Allen Hébert works in the Information Technology field. Allen and his wife Denae, have been married for over 25 years and they have been blessed with nine children. In 2013, Allen and his wife Denae, founded Your Holy Family ministries to promote God's plan for family life through family retreats, workshops and family fun days. More information on their ministry can be found at www.YourHolyFamily.com
Your Family was started on the day you got married, and after you took your vows.
The presider may have uttered words similar to the ones above. It not only applies to you and your spouse, but also to your entire family. The world many times seeks to separate what God has joined together.
Living the Life
As our kids were growing up, we got involved in Church, sports and social club activities. It got to a point that we were busy every night of the week. I was a member of the church choir, my wife and I were deeply involved in building a Catholic School, three of our children were playing soccer and I was coaching them, and our daughters were members of a Catholic Girl’s club. In addition to these church and family related items, I worked full time with a bit of travel and even took lessons to become a private pilot. When a new opportunity for spiritual growth or volunteering came our way, our method of deciding whether or not to say yes was to take a look at our calendar and see if there was any spare time. If there was, we said yes until every moment of our life was filled with activities.
Each of the activities we were involved in were good, it was the sheer number of activities that was bad for us. Looking back on that time in our lives, I don’t think we realized that this constant busyness was unhealthy for our family. We were just living a full life, volunteering for every worthwhile cause and making sure that each of our children was able have all the fun a child should have. We were on the road to burn out and to losing touch with our young family.
Then I took a new job and one of the highly suggested activities at my new company was to spend a couple of weeks at our corporate offices helping out in the technical support call center. It was a great way for a new Systems Engineer to quickly learn the technical aspects of the products while helping out our short-staffed support team. My wife and I discussed this extended business trip and we decided to buy an RV and make a family trip out of it. When the planning was completed, I had arranged a trip to California and back that lasted just under a month with stops at customer sites, national and state parks, theme parks and visiting friends and family along the way. I don’t know that I fully realized the immediate profound effect this trip would have on our family, nor the way it would shape our family life and rhythm for the rest of our lives.
Life Lessons from Living in an RV
When preparing to leave for this trip, we had to squeeze 10 people, all our clothing, bicycles, and any personal items we needed for a month into a 31 foot Class C RV with no slide outs and limited storage. This was a serious exercise in detachment, not only from possessions, but from our normal routines. I still did my work on the road, but pretty much everything else in our normal routine changed. We didn’t have any sports, school, social or church activities, we left all that behind when we pulled out of the drive on our way to California, we only had each other.
Our commitments at home weren’t missed, we didn’t long for our things, we had a great time and really grew closer together as a family over the course of our trip. We ate all our meals together, we visited shrines along the way, attended Sunday mass and an occasional daily mass together, met with friends in different cities, and we explored the beauty of God’s creation. In summary, we retreated from the world, prayed together, played together and formed closer bonds with each other and with the Lord. We emerged from our month long adventure a changed family with a renewed focus on what was most important in our lives.
The Family Mission
God taught us that one of his greatest gifts to us is our family. Each of our children brings something unique to our family, something we didn’t have before and something that makes our family unit better. We learned that we really like our kids and they like us too. Our kids didn’t need to be kept busy with tons of activities, they were just as happy, maybe even more so, to simply be with us.
Unhealthy patterns had crept into our family, this RV trip was a good exercise which allowed us to take a step back and evaluate our lives and our family routine. We began to regularly spend time in prayer as a couple and as a family, asking God what our family’s mission should be and where we should be spending our time and energy. At times this exercise has resulted in minor adjustments, and sometimes major life changes to our family routine to ensure that we meet our primary goal of leading our family to heaven.
Every family needs to retreat from the world on a regular basis, this can take the form of a family vacation, a family retreat, or just making Sunday family days. But if you don’t plan for them, they probably won’t happen. Your family is a great gift from God, be sure to nurture and care for it.
I absolutely love the courtship approach to dating for my children, but it isn’t enough. Courtship is the idea that young people should only enter into an exclusive relationship when they are ready to get married. I have discussed in a previous blog post exactly what Dating with Purpose looks like, so go check it out for more details if you wish. In short, Courtship, or Dating with Purpose, establishes a set of guidelines or best practices that should be followed to avoid the near occasion for sin during dating and foster the right environment for two people with noble intentions to discern whether or not God is calling them to marry each other.
