In my first two articles (see: part 1 and part 2) on this subject, I reminded readers we are called to love ourselves as Christ loved us on the Cross, and we are called to love our spouses as Christ loved us on the Cross.
Christ has always been exceptionally clear about His love for all of us. In Matthew 19:14, Christ made it abundantly clear His love extends even to the littlest of us, by instructing His disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Everywhere we look, parents are inundated with messages that children should be seen and not heard, and we are expected to complain about parenthood at all times. Being a parent is hard, tiring, and many times feels thankless.
Parenting is also a rewarding path toward sanctification!
Sr. Lucia dos Santos, one of the visionaries of the apparitions from Our Lady of Fatima cautioned us, “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and family.” Something we overlook in today’s society, though, is not every battle will wage in courtrooms or on the news.
The battles can be waged in each family, as a parent begins to overlook their secondary vocation of parenthood, second only to marriage, and begin to allow bitterness, resentment, and envy to seep into their hearts. As parents begin to view their children in a manner which overlooks the child’s age and development, and overlooking the child’s dignity, parents begin to run the risk of forgetting just how much Christ loved all the children.
God the Father understood that we mere mortals would comprehend the depths of His love for us, when He gave His only Son to be sacrificed for our sins. In fact, perhaps the most memorized Bible passage is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
God knew we would understand the depths of His love for us, through the act of sacrifice of His Son!
As Christ died on the Cross, He despised the abuse that He knew some parents would carry out on their children.
He despised the way society would try to push children to the outer reaches, only wanting to embrace each other as adults.
He despised a culture which would seek to destroy a child’s life – both literally and physically – before that child had an opportunity to live and flourish.
As Christ died on the Cross, he made His sacrifice for our children as much as for ourselves.
As Christ died on the Cross, He loved the beauty and innocence that we see in all small children.
As Christ died on the Cross, He loved the little children.
Pope Francis has reminded parents about placing their children’s needs at the forefront, when he encouraged a breastfeeding mother to feed her young child. He reminded adults that the needs of small children should be met before the physical, social, and emotional needs of any adult.
Our needs, by virtue of parenthood, become secondary to the needs of defenseless, helpless creatures. And, while those small humans don’t remain defenseless and helpless for very long, their brains take longer to grow… meaning, they may look, act, and sound like an adult, but our needs are secondary to those who are still developing into adults.
Which makes the vocation of parenthood long and tedious. It is tough, in the midst of tantrums, in the midst of late nights and long days, in the midst of the latest round of supporting our children as they master their next developmental stage.
Like it or not, parenting is not about adults.
Parenting isn’t even about the children.
Parenting is about God – leading His little children to Him!
Perhaps, the most poignant words on parenting are found by St. Gianna Molla. Her gentle reminder about parenting is profound.
So, the next time you are tempted to lose your temper with your child, the next time you want to run away from your children, and the next time time you begin to doubt whether or not you are cut out for the role of parent, keep in mind St. Gianna’s words. You aren’t looking into the face of your child, or wanting to run away from your child, or doubting your ability to parent your child – you are looking into the face of Christ, wanting to run from Him, and doubting your ability to parent in His stead.
This is not to say there aren’t consequences for their actions!
Even our Ultimate Parent, God, gives consequences to us as petulant children. Instead, this is reminding all of us to approach parenting with a mindset which honors the dignity, worth, and beauty inherent in all children – to honor their worth and beauty…
…and to help it flourish.
Christ loved all of us, but perhaps held the most affection for children. As parents, we are called to remember His love, and to radiate His love for them, to them.
We are called to love our children as Christ loved them on the Cross.
Welcome to this installment in the series Real and Raw – Soul-Stirring Stories, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.
This is a story about adult children who abandon the Faith. I have vacillated, worried, and prayed over sharing our loss (and I do call it a loss) here. It is not a topic I’ve seen addressed very frequently, and there is the subversive thought often troubling my mind that somehow we have failed as Catholic parents. Were we too hard on them? Were we not hard enough? What more could we have done to ensure they’d remain faithful Catholics? In the end, and after much prayer, I came to recognize and embrace the reality; we cannot be alone in this struggle.
My husband and I have seven unique and amazing children, ranging in age from early elementary to early 20s. They have been our life’s work and we take joy in each and every one of them. In our younger years, we thought we had the magic formula for raising steadfast Catholic children. We strongly believed—“The family that prays together stays together” and “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it”—Proverbs 22:6. We homeschooled using almost exclusively Catholic materials, went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, frequented confession, and prayed together every day. The Faith permeated our home and everything we did and we thought it was enough.
