If it’s fear, it’s not God

Marge_Flickr_buschapMarge Simpson, of the cartoon The Simpsons, often reads Fretful Mother Magazine. Any episode with the magazine is likely to get a laugh of recognition from parents—who among us does not have fears when it comes to our children? But while a little bit of worrying is normal and serves to protect our children (“Ethan, come down from the roof right now”) too much fear can be a symptom of not enough faith.

Kristin Armstrong, in Heart of my Heart (FaithWords) puts it this way: “Fear traps us and cajoles us into playing small. It whispers to us that we can’t, we aren’t enough and it’s not possible. It’s the voice of the enemy, wanting to ensure that God’s people are held back. Do you know that the voice of fear is never from God? He speaks words of power and healing and love over us.”

Our worries and fears we hold for our children should not become so large that they eclipse where God may be leading our family. We need to learn to differentiate between the feeling of fear that leads to a legitimate need to protect, and the feeling of fear that is unreasonable and serves to unnecessarily keep our children on the sidelines.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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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Image: Flickr/buschap

 

Stand by me

hands_Flickr_JBenningerBeginning with All Saints’ Day and ending with the final leaves falling off the trees before winter, November is a fitting reminder that death is part of the cycle of life. During this month, many churches invite their parishioners to put pictures of deceased loved ones on display. November—somber, gray, and serious—calls us to reflect on how we can bring comfort to those in our midst who have suffered a loss. “Comfort the sorrowful” is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy.

Bring comfort by being present. Maria, mother of two teens, recalls her father’s example: “My dad was big on the spiritual works of mercy. He used to say to us growing up, and he still does, ‘If somebody is in a bind, or sad, or in need of something and you don’t know what to do—do something! Pick up the phone, say something, reach out, act. Show up.’ That to me is what comforting the sorrowful is—it’s showing up for those around us and building each other up.”

Experiencing a friend’s sadness often brings up our own past losses and grief. To be with a sorrowful friend is to show that you value that friend so much that you will take on pain in order to be present.

Patty, a mother of four whose close friend died of cancer last year in her early 40s, calls the experience of being with a dying friend a “privilege.” “I was blessed to be allowed into the intimate moments of my dear friend’s dying and death. I felt incredibly blessed that she allowed me, in those incredibly powerful weeks, to be present to her and for her,” Patty says. “Throughout that time, however, she always wanted to know about my life. I was often embarrassed to talk about what seemed to be trivial issues. But my friend still wanted to be present to me as well. She wanted to comfort me in return.”

Bring comfort by asking questions. While sometimes a simple presence is enough, other times we may be called to help the person who is sorrowful find their way. Franciscan Father Mike Bertram recently met with a young man in his mid-20s. Smart, talented, and personable, he had just called off his wedding to a woman he had been dating since high school. The young woman and her family, angry and hurt, repeatedly insulted and threatened the young man for calling off the wedding.

In a long conversation with Father Bertram, the young man poured out his sad story and the responsibility he had in not breaking up with the young woman earlier and subsequently needing to call the wedding off once it had been planned. “I asked him the question, ‘Have you been able to forgive yourself?’ ” Bertram says.

“Without hesitation, he shook his head. It opened up another discussion. Before he left that night, I asked if he had ever taken his thoughts and experiences to confession. He said he hadn’t. All of what had been discussed amounted to a great confession. So we closed the night with absolution; his penance is to continue working on forgiving himself. He later told me that our time and discussion together was just what he needed. Sometimes it’s important to listen for the questions that aren’t being asked or addressed.”

Give children a role in comforting. While it is appropriate to shield children from extreme raw grief that they cannot yet understand, most of the time children should be allowed to share in a family’s sad times that are a part of life. A child’s natural inclination to comfort will surface if it is allowed room.

“I am amazed how my 8-year-old, Ethan, has an instinctive ability to comfort at such a young age,” says Jennifer. “He knows when his brother or parents are stressed and tries to help the situation by encouraging a forgiving conversation to happen, offering hugs, or volunteering to help out. I know that it is a parent’s job to offer comfort to their children, but we are blessed to have an 8-year-old who offers unconditional comfort to his family. I feel God’s presence working through him.”

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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.

Photo: Flickr/JBenninger

 

Saints in the basement

Angel statue milq124Down in our basement is “the Wall of Death,” so christened by my husband’s cousin, Pat. My husband and I had always kept holy cards from wakes we went to; he often talked of finding a place to keep them in view. One day he found the spot: the pegboard on our basement wall, where I had secretly been thinking of hanging our laughably small collection of tools someday.

