Category Archives: Children

Preparation for Confirmation

My eldest daughter is preparing for confirmation. It’s an exciting time – the first in our home since mine some twenty years ago. We are starting to have more intense discussions about the faith, and I find myself wanting to be a bigger part of her preparation. It would be easy to leave it to her and her Catholic school. They would do a good and complete job, but I think my involvement can make a big difference as to how strong her faith is at the other side.

Why? A few reasons.
First, I provide a different perspective and different life experiences that can help her to dig deep into complex topics.
Second, I know her and how she thinks. That will help me to explain things in a way that she can see even more of the truth.
Third, every time she sees me living my faith, studying my faith, interested in my faith, it reinforces that all this is not just lip service. It’s real and it’s serious, and people like me build their lives on it. Hopefully she will realize she needs to the same.

So over the next several weeks, I am going to be making some simple posts about simple truths that every Catholic should know. And based on my experience and that of others I know, most people will not know these things.

I’ll be writing these as lists. Lists can be memorized. Memorization, which was heavily denigrated when I was in college, is, I think, an essential element in learning a complex subject. It puts a key set of data at your beck and call. Once it is there, you can use those fact as the foundation for deeper learning.

So, soon I will start with the basics: the precepts of the Church.

Sitting on the Lap of the Father

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.

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!

Sharing 9-11 With Our Children

Today we toured the U.S.S. Yorktown with our kids, as a way to commemorate 9-11. On our way, we had a chance to not only teach them about the attack, but also to tell them about what we were doing at the time, and how it affected us.
It occurred to me that, especially for our younger kids, 9-11 is history, no less so than World War II is history to me. What I was doing, was passing down oral history to my children.
Oral history is, I think, important for our children. Knowing where there parents and grandparents were during a particular event gives them a context they can’t get at school. It personalizes history and makes it real. The dividing line between entertainment and reality is getting more and more blurred (see, for instance, “Apollo 18”), so anything that can make that line more clear must be valuable.
We have experienced a wealth of history that we can and should share with our kids. I have seen the end of the cold war, the rise and fall of the space shuttle program, the Iranian hostage crisis, the dawn of the PC age and the internet, Chernobyl, Katrina, and so many other events. How many have I shared with my kids?
9-11 is clearly the “where were you when” event of our generatio

n, but it is not the only bit of history we have been a part of to share with our kids.

Why Aren’t Video Games a No-Brainer for Parents?

Why aren’t video games a no-brainer for parents? My eight-year-old asked the other day why we don’t allow game systems in our home. Apparently he is the only person in his class (at a fairly conservative Catholic school) that doesn’t have an Xbox, Playstation, or Wii.

According to this article, 3 in 5 homes have game consoles. In my experience, the rate for households with children is much higher.

Why don’t parents realize how damaging this is to their children? As I told my son:

  1. Video Games Can Be Addictive
    Video games are designed to suck you in and keep you playing until you beat the game or hit a wall beyond which your natural abilities won’t take you. At that point, to feed the addiction, you’ll need the next game in the series. This addiction is real. In 2009, 8.5% of kids were found to be addicted to video games.
  2. Many of the Most Popular Games are Morally Questionable, at Best
    This is a well-hashed topic. Many games are over-sexualized or packed with violence to appeal to their target demographic: 18 to 30 year old men.
  3. Video Games Set Our Kids up for a Permanent Adolescence
    As just noted, The target market for video games is adult men. As men, it is hard for us to grow up. Part of us wants to stay in adolescence forever. The alcohol industry, the entertainment industry, and the video game industry all have a huge economic incentive to keep us overgrown children. I don’t want to set up my sons with such a handicap.
  4. When the Game is On, the Brain is Off
    Oh sure, there are exceptions. But those are exceptions that prove the rule. Most video games are mind-numbing contests to hone a particular – otherwise useless – reflex to the point where you can tweak the game controller in just the right way to win the game.

Are they fun? Sure. And playing the occasional game online or at the arcade isn’t harmful. But dropping hundreds of dollars on a console that is obsolete in a year, and up to fifty dollars on a game that is mastered in a short time, leads one to feeling that the game must be played, like TV must be watched, for hours on end, every day. With TV, movies, video games, and the internet all demanding our children’s time, where is the time for learning, for exercise, for family, and for God?

Why isn’t this a no-brainer? Why do parents feel they have to buy these things?

Dad: The Big Hero for Little Crises

Life has its major crises, of course. Illness, death, job loss, and so forth. These things require a loving family to pull together and get through the tough times. Thanks to our merciful Lord, however, these times are usually few and far between, and we can sometimes go for many years without having to face such trials.

Life is full, however, of the little crises that loom large in the moment. These can range from a flat tire on the interstate to a stray bird trapped in the house. It may be in these little crises that Dad has one of his most important roles.

In the truly big crises, Dad steers the ship and gets the family through it, but in most cases he can’t really fix anything. Death still comes; the economy still has its victims; the tears will still flow. In the little crises, Dad has the opportunity to be the hero, and being the hero during those times is important, and not just to Daddy’s ego. Daddy’s heroism – his calm self-assurance that he can fix the problem – during the little crises matters because here the kids learn to trust their father, to turn to him in times of trouble, to believe in him. They learn hope even when they are scared or hurt or sad. And if they learn to have hope and to trust in their earthly father, their faith and hope in their heavenly Father can follow.

