Friday, March 24, 2017

Listening for God's Call... Keeping our children's hearts open to vocational life



I love God with all my 
heart, mind, & soul...
yet I don't always 
respond to His call.

My children don't even listen to me... 
how do I help them 
develop the ability 
to listen to God's call?  




If I want to ensure that my children are open to vocational life, then (according to a favorite priest of mine), there are two things I need to do make sure my kids know:

1) God will call them at some time

2) They need to be ready and willing 
to answer with courage to God's call

It is fine to tell my children this on a regular basis, but how do I help them to internalize these two truths?  

* Pray the If. When we pray, we pray for their future spouse IF they are called to the vocation of marriage. By actually saying "if they are called to the vocation of marriage", we make clear that our expectation is not that they grown up, get married, have children. We are leaving open the reality that they may be called to be a Bride/Bridegroom to the Church, and that would be great too.

* Priests are people too. We try to develop personal/family relationships with priests and sisters in our community so that our children can come to see these men and woman as people, not just clergy. This can be really really hard in some communities! For those of us who don't ourselves have personal relationships with those who have been called to Holy Order it can seem impossible.  I recommend baby steps. If you don't click with your parish priests, look for a community of religious who have a vocation of evangelization or outreach in your area. Explore a little. Listen to podcasts like Catholic Stuff You Should Know and share them with your teens. The priests are hilarious, personable, and well informed. 

* Plan a little and pray a lot. We try not to plan out our child's entire life, nor do we encourage them to plan their entire life. My husband holds two masters degrees, and I hold both a masters and a doctorate degree. We obviously worked hard in school and planned ahead taking all the requisite courses. However, when my son's Jr High announced that they would offer college planning for the young students I balked. There is a season for everything and in childhood I want my child to be a child.  I want my child to do what is right - work hard, take interesting courses, explore, dream, play, volunteer. I want him to experience childhood as something more than a stepping stone to prepare him for the next phase of life. Jr. High is hard enough without having to worry about college applications and accumulating the right accolades before high school. There are saints like St. Therese who were called to religious life early, but most 12 year olds aren't listening. By setting our child up for life as an engineer (so make sure you take AP math and do the robotics club and the summer science camp!), we are sending the message that our child's will (to be an engineer) is the will which we should be facilitating, rather than facilitating the will of God for our child. 

My job as a mother is to help facilitate my child's call to holiness. Sometimes this involves helping him get to soccer practice (where he learns perseverance and teamwork and pushing beyond his own temporal needs for the greater good), and sometimes it means making him attend mass or adoration when he would rather not. It means helping him attune his ear to God. It means helping him develop a prayer life. It means switching things up and letting him drop out of youth group and instead join an apologetics club because it is a better fit for the way his mind operates. It means letting him choose his own service project instead of making him do one that I think looks fun/is easy/fits my schedule. Facilitating my child's call to holiness means recognizing the unique gifts he has been endowed with and helping him develop and expand those talents.  It means helping him to see the possibilities of life without making him choose his path before he has developed the ability to hear God's whisperings. 

Who knew being a parent would be this hard or this rewarding? Looking at parenthood from a stewardship approach can help as we really embrace the role of being stewards of their lives rather than as directors. May you continue to listen to our Lord and serve as an example to your little ones!


Friday, March 10, 2017

Journeying with Jesus

Remember that story from Luke 24, when two of Jesus's followers were walking on the road to Emmaus, and they come upon Jesus (the Risen Lord) and they were prevented from recognizing Him? They were walking along the road talking about everything that had happened, come across Jesus, and then when he asks them what they are talking about the disciples tell him all about what happened. Cleopas, one of Jesus' followers tell Jesus that he is the only one in Jerusalem who doesn't know what happened. 

I love this story because it reminds me that I too get wrapped up in the drama of the day and fail to see Jesus right before me? As hard as I try, I know that I get sucked into the reality of human life today and I am blinded to the truth that He is still here in the word and in the flesh, revealed in the breaking of the bread. I sometimes talk of Jesus as though he were a character from a book, or more intimately as a loved one who has passed away, but in doing so I fail to internalize the reality that he is still with us in The Eucharist.   He is beside me now on this road and he hears every prayer of my heart.



How can we recognize God in the day to day? The answer is intentionality. In my life finding God in the day to day translates into study, community, and service. They are three points on a triangle, three legs of a stool. I need all three in my life.

Study. I can study the word and delve into the lives of the saints who knew God through a deep intimacy. I can allow myself to be lead through scripture daily by my Blessedis She sisters or others who have a gift in this area. I tune into workshops online. I carve out prayer time each morning and visit him in Adoration as often as I can. This is how I get to know my Beloved.

Community. The men on the road to Emmaus were not traveling solo –they were together. Jesus ministered to His disciples in a group, not just one-on-one. We are called to walk to road in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. My sisters in Christ challenge my assumptions and my biases, they support me when life gets overwhelming, and they call me to be a better version of me. Who are your spiritual sisters walking on the road beside you?