There you’ll find cards bearing the names of aunts and uncles, his dad and mine, my brother, his mom. Cards mark the passing of friends, parents of friends, public figures. Chicago Cubs’ broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse sit side by side. Mrs. Eleanor Daley, wife of our former mayor and mother of our current one, keeps a respectable distance from the Cub gentlemen, being a White Sox fan herself.

Sometimes, while waiting for the washer or dryer to finish up, I wander in and look at them all, our own little slice of the communion of saints. It’s very comforting somehow. I ask for their prayers often enough.

The communion of saints is one of those wonderful Catholic teachings: It tells us that those who have gone to God are still with us, all of us part of the mystical Body of Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews says we are “surrounded by this cloud of witnesses” (12:1-2).  (Saints in the communion of saints, by the way, does not mean canonized saints but is an old term for those committed to Christ.) We remember all the saints, official and not, this month on the feasts of All Saints, November 1, and All Souls, November 2.

Parents can waste a lot of energy trying to shelter their kids from death. I’ve even heard of parents objecting to having their children taught about the Crucifixion. Our society, too, tends to shy away from actual dead people: We have more memorial services and fewer funerals; more cremations and fewer burials. We seem to tolerate the dead, at a safe distance, only on TV and in the movies. Perhaps we think if we don’t look at them, the dead will just go away and take their uncomfortable questions with them.

Here is an opportunity for Catholic parents to be countercultural, if we have the nerve. We can take our children to wakes and funerals when appropriate. Remember that, for young as well as old, burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy. We can keep the images and memories of our deceased loved ones alive in our families. We can spread the good news: Dying is not the end; love is stronger than death. Or, as my friend Father Don Headley says, “Everyone is always alive to God.”

Our kids often say that they have to go to more wakes than anyone they know. I’m sure it’s probably true. (How do you think we ended up with all those cards?) If they complain, I just remind them of the words of immortal Yankees catcher Yogi Berra: “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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.

 

 

Don’t be scared of Halloween

SONY DSCHalloween: What a great holiday! It beats the heck out of Arbor Day six ways to Sunday. Around this time every year, I’m asked by Christian parents about the appropriateness of their children dressing up as Spiderman or cowboys or fairy princesses.

Every year I give them the same response: Halloween’s supposed occult connections are superficial and misleading. Halloween is steeped in Catholic theology and piety, and besides, it’s just so much damn fun. We couldn’t have arranged a more perfect synthesis of devotion and festivity had we tried. When you get to the core of what the holiday is, you find an overwhelmingly Catholic Christian holiday. It should be recognized and celebrated as such-warts, spider webs, and all.

Symbolically and historically, Halloween is associated with the supernatural, death, and spooky things, but its evolution from its ancient origins to its current permutation is interesting to note.

It’s been said that Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday called Samhain. It is true the ancient Celts celebrated a minor holiday on October 31 dedicated to the harvest, but they also celebrated a festival on the last day of almost every month of the year. Further, Samhain was celebrated only among Irish pagans. It would be odd if the Catholic Church, in an attempt to Christianize the holiday, skipped over all of the other numerous pagan tribes and their harvest holidays to annoy the Irish pagans.

In the Christian calendar November 1 is All Saints Day, or “All Hallows’ Day.” The word “Halloween” is simply the abbreviated form of “All Hallows’ Eve,” the vigil celebration in anticipation of the feast day.

In the early fourth century, All Saints Day was a way to commemorate the martyrs, but later all of the saints were included in the festival. All Souls Day is our day to remember those who have fallen asleep in Christ who weren’t officially recognized as saints.

St. Augustine reminds us, “If we had no care for the dead, we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” We are all weak creatures, and none of us are holy enough to stand before the throne of God. Thus we need the prayers of others. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are meant to remind us of the need to be humble before God and each other.

By the time All Saints Day was moved to November 1 (731) and All Souls Day was added to the calendar (998), Europe had already long been Christianized. Halloween was not a matter of appeasement, an evangelization scheme, or strong-arming against Celtic pagans, despite the protests of modern-day neo-pagans and “witches.”

The practice of dressing in costumes for All Souls Day originated in France during the 14th and 15th centuries. During the Black Death epidemics, artists would depict the Danse Macabre, “Dance of Death,” on cemetery walls and coffins. The images would depict the devil or the personification of Death leading the recently deceased into a tomb. A custom arose in France of reenacting Danse Macabre on All Souls Day. It was believed that the demons out that night would be fooled by the masked party-goers and move on in search for a place devoid of their co-diabolics.

Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, commemorates the unsuccessful Catholic uprising intended to blow up the British parliament and overthrow King James I’s government in 1605. Small children would don masks and go about begging “a penny for the Guy,” the hapless keeper of the gunpowder intended for the revolution. Adult revelers would demand beer and cakes. Tricks and treats, indeed! The custom of dressing in masquerade and asking for small presents migrated easily to All Hallows’ Eve.

As to Halloween’s supposed pre-Christian origins, Thursday and Friday are named after the Norse gods Thor and Frigga, and we got the idea for Christmas trees from religions that predate Christianity. But you would be hard-pressed to find a Christian willing to give up his tree or rename the days of the week. We shouldn’t be so hard on Halloween, either.

How much more Catholic a holiday can anyone hope for? Let’s resolve to take back the holiday and celebrate it as it was originally intended: a spiritual preparation for the two more important holidays following it: All Souls Day and All Saints Day. For years, my parish school has had the delightful custom of asking students to dress as their favorite saints for their Halloween party.

Now that we’re on the same page about Halloween historically speaking, the question still remains: Should we be dressing as ghouls and witches? I’ve never been a big fan of gore, but a pair of plastic vampire teeth and some fake blood is hardly going to traumatize anyone’s child.

Recently some parishes have decided to host so-called “harvest parties.” These are “Halloween-lite” parties, sans mentions of death and general creepiness. But by avoiding discussion of death, an important part of our theology as Christians, we miss important celebratory opportunities.

Let’s not run scared with our dog costume’s tail between our legs. God doesn’t mind if we have a laugh or two or even a good scare every now and again. If not, God wouldn’t have invented roller coasters. Being scared is actually a lot of fun. It’s as innocuous as practical jokes on April Fool’s Day and barbecues on the Fourth of July.

Mexican Catholics haven’t had a problem reconciling frightening images with profound faith during their celebrations of the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos). The Day of the Dead is their way of celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Mexican Catholics dress in costumes and decorate their homes with skulls, skeletons, tombstones, coffins, and candles. They even go so far as to picnic in cemeteries, and they seem to be handling it well. There’s no reason the rest of the Catholic world can’t.

Despite the protestation of our “pagan” brothers and sisters, witches don’t actually exist. That is, I’ve yet to meet anyone who can actually alter the weather, curdle milk simply by looking at it, or make wells run dry. I’ve met some folks who claim to do these things and more, but they are only fooling themselves.

That being the case, our kids can dress as witches as easily as any two of them can be the front and back ends of a unicorn; they don’t exist, either. I say, masquerade and masquerade boldly! Let the macabre flow! If dressing as a saint is your thing, then so be it, but there’s no problem going as your favorite scary alien monster.

Halloween is a great time to get your scare on. If not now, when? Let’s indulge in the sticky, the creepy, and in things that go bump in the night on Halloween. This is our night to bump back. You can dress as a devil as long as you don’t succumb to the diabolical. If you dress as a demon, you are no more worshiping a demon than you are worshiping an angel if you dressed as your favorite cherub.

I will admit that some costumes are scandalous and show poor taste. Just because it’s a fun holiday doesn’t mean we should toss aside common sense, decency, and our ethics. Our society already oversexualizes children, and adults for that matter. Little Suzy shouldn’t be allowed to wear fishnet stockings under any circumstances, let alone on Halloween.

The more Christians become scared of this otherwise benign and harmless holiday, the more we empower those who wish to desacramentalize and even commercialize Christianity. Frankly, I believe there’s more damage caused by the commercialization of Halloween than there is in the supposed paganization of the holiday. I’d trust Christians with Halloween before I’d trust Walmart with it.

To Christians who refuse to join in on the festivities: A part of our prayer is rejoicing in God and throwing ourselves into the mysteries of our faith, which include life and death. That sounds like it has “Halloween” written all over it.{C}

This year, I’m planning on attending New York City’s huge Halloween celebration as St. Michael the Archangel. With any luck, my wings won’t get caught in the subway doors.

By Angelo Stagnaro,  a journalist, author, and stage magician who performs in Europe and North America. He is author of 12 books including A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics (Tau) - This article originally appeared in U.S. Catholic magazine.

At Home with Our Faith is Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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.