Family: Boot Camp for Healthy Relationships
The building blocks for a successful marriage and family life are healthy relationships. Indeed, the fundamental call of Christianity is to engage in healthy relationships with everyone we encounter on our journey through life. When we are young, our relationships are immature, often characterized by extreme selfishness, also known as being childish. If we don’t get our way, we throw a temper tantrum hoping that the person telling us “no” will be too embarrassed, too tired or too weak to stand their ground and thus give in and let us do what we want to do. Most people grow out of this stage somewhere around age 7 or 8. During the next few years leading up to adolescence, our goal is to teach our children, through the use of their new-found reason, to be obedient because it is the right thing to do. We also teach them self mastery and respect for legitimate authority. These basic skills are essential to building healthy relationships later in life as they search for their vocation (marriage or religious life).
We have a large family (nine children), so being selfish is just not a viable option for our children; we don’t have to do much to teach our children that they won’t always be able to get their own way. There is not enough money, space or time to make everyone in our family happy. I was raised in a much smaller family and thus it was easy for me to be selfish, and I was until I got married (and perhaps for even a few years into it). Selfishness and marriage don’t go very well together. Luckily God gave us children and the more children you have the less selfish you will be. It is not impossible to teach selflessness within a small family, but you do have to make a plan and work at it, especially if you are financially blessed.
Desiring the Best for Another
Healthy relationships are not just important for your marriage, but are essential for leading a successful life. It doesn’t matter if you like someone or not, you have to treat them with respect, even if the other person doesn’t try at all and may even be trying to take advantage of your kindness. This is what we call being Christ like. God loves us no matter what. We can be mean to Him, ignore Him, hate Him or love Him, yet He will still love us and desire the best for us and treat us with respect. We are called to do the same in the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters in the human race.
We are called to be honest, truthful and have empathy for others, we are expected to do what we can to help them when they are having difficulties, and to rejoice with them when they have success. We shouldn’t view other people’s success as threats to our own happiness. There is plenty of success to go around for everyone. What a world we would live in if everyone did their best to help other people achieve their full God given potential.
Courtship is Not Enough
So back to my main point: courtship is not sufficient to ensure a successful marriage or family life for our children; we must teach them to be good human beings first, to rejoice in the success of others, and to be confident in their own self worth as a child of God. This may sound like a very tall order, but this is why God gave us the gift of family life. The family is naturally designed to teach us how to have healthy relationships with other people.
The Courtship model can be a way to help the potential spouses our children bring home encounter healthy relationships. Unfortunately not every family seeks to raise well formed children and thus there are some who need to discover what a healthy relationship is when they are far beyond the age at which this should have been learned. It is at this point that the whole family can be an agent of mercy to help the potential brother or sister in law to enter into a Christian way of life. But there is nothing magical about this approach. There will be some suitors who find this way of living too odd or too difficult, but that is part of the beauty of the courtship process. It is not up to your adult child to weed out every bad apple or redeem every lost soul; the rest of the family can help too.
The goal of any dating or courtship relationship is to help your adult children find their spouse for life. A successful marriage is much more than just good feelings and if the family is blessed with children (and perhaps lots of them) a healthy relationship between a husband and wife is even more important. We never stop learning how to be a better person, or a better spouse or a better father or mother, family life ensures that this task of being a better Christian is a life long work in progress. If we provide a good foundation for our children, their marriage and family will be stronger from the start and they will be better prepared to weather the storms of their family life.
A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to a destination of religious significance. It is not a vacation, but a quest for deeper faith. The pilgrimage is more than just the destination, it begins as soon as you leave the comfort of your home and your normal routine. A pilgrimage can include great sacrifice and suffering and great spiritual benefit for those who seek to unite their sacrifice and suffering with that of Jesus. Our family made the decision to journey to the World Meeting of Families this year. Part of our motivation was to be present at this historic event and hopefully to see the Pope (when we registered, Pope Francis had not yet confirmed his attendance). Our ministry is dedicated to promoting God’s plan for family life and so attending the World Meeting of Families only seemed appropriate, but it goes beyond that. Our ministry is an extension of our family, an outward sign of the Love that we seek to cultivate within our family. Even if we did not have a ministry devoted to families, we would still be making this pilgrimage because we seek to lead our family deeper into relationship with Christ and His Church and enter more completely into God’s plan for family life.
Love is Our Mission
“Love is Our Mission, the Family Fully Alive“, is the theme of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. We as families are on a mission from God, a mission to guard, reveal and communicate love in our communities, in our cities, in our countries, and ultimately in our world. God is love and He has a plan for our families. God himself is a communion of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The love between the three persons of the Holy Trinity is oriented towards leading humanity towards the love of God.