Service. The actions of our bodies, how we spend our time, and how we serve those in our lives all provide evidence of the depth of our Love for God. A common phrase around my house is “you might as well choose to serve with a joyful heart because you are going to do the work anyway”. We should strive to serve with a joyful heart, happy to be offering a sacrifice of the self for God.

Jesus' followers prayed and served in community. When we nurture each aspect of our spiritual life, study, community, and service, we are able to grow more wholly.

Do you have a tendency to get caught up in the daily drama and miss the miracles around you? How do you find His very real presence before you? How can you feed your soul today? What resources do you have to help you to better understand your faith? What physical action can you take today to serve God in love?




Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Real Story: 5 Practical Tips for Surviving Mass with Kids


A little while back a friend asked for some concrete advice regarding mass with children. I had to admit that as our family has moved from stage to stage I have become less and less concerned with what others thing about my children in mass, and more about whether I am able to really enter into mass despite the chaos around us. I wrote a post to that effect (read here), but the need for concrete help and tips doesn't go away. Here is your practical pos to help you get through the hour.  


Tip 1. If your church has a childcare use it for the 1-2.5 year age. These kids are sooooo little. It is a rare child (our 3rd was like this) who actually will sit quietly at this age. For the rest of them it is just asking a lot to sit quietly for 1+ hours. Having the little ones out of the picture, let my husband and I focus helping the older kids. Once the little ones turned 2 we would start talking about the time when they would be able to come to mass: "Soon you will be big enough to come with us!" etc. You have to keep it positive though. And it is okay if they do not like the childcare. It is just temporary with the goal of having them WANT to leave it to stay with you.

Tip 2. Remind them of the expectations. We remind them all to quiet their hearts and minds as they walk into mass. "Prepare you minds and hearts for Jesus" is a great line.

Tip 3. Try to be reverent from the start. We never really did the snacks-in-mass thing. Up until age three I was fine with a sippy cup in the pew, but not really beyond that. We get drinks from the drinking fountain before we sit down and try not to get up again. We used to also give the kids one mtint each during the homily. It kept their mouth quiet so we could focus on the message but it did tend to make the thirsty. We would also bring mass/saints books. For a while we had a little backpack ready with books and religious activity pads for the littlest ones. It initially worked, but it got to be more of a hassle.

Tip 4. Touch. We are big on affection in our house. I rub the kids hands during the worship. I let the little one bring her blanket and paci in and she snuggle and often falls asleep. One daughter loves to sit in daddy's lap or beside him most of mass. We want our kids to associate Mass with Love.

Tip 5. Practice. When possible, take the kids to daily mass. It is shorter and a stripped down version of Sunday. The parts of the mass are very clear and it helps them to identify the really really important parts of the mass. The congregation is generally very quiet but also very tolerant.

Mass with children is so hard. It really is. Give yourself a little break. Work towards your goal just one week at a time. By keeping the Eucharist at the center of your lives as a family however you will be bringing God's into your life each week. Attending mass and keeping Christ at the center will keep you grounded in the most difficult times!

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, February 17, 2017

6 Tips for Talking to you Children About Evil


6 Tips for Talking to Your Children About Evil

A priest recently rocked our little Catholic school when he delivered a homily about the Devil. More specifically it was about childhood possession by the Devil. If you are thinking “Yikes!” you aren’t alone.  He didn’t beat around the subject, but rather came right out describing his experience with a demonically possessed 6th grade girl. In his discussion, he did a few really great things, which parents can and should model when talking with their own children. First, he spoke honestly about the presence of evil, and secondly, he gave the children specific ways to guard oneself against evil. These two things, honestly and hopefulness are both important components of any tough conversation with children and are essential when talking to your children about evil.

It is important for children to know that evil does exist. And not the far off, unrelated, impersonal sort of  “bad people do bad things sometimes”, or “Abortions happen because there is evil in the world”. Kids need to know that real evil is our there. Don’t lament or be dramatic in our presentation of the facts. Rather give your children a concrete understanding of spiritual warfare and how it works. Just as we talk with our children about helping them to hear the Holy Spirit in their hearts, we need to help our children discern when the Devil is whispering lies. The reality is that as children of God we know we will be under attack but we also know that we will win. Here is how you can prepare your children…

1. Teach them that the Devil Speaks Lies. Remind your children when they are faced with conflict, anger, sadness, that the Devil will whisper lies. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states  that Satan is “…a liar and the father of lies…the deceiver of the whole world” (CCC2852).  As a parent, you can help them to seek the truth. They need to hear the lies for what they are – Lies!  The lies are designed to break us away from those with whom we share love.  We need to challenge the lies with the Truth from God.  We need to ask God to show us evidence of the opposite. 
 