 

Why kids need true grit, part two

Cliff IMG_9304 copy(continued from last week)

Understand the importance of motivation. It can be tempting to look at the child next door who has a passion for soccer and wonder why our own child is picking dandelions in the field. Parents need to remember that there are many areas of childhood that are not required for a successful adulthood. Yes, motivation and effort are important, but no one wants to give their all to something of only marginal interest.

“Last year we signed our youngest up for swim team,” says Dave, father of two. “It was a struggle to get her involved. There was no motivating factor that could get her excited about it. We didn’t sign her up again.” Parents need to be able to let their children’s interests, not their own ambition, provide guidance.

Put effort toward faith development. Parents who have worked to develop a deeper faith life often are more appreciative of the effort needed in all areas of life.

“I think that we need to put in hard work when it comes to prayer,” says Emma, mother of three. “I’m not someone to whom prayer comes easily; it’s harder to ask for help than to give it. So I need to practice praying. I have to work at it.”

Brigid, the chaplain and teacher, agrees. “One of my greatest revelations was that discipline is required in one’s spiritual life. I had developed this notion that ‘Because it’s God, it should be easy,’ but I came to see that, like every other relationship of quality in my life, I had to give in order to receive,” she says. “I learned that I had to submit myself to a discipline of daily prayer and examination if I wanted to have a good relationship with God and God’s people.” Brigid explains that this caused her to place a greater value on training of any kind. “Athletic, music, homework completion—I have come to see the value of perseverance in all aspects of life,” she says.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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.

 

Why kids need true grit

boy climbing IMG_5852Brigid, a chaplain working in the oncology unit of a hospital, came to know a man undergoing treatment for cancer. He was unusually upbeat considering that the treatment he was undergoing was painful. “I asked him how he could remain so cheerful,” Brigid says. “He explained that he had played football
in high school and he had learned how to deal with pain in such a way that he did not let it interfere with reaching his goals.”

For Brigid, mother of four, the experience was one that stayed with her as she transitioned from hospital ministry to a career in teaching. “As a teacher, I have seen that perseverance is a critical factor in success. An average-ability student who has grit and perseverance can be more successful than a gifted student who takes his or her ability for granted and coasts,” she says.

How do we help children value putting forth a strong effort? Why are some children motivated to do their best and others shrug off hard work? For parents whose children fail to reach their potential, the question is excruciating.

“Watching our son almost flunk out of high school has been one of our most difficult experiences,” says Joseph, whose son scored in the top 1 percent nationally on standardized tests yet wouldn’t complete requirements for classes that didn’t interest him. “Once they’re in high school, there is not much a parent can do if the child doesn’t put forth effort.”

According to research out of Columbia University in New York, parents of elementary-aged children who want to raise kids who persevere in middle and high school need to be intentional about their own behavior when the kids are working. In their parenting book, NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children (Hatchett Book Group), authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain the Columbia study. Half of a group of 400 fifth-graders working on a puzzle were complimented on how smart they were as they finished it. The other half were complimented on their effort. Those complimented on their intelligence did significantly worse on the subsequent (more difficult) puzzles than their peers who were complimented on effort. “Those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort,” Bronson and Merryman say. “Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it with your natural gifts.”

Lead with your own effort. People very skilled at a specific task can make it look easy to the rest of us. Children may not know how hard we are trying at our job or in our relationships because we don’t want to burden them with our struggles. But Jennifer, mother of two, believes children need to see effort firsthand in order to understand it. “I want to pass on to my children that it takes effort to achieve what you want out of life and it takes practice to be good at something,” she says. “I do not shield my children from the effort I put into my daily life. I try to lead by example and hope they will learn.”   …continued next week

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for 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.

 

Me, teach my kids about God?

Dad, son, bike, RGB mjYxU8OIt may be easier than you think. Your partner in this is God, after all.

God is love. In any moment of love—smiling over an ice cream cone, a hug after a lost soccer game, a laugh between siblings—God is present. Say it out loud to your kids. “This love we are feeling right now, this peace—this is what we mean when we say God is love.”

Commit to your own faith development. Take a class, join a prayer group, read a spiritual book. Get yourself to a place where you have something to say about faith because of your own personal experience.

Expect the grace. When you and your children go to Mass or reconciliation, expect to see the grace of God as a result. Talk about the grace you each need for the difficult things in your life—and discuss with your children when you feel the grace of God and are able to better navigate those difficulties.

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   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.

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