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Posted by on Nov 15, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

Work: Share in the Divine Project or Join the Lemmings

Tunturisopuli_Lemmus_Lemmus When does getting a job and going to work become a question of “joining the lemmings going over the cliff?” The question arises one night over dinner. A young man who has an independent source of income finds he has no real reason to get out of bed in the morning. He has a new skill and set of training, but he finds himself hesitant to put himself into a situation that would require him to charge for services he would otherwise offer at no charge. He questions whether charging for services means he is joining the lemmings. Yet he feels an urgent need to have recognizable work.

Another person at the table finds such language distressing. This person does not have the luxury of choosing whether to go to work or not and certainly does not feel like a lemming!

The critical question, it seems, regards the value and importance of work. Work in and of itself is neutral. What we do each day to fulfill our responsibilities may be called work. Things we do for relaxation we often call play, despite the fact that some forms of relaxation take more physical and psychic effort than “work.”

Given that both work and play may take significant time and effort on a daily basis, how do we value each? Most commonly, we think of work in negative terms and play in positive ones. When something is hard, we even say, “That’s why we call it work!”

Work is a participation in the divine endeavour, bringing new energies into focus to carry out an ongoing development, whether of something old or new. As such, work can be a positive experience — tiring, yes; repetitive, perhaps; boring, sometimes — yet ultimately of value.

When does work become the province of “lemmings?” Work becomes something negative when it reduces or threatens the human dignity of the person who engages in it. It also becomes lemming-like when performed solely or largely for less-than-human reasons, such as the proverbial “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.” If the only reason a person has for doing a job he or she hates is in order to buy a mansion, sports car, or other luxury item, then the value of that work is of lemming quality. If, on the other hand, the work keeps a roof over the head of the individual and/or family and food on the table, that work is valuable and not to be disparged.

In our daily lives, as we seek to recognize the presence of God in what we do, whether work or play, we are called to evaluate our actions regularly in terms of how they align with God’s plan for us and for this wonderful world in which we live. Work aligned with God’s activity is not the province of human “lemmings” but rather the path to human fulfillment.

 

Note: The notion that lemmings in nature have a propensity to go “over the cliff” in a mass suicidal wave is not actually correct. Sometimes when the population becomes too dense, they migrate to other areas. Bodies of water that must be crossed may prove too wide for some of them and some will drown. This may be the source of the idea that lemmings deliberately go over the cliff. In fact, lemmings too live according to divine plan, praising God through their daily lives by being lemmings!

Image from Wikipedia Commons – public domain

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

St. Ignatius’ Teachings on Creation and Care for Creation

Vision at River Cardoner - Saenz de Tejada - Jesuit InstituteWe know from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and from his autobiography that the physical world was very important to him. In the opening to the Spiritual Exercises, in the “Principle and Foundation,” Ignatius describes his cosmic understanding of all created things as having as their end the “praise, reverence and service of God.” Nothing in creation including the human has been created as an end in itself but rather for union with God. Humans are to seek involvement with created things to help them know and love God. In this context, humans cannot exploit anything for their own ends. The criteria of how anything created can help us praise, reverence and serve God are the standards by which we choose to be in relationship with them. Ignatius taught this understanding of creation and the point of human life as the only way to happiness. So, human desires and actions are within a cosmic context, not a narrower anthropocentric context. That would be at odds today with many world leaders who see the relationship of humans to the physical world as one of survival of the fittest or as one of “trickle-down” benefits of the exploitation of environmental resources to the least powerful groups in society.

Ignatius was also aware of the goodness of created things (cf. Genesis 1). He whole heartedly supported the Dominican religious community in preaching against the heresy of Albigensianism, which denigrated the human body and earthly creation. From the time of his conversion at Loyola to his later years in Rome, Ignatius often spent time in the evening looking at the sky and the stars, which he found very consoling (A Pilgrim’s Journey, Tylenda, Ch.1, Para. 11). An illuminative experience Ignatius had that lasted eight days took place as he sat and contemplated a river (the Cardoner). He was not a strictly urban person. Growing up in his native Basque Country gave him a soul for God’s beauty in nature.