For example, if we are fighting with a sibling and we are angry it may be tempting to believe “he hates me”.  So examine that evidence.  Ask God - Does my brother really hate me? Then open your heart to God’s evidence because He will show you the truth: What about yesterday when he gave you his orange? What about last night when you sat and played games together? What about last week when he came to cheer you on at your game?  Find evidence to the contrary. God can show you that evidence, so invite him to show you the truth. 1 John Chapter 4 provides instruction on discerning when the spirits we hear are from God or not from God. John tells us that any spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. So bring Jesus into your conversation and He will bring clarity to it all and help us determine the "spirit of truth" from "the spirit of deceit" (1 John 4:6).

2. Stay Away from The Occult and Other Forms of Magic.  This is a hard one in our culture because “Magic” is found in books and movies and even popular children stories. Many children grow up without an understanding that witches do exist (although they don’t ride brooms or even closely resemble those who attended Hogwarts). Any attempt to study or practice Black Magic is off limits. Children should not play games in which they attempt to summon spirits. They should not wear jewelry that offers them special powers. Teach them that interest in The Occult serves as an invitation to evil. It is serious and should not be trifled with.

If they show interest in spirits, help them to study and develop a relationship with some of the saints. Many saints were given special skills by God, like bilocation, incorruptibility, ecstasy, levitation and the gift of tongues to name a few.  They have some pretty amazing stories! Get them a special saints medal and teach them how to talk to ask for the intercession of the Saints. Use their interest in the supernatural to bring them closer to God. Teach them the difference between wearing a cross or medal  or even a scapular as a sign of respect and devotion, and wearing an amulet for special powers.

3. God’s Grace is Found in the Sacraments. We are given God’s grace through baptism and have His continual Grace in the sacraments. Staying close to the Church, the Holy Mass, and the Sacraments fills us with a sort of Holy Armor to defend against attacks.

4. Stay Close to God in Prayer. Most children can become pretty adept at rote prayer. As they get older they develop the ability for more mental prayer and can really transform their prayer life. Teaching our children rote prayers to say when they are scared or overwhelmed is not only healthy, it provides them with tools they need.  Our family favorites are The Guardian Angel Prayer and the Prayer to St. Michael.  When the children get scared or have a hard time sleeping they will often pray these two, a decade of the rosary, or repeat the Our Father until they fall asleep. One of the lines in the Our Father is “deliver us from Evil”. Calling on the name of Jesus is a powerful way to ward off the evil around us - so teach your little ones to pray.
 
5. Keep blessing your children. Remind them that you bless them for a reason. When you draw a cross on their foreheads you are recommitting them to Christ and drawing the battle lines against evil. Your children should know that they are branded for Christ.

6. Talk and Don’t Stop. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for in our current culture. We shelter them from the truths assuming they are too young for serious talks, but the reality is that this shouldn’t be just one talk, but rather an ongoing topic that your family can discuss on a regular basis. When they complain about going to mass you remind them that the one hour they spend with Jesus is time for their soul to be strengthened by His presence and His grace. They will need that strength to turn from the temptations of evil. When they misbehave during family prayers, gently remind them that developing a relationship with Jesus in prayer will help them to hear His voice and discern what is true and good versus what is evil. When they repeat the lies of the Devil (you don’t love me!) remind them that the Devil is whispering lies in their ear. You would give your life for them, and you gladly sacrifice daily for them.

Parents need to keep talking to, praying for, and giving blessings to their children.  Children need to develop and ear for The Truth and learn how to discern truth from evil. They need to understand the importance of prayer, The Sacraments, and The Church in keeping them spiritually grounded. Parenting our children is hard.  Ultimately our children will choose to follow or to reject a relationship with Jesus.  Our job is to set them out on their path of holiness prepared for the journey. Keeping the truth from them does not prepare them. God never leaves us and he has given us the tools to for these encounters. So pass along the truth and equip the next generation for good.

Possible questions, responses and suggestions…

Is the devil out to get me? The devil wants more followers, but if you devote yourself to God, then the Devil can't get you. God lets us choose to follow Him (goodness) or to turn away from good and turn to evil. Just choose God in your heart and your deeds and you will be okay. In 1 John 5:18-19 it is written “but the one begotten by God He protects, and the evil one can not touch him”.

I am scared. Well it is pretty serious stuff but God tells us to Have No Fear. He is always with us. And we each have a guardian angel to be with us a guard against the devil at all times. So you have your own spiritual body guard which is pretty cool!

What if I mess up? God know everything and in His infinite wisdom he knew that we would mess up. He gave us the sacrament of reconciliation to help wipe away those sins. We all make little mistakes so each night we should think about our day and pray to the Lord for forgiveness for the little mistakes we are bound to make.

But what about our loved ones who are not Catholic? It is a little harder for non-Catholic Christians because they don't have the Grace of the sacraments to give them spiritual strength. But God loves all of his followers and if they have a strong prayer life and turn from Evil to Jesus then God will keep them close too. God desires that we all serve Him and know Him and love Him. That is why we were created. It is easier when you have the fullness of the faith, but non-Catholics can still grow to know, love, and serve God. And we can pray that they too will be brought into the fullness of the faith so that they can fully participate in a sacramental life and do things like take part in communion and reconciliation. But that is their own choice and their own journey.


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