Lost and found

p3 wheatMy brother’s son and his wife just had their first baby, a little boy. His name is Colin David, David being my brother, who died of cancer when his son was only 3 years old.

Two years ago these two young people were almost killed in a car accident when another driver crossed the center line on a two-lane road. The wife’s dad, who was driving, didn’t make it. My nephew and his wife endured months in the hospital and in rehab; they will live with the physical and emotional effects of that accident for the rest of their lives.

So this baby boy is indeed a blessing.

I called my nephew on Christmas Day, little more than a week after the baby’s birth. He told me he and his wife had gotten each other a few presents, “But, you know, with the baby, we really don’t need anything else.”

In this story lie echoes of the sacred stories we Christians  read aloud to one another during Holy Week: stories of suffering, death, and new life, of love that triumphs over death.

Sometimes these echoes in our lives are dramatic, but often not. The everyday test for us lies in recognizing this pattern of dying and rising to new life as it happens over and over in the years of family life. You have to die to your old life when you welcome children into your life, when your bright 10-year-old turns into a moody, “don’t touch me” 11-year-old, when your kids leave your home for their own lives.

I look back on the year my son was 4. He had been pretty much a delight till then, but at this age—I recall what some battle-weary friends wrote on their “Welcome, baby” card when he was born: “Enjoy them while they’re little, because soon they grow up to be monsters!” All day my son fought with me, refused to cooperate on the simplest of activities. Angry, he called me “poo-poo head.” At bedtime he’d say sweetly to my husband, “I love you, Dada,” turn to me and say, “I kind of like you.” I found relief, finally, in a book which, along with strategies, offered this message: Don’t worry, every parent of a 4-year-old secretly fears they are raising a juvenile delinquent. I emerged from my fog of discouragement a little wiser, having learned that I would survive having a child who didn’t always like me. And when my strong-willed pistol of a daughter came along a few years later, I had fewer illusions—a good thing, too.

A friend tells of his parents relocating to another town just in time for his senior year of high school. His mom reassured him that it would all work out, but he told her bluntly no, it wouldn’t. “I won’t forget the look on her face, how bad she felt that all this was happening,” he writes, “how much it hurt her to see me in pain. I ended up living with another family the next year so I could finish at my high school, which I know was a huge sacrifice for my mother, who basically missed my senior year.”

Living with the other family taught him to see his own more clearly. “I learned a lot about just how much my parents cared about me,” he writes, “even letting me follow my own desire to stay at my old school rather than live with them, which I know is what they really, really wanted.”

What was it Jesus said? “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Amen to that.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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Taking the night shift

49aPeople embark on journeys of faith riding in many means of transport. Elijah took off for heaven in a flaming chariot. The Wise Men hit the road to Bethlehem on camels. And in Chicago, after Mass on Holy Thursday night, Mike Cahill pilots me and our son and daughter in our 12-year-old car through the chilly streets, to one Catholic Church after another. Seven, if we can make that many before midnight, when they snuff out the candles and lock the doors.

Sometimes we take the Dan Ryan Expressway, regarded by more timid Chicagoans as the road most likely to speed you, too, on your journey to heaven, minus the flaming chariot. Flaming autos, more likely.

Our drive tonight feels like riding in a funeral. We don’t play the radio. We don’t listen to the Cubs game—though some claim that a Cubs game is a penance unto itself. We might sing a song or two.

Holy Thursday is a night rich in symbolism. After the Mass, with its blessing of oils and washing of feet, the altar is left bare. The priest carries the Blessed Sacrament to the “altar of repose,” adorned with candles and flowers. People gather to pray, until midnight if the church is open that long. In the quiet, thoughts barge in of what followed the Last Supper: the garden, the sleeping disciples, the prayer of anguish, the soldiers.

Apparently the tradition of visiting churches on this night comes from Rome, where pilgrims visited the seven major basilicas on holy days. We are lucky to live in Chicago, where you can hardly throw a stone and not hit a Catholic Church. So we set off, seeking out a few of the city’s famous old churches as well as some off the beaten track. One of us will hop out and try the door. If it’s open, we go in, kneel down, pray for a while. In not one church can you miss the fact that Holy Week is upon us. At St. Sabina’s one year, a purple banner hung the whole width of the balcony. It inquired in giant letters: “Discipleship costs. Are you willing?”

The night invites us to wrestle with this question. Sure, I might reflect on it at home, but I wouldn’t. The dark churches help us stay mindful of who we are: beloved children of God, but also quite capable of protesting, as Peter did on this very night, “I don’t even know the man!” Discipleship costs, and he wasn’t willing to pay the price just yet. What about me?

A tradition like this is one small way to set Holy Week off from the rest of the year, for kids and parents alike. It brings young and old face to face with the mystery of our faith, allowing us all to ponder and take to heart whatever we can. Such rituals often speak more loudly than a month of religious education classes.

Ted and Barb, good friends of ours, take their seven kids on this Holy Thursday pilgrimage. Last year Ted made a program. It said, “Holy Thursday Night. Can you stay up with the Lord? Peter, James, and John couldn’t do it on the first Holy Thursday . . . can you? Seven churches. Twenty-one Hail Marys. Twenty-eight miles. All before midnight. Are you game?”

They were. Even the college kid and the lanky high school junior piled into the van. The sophomore wavered, but the others chanted her name until she climbed in.