A child’s love for their father is a template for their love for God. If we, as fathers, are trustworthy, and even heroic, in those little crises that seem so scary to children, then they will learn, on an emotional level, that God Himself is trustworthy and heroic in all things. If they come to believe that Dad won’t be there for them, then how will they learn that God is there for them? In that case they may find themselves leading a lonely life, with only themselves to rely on.

Here is a short and humorous (at least to me) example of one of those “little crises”.

Elijah: “How did this corn get in my nose?”
Dad: “Is there a corn in your nose?”
Elijah: “Yes.”
Dad: “What kind of corn?”
Elijah: “Popcorn.”
Dad sits up.
“Did you put a popcorn kernel in your nose?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Elizabeth, bring me a flashlight.”
Elizabeth hands Dad a Harry Potter wand.
“That’s a wand, not a flashlight.”
Elizabeth: “It lights up. I can’t find the flashlight.”
“It’s … never mind.”
Dad sighs and points wand into Elijah’s nose. There is no light.
“You have to shake it.”
Dad shakes the wand. It lights up, and Dad peers into Elijah’s nose.
“Yup. There’s a popcorn kernel in his nose. Elijah, blow hard.”
Nothing comes out.
“Eliz, get me the bulb nose aspirator.”
For several minutes Dad tries sucking out the kernel, to no avail. Elijah starts to panic.
“That didn’t work. Get me the tweezers.”
Elijah: “No!”
“Lie down, son. I won’t hurt you.”
Several minutes of gentle probing later:
“Ok. We may have to go to the ER. Elijah, blow again. HARD.” Dad covers his mouth and other nostril.
Elijah blows. The kernel flies across the room and lands in Elizabeth’s lap. Elizabeth shrieks and runs away.

Osu! Thank You!

In my son’s karate class, when the instructor calls out push-ups or some other unpleasant exercise, the students know better than to grumble. If they grumble, they get more of whatever they were complaining about, be it push-ps, crunches, or what have you.

Instead, the students are taught to reply, “Osu! Thank you!” (“Osu” is a generic sort of athletic greeting that literally means “push” but in this context might be translated “Yes, sir!”)

My wife pointed out that this is a good lesson in our spiritual lives as well. When God in His wisdom gives us trials, difficulties, or suffering, our response shouldn’t be to complain or whine or, worse, to question God. We should respond in gratitude to God, for after all,
God brings great good out of seemingly evil events.

So, in the spirit of my son’s karate class, whenever life brings us disappointment or difficulty, my wife and I grit our teeth and give Our Lord a heartfelt “Osu! Thank you!”

Thoughts on My Son’s First Communion

A week ago, my eldest son made his first communion. He was nervous. We were excited. He was very handsome in his white tuxedo.

There is so much we need to teach our children about communion. There is so much I know I still need to teach my kids. The biggest thing, I think, is that communion is not just a spiritual action. With every other sacrament, with every other ceremony, we encounter Christ in spiritual ways, in intellectual ways, and in emotional ways. But in the Holy Eucharist, we encounter Christ physically, and we are privileged to undergo a fundamental and very real transformation.

The Body of Christ

The following quote, very appropriately, showed up in the Office of Readings earlier this week.

Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of man, for spirits do not have flesh and bones. He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.
St. Irenaeus

The first thing our kids must know – must have drilled into their heads until there is no doubt – is that this is, really and no kidding, the actual body and blood of Christ. Our culture is so full of happy little fantasies that we pretend are real (the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, etc.), and we spend so much time with TV, movies, and books that blur the line between reality and fantasy, that it would be natural for kids to assume that we are just speaking in one big metaphor.

That is a dangerous delusion. Why? Because due to the fact of the truth of the Eucharist, taking communion becomes something far more profound than we usually give it credit for.

What Happens to Us?
When we eat, the food that we eat performs two functions. It provides energy for us to take action, and it provides building blocks for growing our bodies or for replacing parts of our bodies that have “worn” out.

So when we eat and drink Christ, since it is really Him physically, and since it is real food, the process of eating makes those particles of Christ a part of our own bodies. That thought gives me the chills. Parts of my body are actual built out of Christ. My body is being transformed, bit by bit. This sheds a whole knew light on the truth of the Church being the body of Christ.

(Note: Of course these particle cease being the body and blood of Christ once they are no longer materially bread and wine, but they once were, and that’s my point.)

This perspective on the Eucharist makes me even more enthusiastic to receive as often as possible. Grace is a wonderful thing to receive, and I never want to diminish its importance in any way. But actually incorporating Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity into my own body and soul is mind-blowing. I hope I can pass on this enthusiasm to my kids.

Let the Light of the Resurrection Shine Forth in Everything We Say and Do

After the long somber and penitential season of Lent, it may be difficult to transition to the joy of Easter. Even the apostles had difficulty accepting it. But transition we must, because in the end, it all comes down to the resurrection. We can fast all we want, we can repent of our sins as much as we want (and yes, these things are necessary), but without the resurrection, it would all be for naught.
And we are not called to be a somber and sorrowful people. When we fast, we are not to let the world know. We are called, especially as parents and spouses, to exhibit the joy of the gift that Christ has given us.
Through His sacrifice, Christ has opened up Heaven for us. Yes, we still have to accept His gift. We still have to carry our crosses and enter our own little Calvarys in order to reach that gift. But He gives us the graces we need to do that.
So in spite of our suffering, in spite of our struggles with sin, we are right to be joyful. Our spouse needs to see it; our kids need to see it; and especially the world needs to see it from us as a family. Let them see the truth of the resurrection in everything we say and do. It is our duty and our privilege.

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.