Person to person

Pope Francis greets Catholic faithful as he arrives for his final mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de JaneiroSome weeks back I went to hear Dr. Paul Farmer speak in Chicago along with his mentor, liberation theologian and champion of the poor Father Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru. Farmer, if you’ve never heard of him, is a Harvard physician, and a Catholic, who has almost single-handedly revolutionized health care for the poor in developing countries over the past three decades. I expected an audience of 100 or so, mostly of older folks. Instead I beheld a hotel ballroom packed to the rafters with nearly 2,000 people, almost all of them under the age of 25, many of them Catholic high school students.

What message did Farmer and Gutiérrez have for the throngs of eager young people who came out on this chilly evening? I could best sum it up in five words: “We must accompany the poor.” Not coincidentally, it’s the same message being advocated by Pope Francis, another favorite of young people—because they observe that he practices what he preaches.

They love that he invited four homeless men to join him for breakfast on his birthday. They love the story told by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who visited him in Buenos Aires several years ago: Then Cardinal Bergoglio made the airport pickup himself, in a borrowed car. “We passed all the great sights, but did I hear about them? No,” said McCarrick in a talk at Georgetown University recently. “The only thing I heard was, ‘Under this bridge is the worst slum in the city. I try to visit often.’ ” McCarrick stressed, “He doesn’t just reach out to the poor, but to the individuals who are poor.”

You saw the key word there: individuals. What if, this Lent, we found a way for our family to get to know some poor individuals in person, by name? “They have much to teach us,” says the pope to encourage us. Perhaps our local parish could help: The March 2014 U.S. Catholic magazine reports that during the weeks when Lumen Christi Parish in St. Paul, Minnesota hosts a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, parish families—children included—come in to host and have supper with them. What a great idea.

Our family’s monthly visits to a homeless shelter in Chicago, kicked off by one of my kids having to answer, “What is your family doing for Lent?” for a homework assignment, have been eye-opening. As “clothing ministers” on certain Thursday nights, we accompany folks as they choose from donated pants, shirts, socks, coats, hats, gloves, and (when we’re lucky) long johns. It’s been great to see my son and daughter bemoaning the lack of blankets or size 32 pants on a given night. My husband, to my great amusement, always seems to get the guys who shop just like I do, taking their sweet time browsing, patching together a decent outfit from odds and ends.

We all wear name tags—so we can learn one another’s names. Some of the guests at the shelter are nice; some not as much—just like the rest of us. And I learned that nope, not even homeless folks in Marquette Park want those old clothes with holes or giant ink stains. And why should they? I wouldn’t.

It’s wonderful to write checks for the poor; to donate clothes, toys, food. Bravo. But Paul Farmer, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Pope Francis suggest that we summon our courage and take the next step. Our children will thank us.

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.

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Photo: ©Flickr/Semilla Luz

 

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

Walk this way

Asian girl holding mom's legAs Mass begins, a new crop of Christians-in-training processes into Our Lady of Mercy Church in what has to be one of the most moving ceremonies of the church year. They stand in the center aisle, facing their sponsors, who begin by tracing the sign of the cross on their foreheads as the priest prays, “It is Christ himself who now strengthens you with this sign of his love. Learn to know and follow him.” We pray as the sponsor crosses the catechumen’s ears, eyes, lips, shoulders, heart, and hands, ending with: “Receive the sign of the cross on your feet, that you may walk in the way of Christ.”

A blessing of such beauty and power makes me wish that all Catholics could get one like it every year or two, to strengthen and focus our faith. Consider for a moment just the blessing of the feet. Let’s be concrete: Where might the way of Christ take my feet during the months ahead? To what places are our family’s calendar commitments actually bringing us? Continue reading

Try for a Lenten moment

girl ashesIf you’re feeling discouraged because your effort to give up chocolate was thwarted by the coworker who brought the birthday cake to work, don’t lose heart. Lent is not a pass/fail class. Rather, it is a journey of becoming closer to God through prayer, sacrifice, and generosity. Seeing Lent only as a 40-day block can prevent us from taking advantage of Lenten moments—opportunities that arise each day for us to deepen our relationship with God. Here are a few:

• Prayer. Between now and Easter, look for five minutes alone with your spouse. Face each other, hold hands, and ask your spouse what he or she is most worried about. Then together pray an Our Father, slowly, for that worry. Then do the same for your worry, followed by a prayer of gratitude from each of you.

• Generosity. Almsgiving is the traditional way to be generous during Lent, but generosity can be practiced in small moments throughout the day—flowers for a teacher, a plate of cookies for an elderly neighbor, a thank-you note to a priest who inspired you with a recent homily.

• Sacrifice. The strong among us are able to sustain a 40-day fast from sweets, chips, or alcohol during Lent, but the rest of us need to start small with our sacrifice. Try a focused, one- to three-day fast from something you truly enjoy, but for a purpose. Give up your afternoon Diet Coke for three days straight and pray for your oldest child. Skip sweets for a day and make a point to learn more about those areas of the world affected by hunger.

—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 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three 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.

New! Like us on Facebook and follow Homefaith on Twitter.

 

The Way of the Cross: A trip worth taking

Chevy Chase dragged his fictional family everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s, from European Vacation to Vegas Vacation. The hapless Griswold gang never made it to the Holy Land, but don’t worry—thanks to the Franciscans, they can still get a glimpse of it in spirit. The Stations of the Cross were devised by Franciscan priests to be snapshots featuring the Holy Land sites of Christ’s Passion. Also known as the Way of the Cross, the devotion conveys key Christian concepts pertaining to love and sacrifice. Among them:

1. Jesus and the way of perseverance. Jesus is unjustly condemned. How many times have we had that experience—as a mom or dad, a child, or a sibling? Because we see the value of certain limits, we as parents may be branded by our kids as “too strict” or “no fun” or “mean.” Perhaps friends misunderstand our parenting style, unfairly judging us. Continue reading

I can’t get no satisfaction

Behind my piano you will find a huge plastic tub housing approximately 82 Batman action figures; the Dark Knight and his villains all bristle with assorted weapons. Nearby waits a squad of 47 Star Wars figures and oh, half a million Lego pieces. The latter are assembled into complex dwellings, spaceships, and monsters, each with impossibly detailed instructions, also somewhere around the house. I didn’t mention the plastic World War II soldiers, nor the cowboys and politically incorrect Indians, all of whom deploy with the comic book and space heroes for occasional combat on the living room floor. Continue reading

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