As our oldest two became teenagers, we began to see the frayed edges of their faith unravel. Prayers appeared to be a chore. There were hints of exasperation when matters of faith and morals were discussed at the dinner table. Their friendships with Catholic friends became strained and they formed friendships with more secular acquaintances. As long as they were under 18 they did not openly question our authority or expectations but when they each turned 18 we decided we had to make it a rule that as long as they lived under our roof they had to attend Sunday Mass and join us for evening family prayer. They complied, but it was inherently obvious it was not out of devotion. Their body language said it all. Eventually, they moved out of our home and their Mass attendance abruptly stopped. They have embraced the values of secular culture and abandoned their faith; pursuing false promises of happiness and adopting distorted views of freedom. No matter how often we admonish them that their current lifestyle does not yield true happiness or authentic freedom, they turn deaf ears upon us.
There have been times I’ve wanted to throw up my hands in defeat and resignation. I admit there are times when I feel crippling fear and worry they very well could die outside of God’s friendship. I’ve begged and bargained with God. Yet, I know we’ve been called to continue parenting them here and now. My heart and soul cry desperately, “Jesus, I trust in you. I place them in Your hands.” We pray, and hope, and continue to invite them to come to confession and mass with us. Occasionally they do. It’s been a delicate back and forth and I pray for the balance needed between saying enough to encourage them without saying so much they reflexively balk.
There have been a few things, besides my anguished appeals in prayer, which have helped me in this effort. The first is friendships we have recently made with families in the same position as ours. We mourn together, commiserate with each other, pray for each other’s children, and hope with one another. We celebrate together as prodigal sons and daughters make a return. The support of like-minded friends has been invaluable and an enormous comfort.
A second help has been the patronage and example of Saint Monica. Little did I know how important choosing her as my confirmation saint would be. Her saintly example of constant prayer, beseeching God to convert her son Augustine’s heart, has been my inspiration to pray without ceasing for all of our children and to trust God will bring them home.
Thirdly, my husband and I have each other. We have carefully crafted a partnership in parenting our children, young and old. We are on the same page with each other, praying, counseling, and leading our family, hopefully to greater holiness each day. Having children who have left the Faith has strengthened our resolve and our partnership. Our end goal is the same—Heaven, and we work diligently, with God’s Grace, to make sure each of our children knows what needs to be done to remain in God’s friendship.
Recently I sat praying for my children during my weekly Holy Hour and I felt a great comfort as I meditated on the importance of free will in our relationship with God. It is a beautiful gift, one which mothers may feel at conflict with. As much as we’d like to dictate our children to love and serve God, free will must be an aspect of Faith. Without it how can our children freely choose to love God on their own? What is love if it is not an active and free choice? I have every confidence God will continue his work in our children. I trust He will bring them back and they will choose Him. Their Faith will be all the stronger for it. In the meantime, I pray, hope, seek comfort, and wait for Him to complete His work.
Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts.
What was my spiritual life like before this experience?
How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?
We want to take a moment to introduce you to a new series we are working on for Catholic Sistas and to ask for your feedback. As you know, over the years this blog has featured writers from a wide variety of age groups and backgrounds all from an authentically Catholic perspective. In our new series, we want to allow Catholic moms of special needs kids a chance to share their experiences in raising their kids Catholic and all the things that revolve around that.
We all have challenges in our lives; we all face difficulties of one kind or another. The story is in how we face those challenges and overcome them. This is one of those things that Catholic Sistas has been great at over the years.
We have a couple writers lined up and a few others thinking about it (we had hoped to use this post to introduce you to our writers, but we’ll get to that in a future post). We’re still working out a few things, but hope to have a post up in February. Just like you can always expect a homeschool post on the second Friday of the month, this new series should show up every fourth Monday of the month.
One thing we would like, which we think will benefit our writers, is your ideas. What kinds of topics would you like our writers to tackle? Are there questions you have for them that they might be able to answer in a blog post? Anything else you want to add?
Here are some ideas we’ve already floated to our potential writers: facing doctors and others who want you to abort your baby because of a serious diagnosis, facing an unexpected diagnosis, how other children help out in the household, challenges siblings face, preparing your special needs child for sacraments, discerning adding more children to your family, and more.
Please share any feedback you have in the comments and thank you in advance! Some of our writers are a bit new to this and they’d love to have some topics to lend some inspiration. We are looking forward to this new series. We hope you are too!!
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.
Growing up Catholic means NFP was a familiar word to me. As I entered my teen and college years, I was aware of its existence, but that was about the extent of my understanding. It wasn’t until I was nearing marriage that I actually took the time to read about what it was myself, get educated on the actual practice of the method, and decide along with my new husband that we would openly and willingly choose to follow this method when thinking about our future family.
Over the years, I have become used to questions and comments regarding our choice to use NFP. As a matter of fact I have even come to expect it when the “dreaded” topic of family planning comes up in discussions, especially with those who view NFP as a foreign concept. However something happened this last week at Mass that opened my eyes to a possible contributing reason for this.