The love of God is given freely without reservation or conditions, it is given totally with nothing held back. God’s love is faithful, even if the other party in the relationship is unfaithful, God will still be faithful. Lastly, God’s love is fruitful, it is not sterile, the love between the persons of the Holy Trinity always bears fruit just as the love between a husband and wife bears fruit, often as a new person. We consider our ministry to be a fruit of the love within our family, we are compelled to share this love with other families and we encourage them to do the same. The words of Christ in the 14th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel inspire us, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”. We are called to spread the fire of God’s love throughout the world, for it is the Love of God that will transform the world into a more just world, a more peaceful world and a world full of love for God and for our neighbor.
To Boldly Go
So with all this in mind, we set out on our pilgrimage, we have an RV to get us there, but only just enough time to make it, so no stops along the way to enjoy the scenery. We have a hotel at our destination, but it is almost 8 miles from the Convention Center where the World Meeting of Families is being held, so we brought our bicycles (this is such a large event that transportation is going to be challenging for a group of 10). We really can’t afford to eat out for each meal, so we brought our groceries and our hotel room has a small refrigerator and microwave, but most of our meals will probably take place away from our hotel.
So we have the basics covered, but we don’t have a complete plan. But we know we are called to be at this event and we know the Lord will provide, and most assuredly in ways we are not expecting. There is something exciting and scary about relying on God in this way, but I suppose we have good company, for even the disciples were sent out two by two with only one pair of sandals, a single tunic without any money relying on God to provide for their every need through the people He would put in their path during their pilgrimage and hopefully upon our return we too will marvel at the things God did for us and through us during this adventure.
Follow Our Pilgrimage Online
Our family departed late Sunday evening for Philadelphia on a pilgrimage to attend the World Meeting of Families and to attend the Papal events over the weekend. We will drive over 24 hours to get there. I will be micro blogging this pilgrimage on the Your Holy Family Facebook page and also providing daily summaries on the Your Holy Family website. So be sure to “Like” our Facebook page and select “Get Notifications” so you will be notified when I post a new status update to our Facebook Page.
Welcome to the series “You did it to me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!
Visiting the sick, it sounds easy enough, you visit someone who is sick, keep them company, bring them some food, take care of their kids, or bring them medicine. My family has been the recipient of this corporal work of mercy, with each of our nine children. Our friends and family would rise to the occasion and help us through these times of transition as we welcomed new life into our family and while my wife would recover from her C-Section surgeries. I can tell you that being on the receiving end of corporal works of mercy is very humbling, and it has inspired us to do the same for others who were in need. I can’t say I came by visiting the sick naturally. In fact, I am not a very good sick person, when I get sick I generally don’t want to do anything, just sleep and have someone else wait on me. When someone is sick in my family, I don’t automatically jump at the opportunity to be of service to them. In most cases, my wife is much quicker to respond than I am and I am usually pretty happy with that.
God Had Other Plans
Last year I was unemployed for a number of months, long enough that we were starting to become concerned about our financial situation because we were about half way through our savings and no job was in sight. The job search story will be the subject of a future blog article, but for our purposes here, it is important to know that through prayer, we decided that I should consider a job opportunity in my hometown which is three hours away from our home. Almost all our extended family lives in our hometown. We were the only ones to move away. I was hired for a position and started my new job within two weeks of the first interview. I didn’t need to find a new home to live in because I could stay with my Dad during the week.
Part of the decision making process (in those two weeks before the offer came) was my Father’s health. We had noticed for a year or so that my Dad was slowing down, having difficulty performing tasks that we would find very easy, and making some poor financial decision. We knew that he had been diagnosed with an incurable illness that resulted in loss of muscular control, and the early onset of dementia which includes severe short term memory loss, extreme impulsiveness and a belief that there is nothing wrong. By seeing him on a regular basis I could go to doctor’s appointments with him and see how I might be able to help him and his wife to deal with a gradual loss of ability and independence.
Unfortunately, these symptoms had a devastating effect on his marriage and this relationship was coming to an end due to the changes in his personality that accompanied the progression of his illness. I knew God directed me to take this job near my extended family for a reason, but I had no idea that my Father’s situation was so dire.
Doing the Right Thing
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I always associated visiting the sick with taking care of people who had a temporary illness and were at least welcoming of the assistance being offered. With my Dad’s illness, he believes that he is perfectly fine even if everyone else knows better. To help him I had to make very difficult decisions to take away his ability to mismanage his money (which included credit card fraud) and his ability to drive. As you may imagine, he was not happy about either of these and I am now accustomed to my Father telling me that he hates me and to get out of his home.
