only God can fill and that will not be filled in this life. We try to fill that need with pleasure; with sex or alcohol or excitement or food or other indulgences. We try to fill it with our spouse. But it is never enough. We always come back to that empty feeling.

Even our marriage cannot fill that God-sized hole, and if we persist in believing that it should, we may be tempted to throw it away and start over. But if we come to understand what marriage is and what its relation to God is, then we can feel that transcendence that I talked about earlier, even while tormented by the longing that never goes away.

And what is this understanding of marriage? Marriage is no less than a relationship, designed by God, to reflect both Christ’s love for his Church and the Father’s love for the son. It aspires to be the perfect and selfless love that is Christ’s love. Paradoxically, the only way to achieve total happiness is through a total outpouring of oneself for another, for in doing that, we begin fulfill our purpose, which is to be an image of God. Likewise, our marriage an family begins to fulfill its purpose, which is to be an image of the Holy Trinity, that most fundamentl and perfect of all relationships.

And that truly is the part that’s sweet, that only the good guys know.