I was sitting in church with my five children and husband. Our youngest daughter was born with a brain condition and is developmentally delayed. She also has a feeding tube that causes her to have belly aches and sometimes just has outbursts she nor we can control. As we were sitting through the readings, I read her cues that she just wasn’t going to last. She started to fuss a little and arch (which typically means headache from the pressure or bellyache from her feed) so I picked her up along with her feeding bag and began to make my way out the back door to the narthex. Once out in the back, she calmed a little, but still had the occasional fusses and screams as she struggled with whatever it was that was bothering her. I just held her and loved on her and watched the Mass through the glass. Besides the usual random cry or chirp or babble, I hadn’t heard any other children being inappropriate in the church (with the exception of one other father who had brought his little boy out back who was having a “toddler moment.”) Before the Holy Holy started, I noticed a very pregnant pause in the flow of the liturgy. The gap and silence caught my attention of course. Then, a woman’s voice came over the microphone and said “just to remind you there IS a nursery for children.”
I paused for a moment thinking to myself “Did I just hear that?” An usher walked by and I stopped her asking “Did the cantor just say what I think she said?” The usher said “Yes, I have never heard that before!” I agreed. In the 6 years of attending this parish, I had never heard such an announcement! The usher said she would speak with the priest after Mass to inquire about the event. I thanked her and she walked on. And this was the moment NFP came to mind.
NFP you say? Who thinks of family planning and the Catholic church at a moment like that? Well I did. I started to think of all the wonderful education we have now about NFP and the different methods to use, the classes, the instructors, and the excellent marriage prep that is available to educate young people that may have heard of it but not quite understood what it was about (like me before I was married). And then I started to think what a gap we must have once we teach about NFP. There is some sort of disconnect that occurs between practicing the method, and realizing that it extends too far beyond the family decisions of a Catholic couple.
The first thought that popped in my head were the many young families I know who are good people, and even love the church, but do not bring themselves or their children to Mass because of exactly what had happened at our Mass that day. I thought of the many young families who WERE in Mass, struggling to make it and have the baby or toddler or special needs child last just that little bit longer so they can at least make it through communion without having to go out back. I lastly thought of that young family who maybe tried for the very first time to bring their child/ren to Mass that day, only to be met with such an announcement.
While the announcement was distasteful to me, I was not deterred by it. No matter what, I will be at Mass and I will be there with my children. It’s not always easy, but that’s just me.. I can press on and move through it. However I know not everyone functions like that. And that is what made me sad that day. Where is the support after families follow through and use NFP? Where is the understanding of young families trying to bring their children to Mass? Where is the joy in hearing the occasional squeal or baby babble and realizing they are possibly experiencing the same holiness and joy we feel in celebrating the Eucharist? NFP extends far beyond the family unit. It extends into our Church family once the fruits of this method are among us, and we must have more patience to encourage parents and young ones that they are in fact doing the right thing.
To be fair, I am not trying to advocate screaming tantrums in Mass. I get it. It is a place of reverence and a place of prayer and the Eucharist. I have been there done that with my children when they have had their unruly days. I have dragged (figuratively speaking) many a child out the back of the church as she wailed or cried or had one of those oh so lovely toddler moments of drama. It happens. But when the “noise” consists of a chirp, or short cry, or short fuss, or even soft talking as the parents try to quiet the child, I feel we need a gentle reminder that this is what NFP is all about. To nourish life, to be open to life, and to accept the life God gives us. I think this also extends into spiritual life, especially that of our young ones.
NFP is a process of communication and discovery among Catholic couples. It is about learning and listening and working together while listening to God’s will for our lives. This is really the same for our children. Children are the epitome of discovery and curiosity. We yearn for them to learn – when they start reading we are proud. When they finally ‘get’ the tricky math problem we applaud them. When they show interest and curiosity into a new scientific concept, we get excited for them. These learning methods are very important for children – and must translate from our discovery of the NFP process all the way to the children born of that process sitting in Mass making their own discoveries about God and His will for their lives.
As for the cantor, I hold no judgement or discontent. The comment was wrong, but I don’t know what kind of day she was having, what prompted her to make such a comment, or what influenced her to make the announcement in the negative tone that she did. But I would ask that she realize a lot of the “noise” she is hearing is our future generation of the Church. This is the way we acclimate our children to the Mass, the traditions, the sacred meaning of the Eucharist. Every parent does the best they can – for some it does mean using the nursery, for some it means standing in the back, for some it means struggling in the sanctuary with the little ones. But no parent should ever feel sorry or guilty their little ones are at Mass. No parent should feel the discomfort their children may by “disturbing others” and most of all, no parent should second guess bringing their children because of a misplaced mid-Mass announcement.
No matter what, we must always be welcoming of children at Mass. We are the example as a community of practicing Catholics. We have to guide them and be patient in this discovery. This can be our “long term NFP” as a Church family. The NFP promises we make in a marriage can continue to help us accept our openness to life and our nourishing of God’s children. The children that He so lovingly has given to families who are trying their best to follow His word and be open to His heavenly gifts.