This is where visiting the sick becomes a cross to bear and truly a corporal work of mercy. Our whole family is united in the actions that we had to take for the protection of my Father and of others who may be impacted by his mental and physical impediments. It would have been easier to act like everything was okay, but we all knew that it was not fair to him or anyone else that did business with him or was driving on the same road to let things continue as they were.
As I have shared with others the struggles we have been going through with my Dad, it appears that I am not alone. Almost everyone relates to me a similar situation that they had to deal with as their parents grew older and were no longer able to care for themselves. As a son, I have a debt of gratitude to my Dad. He sacrificed much for me as I was growing up. He coached my little league teams, sent me to the best private schools, gave me a job when I was way too young to work, provided guidance through all my difficult times as a teenager and to think about it, I wasn’t always too happy with what he decided was best for me either. The roles have definitely reversed, it is now my time to be the not-so-popular one who has to make the best decisions for my Dad’s well being even if doesn’t always like them.
Our Reward is in Heaven
Since my Dad’s illness will only get worse, I know he will never realize that these decisions were for the best, he will probably never thank me or the rest of my family for the many hours of work we have done for him and he will most likely continue to be rude and resentful when we make a decision that he doesn’t like. But we must do it anyway. I love my Dad, I also have a lot of empathy for him as his brain is overtaken by this illness and he becomes less and less in control of his emotions and his body. I and the rest of my family, my brother and his family and my Dad’s brother and sister are committed to helping him live out the rest of his days with dignity and love. We may not be thanked for our work, but we know it is the right thing to do.
Christ tells us in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, that when you care for the sick in your life, you are caring for Jesus. I pray that I see Jesus in my Dad and that I treat him accordingly. I spend a lot of time in prayer these days, and I should probably spend more, because this work is difficult, but necessary and if I am visiting Christ who is sick, I should give it my best and ask for His help to be the best caregiver in the world.
My Father in Law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer during our time away from our home and he passed away earlier this year. Ministering to him was quite a different experience and we wrote several articles about that experience. Reflections by myself, my wife and one of our daughters can be found at the Your Holy Family website.
A few years ago around this time of year, I made an inquiry on my Facebook Status, “To Prom or not to Prom, that is the question”. I figured I might get a few responses, but after 36 comments over the course of 3 days from 21 different people, it seems there was no lack of opinions and interest in this subject. So I wrote a blog post about how we came to the decision for our oldest daughter.
The question I asked was not really fair to my friends, since I didn’t provide all the information required to really answer the question.
Based on the responses I received, it seems that there were two areas that people came from to make their recommendation, the event itself and the moral effect this event may have on my daughter and whether or not my daughter should go to a dance with a young man. In reality, both of these areas of concern were used to make our decision about whether our oldest daughter would attend the local high school prom with our neighbor’s oldest son.
A Partnership with our Daughter
I would like to begin by saying that our decision was made in partnership with our daughter, she was at the age where she had quite a bit of say in the activities in which she chose to participate, as her parents we provided guidance, and not ultimatums. Boundaries still exist and most are set by God and a few were set by us since she was still living in our home.
First of all I want to say that I am very proud of the young woman she has become and I have the utmost faith in her and her decisions. The question was never about whether or not she would attend the Prom and decide in one night to abandon her morality and rebel against us because she saw a different way of life and decided to embrace it. I certainly hoped we had done a good job of presenting Christianity and forming our children to be good Catholics. God is not some overbearing authority that says live this way or I will punish you; on the contrary, He presents us with a choice between life and death, between choosing God or choosing the world. We have hopefully taught our children that the good news proclaimed by Christ is freedom from sin and that this will lead to true happiness. We have confidence that the faith that we pledged to impart on our daughter at her baptism has been accepted by her as a young adult and that she not only embraces that faith, but also desires to bring light to those around her and share the good news of the gospel.
The Dangers of the Prom
The dance itself, while it may not cause my daughter to abandon her moral convictions, does need to be evaluated to determine if it is a good event to attend. For example, I would not attend a dance if the music being played was going to be offensive to my moral convictions. I would also not attend a dance if I could reasonably expect that the dancing would be lewd and sexually suggestive. I would also not attend a dance if those who were attending would be drinking excessively and thus acting as drunk people normally act. So there are certain events, through personal experience, that I would not attend because I would have concern for my own personal safety or my sense of decency would be insulted. I am sure each of you also can think of places or events that you would not partake in due to issues such as the ones listed above. Yes, it is a judgement call, and God made us this way, to judge whether or not something is good for us or not.
