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.



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

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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.



Lost In The Fog
January 29, 2013, 6:48 am
Filed under: Conversion, Daily Life, Love, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

The fog was amazingly thick this morning on the way to work. So thick that my headlights could penetrate 30 feet at most. So thick that streetlights and oncoming cars were invisible if more than 100 yards away.

There were moments where I felt that the entire universe had been reduced to me, my car, and a thirty foot sphere of existence. I was alone in the universe, an eerie and frightening feeling that was somehow exhilarating at the same time.

It is easy to live that way, in such a fog that all I can see is my own existence. Especially (and unfortunately) as a husband and father, it is easy to ensconce myself in my own little world of responsibilities and worries. People, even loved ones, can become objects, providers of my inputs and receivers of my outputs. When they have needs (or I have needs of them), they enter my little sphere of light. When I have met their needs or they have met mine, they depart, and it is as if they are no more.

If I shine, however, with Christ’s light, the fog is dispersed, and I can truly begin to see and love those around me as they really are. No longer do I love someone for what they can do for me or how they make me feel. I love them for one simple fact: that they are images of God.

But I have to keep my guard up. That fog keeps trying to roll in.



Sitting on the Lap of the Father
February 17, 2012, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Children, Daily Life | Tags: , , ,

This morning, in the pre-dawn, as I prepared to go to work, I found my 4-year-old tugging at my pant leg. They had the day off school, so the rest of the kids were still asleep. Mom was downstairs studying.

“What do you need?” I asked.

No answer.

“Did you have a nightmare? Do you need a drink of water?”

He just should his head and mumbled sleepily.

I paused for a moment. I needed to go to work. I considered ushering him back to bed and getting on with the task at hand.

“Do you need to sit on my lap?”

He nodded silently. I sat and gathered him up and onto my lap. We just sat
silently. I held him and enjoyed his presence, happy that I had grasped the opportunity that I so nearly let slip through my fingers. It is so easy to do that as a parent. “Go back to bed.” “Go watch some TV.” “Go outside and play.” “Go leave me alone.”

Our Father in Heaven never says “Go”. He always says “Come”.

“Come sit on my lap.”

Sometimes I need to sit on the lap of the father. I need to enjoy His presence, without asking for anything or complaining about anything.



The “Mom’s Out of Town, Dad’s In Charge” Morning Checklist
January 16, 2012, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

1. Pants on backwards? Check.
2. Socks don’t match? Check.
3. Breakfast of cookies and chocolate bars? Check.
4. Hair brushed? Nope. That’s too hard. Besides, it’ll just get messed up again.
5. 9am field trip to Chuck E. Cheese? Check.
6. All 4 kids accounted for on departure from Chuck E. Cheese? Ummm… wait a minute…
7. 11am field trip to hardware store? Check.
8. Assistance from two-year-old in den painting project? Check. Put that down!
9. Pantry door propped open so two-year-old can get herself a snack while Dad cleans up the spilled paint? Check.
10. Lunch fed? Oops. I knew I was forgetting something.
11. Kids bribed to smile for “we’re having fun” picture to send to Mom? Check.
12. Gone running to Grandma for assistance? Check.
13. Bedtime prayer for Mom to return really soon? Check.