For Ignatius the mis-use of anything was poor discernment, if not sin. After his extreme fasts and the harm they did to his body, Ignatius began to understand that it was surrender to God’s will that mattered, not showing God how fervent one is. (Prin. and Fdn.) Therefore, harming the body was not proper if it was a distraction and led one away from being able to serve God. Ignatius allowed for martyrdom, but it was not something to seek. He was very careful to observe the devotions of novices to make sure that they were not fasting to a point that they harmed their health or fell into vainglory for doing extreme practices.

In the Spiritual Exercises, in the Call of the King and Two Standards contemplations, Ignatius makes it clear that ego, control, power, greed and status are not part of God’s kingdom. Everything comes from God. And, if we stand under Jesus’ banner we will seek to be like him: generous, humble, obedient, truthful, compassionate, and loving. The contemplations on the Incarnation, the Three Classes of Persons and the Three Degrees of Humility all express a profound sense of gratitude for the goods of the earth and the love of God, who is the divine majesty of all, for us.

Ignatius did not write separately of reverence for the environment. It is part of his vision of God as Creator and we as beloved children who are part of creation. His rejection of manipulation and exploitation of any aspect of creation is a rejection of selfishness with the earth and with each other. Ignatius believed that if one practices the daily Examen (or daily General Examination of Conscience) (Sp. Exer. Sect. 43) s/he will see how time, people and resources are used to praise, reverence and serve God. When people practice the Examen or any process of serious and humble reflection they come to see the need not to impede the proper purpose of any created thing. They can also surrender to God’s will for them and move to become the persons they were born to be.

Image: “The vision at River Cardoner (Manresa)” by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, used with permission

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

The Resurrection of Christ and Planet Earth – It’s not all about us.

Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)The Catholic Church and the broader world community are looking forward to Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment. Generally, Christians tend to see the earth and all of creation as a motion picture studio back drop for God’s saving action in the Christ Event — the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, there is more to our relationship with the Earth and with Christ than a motion-picture-type approach suggests. Patheos, a collection of blogs focused on faith, presents a panel discussion representing many viewpoints on the impending human-caused collapse of our planetary life-support system.

Overflowing love

What we tend to overlook is that all of creation is the ongoing reality of God’s overflowing love. Nature is a major facet of God’s self-disclosure. Creation is God’s great art project, which the Holy One holds in existence. The Book of Genesis makes it clear that we are part of this great Divine creativity. Humanity is taken from the earth and given life through the Divine breath. The Christ Event is God’s very immersion into creation. The Divine Word, God’s highest and most complete God Self disclosure, becomes truly human and remains truly divine in Jesus of Nazareth. God’s irruption into human history is part and parcel of the divine irruption to bring all creation to fulfillment in Christ according to St. Paul and the ancient tradition of the Church.

The Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, gave us a post-modern vision of all creation spiraling upward to its fulfillment: the Omega Point which is the Cosmic Christ. His book, the Divine Milieu (The Divine Environment / Context), and his mystical poem, La Messe Sur le Monde (The Mass on the World), convey the ongoing creativity in the universe and that facet of creation which is the human species. This does not mean that everything is God – pantheism – any more than art we might produce is identical with us. The things we make reflect our creativity, but they are not us. According to Chardin, our gift of consciousness not only allows us to be aware of God’s activity but to take part in it by God’s out-poured love for us.

Participating in God’s saving activity

The ongoing Christ Event sweeps us and all of the cosmos toward creation’s fulfillment in Christ, the Omega point. The Second Vatican Council, in its key documents the Church and the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope) and The Light of Nations (Lumen Gentium), affirms the centrality of God’s action in human society and creation and our need to participate in this saving activity. Social and political oppression generally go hand in hand with the destruction of the environment and the human life-support system, resulting in poverty, war, and ignorance and the degradation of humanity.

As the Council Fathers wrote:

Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment. – Gaudium et Spes #2 (emphasis added)

Image: Earthrise (NASA photo ID AS11-44-6552)
public domain

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