Based on personal accounts from friends who have been chaperones at this particular school’s proms in the past and based on the Prom Agreement Form, there must have been some pretty bad things happen at the Prom in the past including, use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs by participants, immodest dress, and inappropriate dancing (lap dances, bumping and grinding and any other movement that appears to simulate sexual acts), and indecent exposure and/or removal of under garments. (this was all prohibited in the school’s Prom Agreement that both parent and child were required to sign).
Dating, What is it Good For?
Our children do not do recreational dating. I know this is a very foreign idea to most people I know. It is not how I nor my wife was raised, we both dated and dated each other and got married. Today, dating is the normal way to meet your future spouse. There are some common questions/criticisms I hear when I tell people that our children will not date.
How will your children meet their future spouse?
Everyone dates, and so did you, why would you deny your child this part of normal life?
What, really? Why not? Thats weird.
When will your kids start dating?
Thats what you think now, you will change you mind later.
Dating is the only way you get to know people of the other gender.
Your kids will never get married.
We assure people that we do desire our children to meet members of the opposite gender, to get married (probably sooner than those who date) and have fulfilled lives despite their lack of participating in the dating game.
So why do we not wish for our children to date? The answer is that we believe that dating is not an activity that will produce the desired results while helping our children to avoid the near occasion of sin. While societal norms have strayed greatly from the moral teachings of Christ, we do hope that we have equipped our children to rise above the peer pressure that exists to the contrary.
We believe that dating is practice for divorce. Think about it, you go out with someone for a period of time, if you are following God’s laws, you don’t get physically intimate with the other person, but most dating relationships today do involve quite a bit of physical intimacy, if not intercourse. So the couple gets emotionally involved, sometimes very involved and then at some point (since most young people date more than one person in their quest for a spouse) breakup and stop seeing each other. Feelings are hurt, friends are lost and the young people grieve or rejoice (depending on if they were dumped or were the dumper – note the common terminology used) and move on to the next person who they find attractive.
The common response to this criticism is that you need to play the field to get to know lots of different people so you can figure out what you like in someone you would like to marry. If you don’t shop around, you may not know what you are missing. This is a flawed understanding of courtship. Courtship is not living in a vacuum and not interacting with potential spouses, you do it on a regular basis. But you shop around with friends. You guard your heart and your physical intimacy so that your feelings don’t cloud your judgement. The Courtship model actually helps you to shop around more effectively. This mode of interacting with members of the opposite gender requires not only physical chastity, but also emotional chastity. Emotional chastity may be more difficult as it requires guarding your thoughts as well as your actions. But we can take solace in the words of Christ found in the Gospel that call us to observe the sixth commandment concerning adultery, but also to avoid lust in our hearts. If Jesus called us to live in this way, then the Holy Spirit will enable us to be successful.
So we met with the young man and got to know him a little better. Even though we have been neighbors for a few years, we had not interacted with him or his family much prior to his Prom invitation. I spoke with him and shared our views on dating and emphasized that our children do not date in the traditional sense and thus if my daughter were to accompany him to Prom, that it would be as a friend. We also discussed the parameters in which he would need to agree to abide if he were to take my daughter to Prom (no after parties, no drinking, etc). I shared with him the obligation and duty I have to protect my daughters and sons from both physical and spiritual harm and my duty to protect their honor. I told him that if Rachel would go with him to Prom that he would be agreeing to take on this role for the evening. He listened attentively and agreed to do his best, and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, so we gave our permission for our daughter to attend.
While I felt comfortable that my daughter’s friend would keep his word, I also knew what it was like to be 18 and that sometimes it is hard to discern when a situation is making someone else uncomfortable. So I signed up to be an official chaperone at the Prom for the first two hours. I must emphasize that my being a chaperone is in no way a statement of mistrust of either my daughter or her friend. I did not spy on them while they were at the Prom, I observed the environment and did what I could to make sure that it was “family friendly” and free of the activity cited in the Prom Permission form. I sincerely hoped that my daughter would have a good time, and that it would be a positive experience for both of them (since neither has been to a Prom before). Our daughter had been to a homeschool formal before and had a great time, the coordinators of the Homeschool Formal consistently do a great job, they require dance lessons prior to the formal by all attendees, they have dance cards to ensure that no one feels left out and that everyone gets to meet people other than the person who escorted them to the formal, and most of the attendees are strong in their Christian morals. We look forward to their report and Rachel’s opinion on which formal event was better.
What are your thoughts on Prom? What have you done when faced with a similar situation?
Turns out my fears about the nature of the Prom were justified, I witnessed all the rules being broken, except for alcohol abuse (which may have occurred). Please read my follow up article for all the sordid details.