After all, it’s terrific practice for those dark times when God really needs us just to stay awake.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

In a world of hurt

iStock_NicholasWave_000011097282MediumWhen we picture Jesus praying, “Let this cup pass from me” in the garden of Gethsemane, we recognize his humanity. Just hours before he was to be arrested and crucified, Jesus pleaded to God, not just once but three times, to let the suffering pass him by. Yet each time he finished his prayer with the words “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

In this gospel story Jesus teaches us how to

suffer—we learn that wrapped in any prayer asking God to take away the suffering must be the prayer to accept God’s will.

God will guide us to pull goodness from suffering. Martha, mother of three who lost both her mother and mother-in-law in the past year, notes that while suffering is part of an imperfect world, it is not brought on by God.

“I believe that in every case God would be cheering for the suffering to pass,” Martha says. “Just as it pains us to watch our loved ones or even people we don’t know personally suffer, so, too, it pains God to have to watch humankind endure suffering. God wants goodness for us, and always God delights in our ‘resurrections.’ ”

Jesus’ suffering and death came at the hands of others. The failure of Pontius Pilate and others to protect him have parallels in every age. The innocent often die because of the sins of others.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre took place the day before Marquette University’s winter commencement in December 2012. The country reeled with the grief over the 26 gunned down at the elementary school, including 20 first graders.

During the homily at the Baccalaureate Mass at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Jesuit Father Scott Pilarz addressed the question of suffering and evil. “Despite tragedy, and despite the world’s gritty realities, we cling to the conviction that God has been and God always will come into the world with good news for God’s people,” he said. “Yesterday might tempt us to believe that evil has the last word. But here at Marquette, huddled in this church tonight, we say no to that temptation.” Pilarz went on to explain that to be a believer in God is to organize our understanding of the world differently from the way we otherwise would. In the face of tragedy, he said, we must grieve, criticize when necessary, and then, “we must… help each other to discern pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected.”

Alone in the garden, in agony. We usually wince at the sleeping disciples in the story. As Jesus suffers, his friends are oblivious. This rings true to many people who suffer quietly.

“My friends do not know that my wife is an alcoholic and struggles with depression,” says Curt (not his real name), married 17 years with three children. “They think we are the perfect married couple, but we are not. I have suffered tremendously because of my wife’s illnesses, and I have suffered alone. It has taught me that other people may have their own private pain that I don’t know about, either. Sometimes it feels like my friends and family are asleep, because they don’t notice anything is wrong.”

How to talk about suffering. When talking to children about the suffering of others, parents often struggle to tell their children the truth while at the same time protecting their innocence and assuring them of their safety. Jenna and Eric, parents of two children, 10 and 7, say their approach to suffering and tragedy has served their family well both in cases of personal pain, such as when Jenna’s mother died, and in cases of public tragedy, such as the Sandy Hook killings.

“We are honest. We are brief. We are open to questions. We show that we are sad, and let them know it’s OK to be sad, but we don’t openly grieve in front of them most of the time,” Jenna says. “We let our children know they can come to us later with questions or concerns, and if they do, we hug them and answer them as honestly as we can.”

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

Good grief: A family faces death

iStock_AdamKorzeniewski_000021609090LargeWhen Nikki and Andrew’s close family friend died of cancer, they had to decide whether their daughter, Eileen, who was 7 at the time, should attend the funeral. Eileen was very close with their friend’s daughter.

“Eileen had never been to a funeral and was so young,” Nikki says. “We wanted to be honest, but we didn’t want to unduly burden her.” Continue reading

Mindfulness: Be relentless

iStock_olaser_000016500732MediumIf you’re striving toward taking 10 minutes to start your day with prayer but aren’t quite there yet, consider blending prayer into the more mundane aspects of your day, says Mary DeTurris Poust in Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality (Penguin).

“Decide on one activity you’ll do with total mindfulness today,” she writes. “It can be a mindful meal, a mindful cleaning project, or a mindful wait at the post office.” Poust notes that we must be “relentless” about our mindfulness, not allowing a cell phone or other distraction to worm its way in. She gives examples of how mindfulness becomes prayerfulness: Continue reading

Who’s responsible for this?

p49_AHF_photoTWIn the regrettably long catalog of sad human events, closing a Catholic school ranks right up there. You have sobbing children, sad and often furious parents, defensive administrators or religious-order sponsors, outraged alumni. People feel betrayed, often for good reason. I know this because our family has been through this miserable situation not once but multiple times with our kids. For parents it’s sad, but for kids it’s the equivalent of an adult being informed that you have lost both your job and all of your friends in one fell swoop.

Last March, soon after the stunning announcement that our daughter’s 150-year-old girls’ Catholic high school would close down in June despite previous assurances to the contrary, I overheard a mother’s comment in a hallway at school. She had tried to get her daughter to go to Mass on the Sunday following the announcement. “She says to me,” said the mom, “ ’Why would I want to go to Mass, Mom, when God let this happen?’ ” Continue reading

Lent one week at a time

girl ashesUnlike the church, which drapes itself in purple, bans “Alleluia,” and takes on a somber personality for 40 days, many families have difficulty carrying Lent’s theme of repentance for six weeks. Here is one Lent idea for each week:

Week 1: Help the poor. Go beyond simply mailing a check or dropping your canned goods in the back of church. Find an organization you support and drive there with your children and your family’s donation. Ask if the organization’s director can give you a tour and explain how the organization works.

Week 2: A rice and beans meal. Giving up meat on Friday isn’t a sacrifice if you have shrimp fettuccini. One evening, use a simple meal of rice and beans to teach your children that one in seven people in the world does not get enough to eat. Show your children photographs of poverty so they can build empathy. Continue reading

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