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Father’s Day Liturgy: Cheerios, Tears, and Prayer

Mass with a five year old and a two year old. It’s a beautiful, chaotic, maddening, complicated adventure, isn’t it? The longest hour of the week for sure. How can 60 minutes seem so excruciatingly slow one morning, but the next day, let’s say when I am rushing to get one to school and the other to daycare it whizzes by?

Prior to March 24, 2015, I was never so proud as when we went to church as a family of four. In my mind there was nothing more beautiful than a family worshiping and growing in faith together. Sure it was a challenge with little ones, but always a time that I treasured, honored, and looked forward to each week.  

Fast forward a year and three months, and I am absolutely anxiety ridden about taking my children to mass. It’s ridiculous to think that way, I know. Church is a safe haven, but as I sit there trying to juggle a preschooler and a toddler I am constantly reminded that he left us. That he is so ill that he cannot comprehend that he would have been supported, cared for, and forgiven within the Church. He has left us and it is now just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew.

On Father’s Day 2016 I ventured to mass with my own father and two children. Armed with a bag of church appropriate goodies (which I was very much against when we were a family of four) I was determined to have a peaceful, faith filled hour. My soon-to-be Kindergartner got it. He did great, the toddler was a young two, so it was the typical struggle of an inquisitive 27 month old.

But it wasn’t their behavior that caused the anxious pain in my heart that day, they were actually quite well-behaved on the third Sunday of June. Instead it was the message. As I tried to squash my single mother anxiety when I prepared for mass that morning, I didn’t think about the possible homily. I didn’t think about the message that might be shared on our first official Father’s Day without him.

The priest began with statistics. Statistics about children from a fatherless home. The priest spoke words like, “low self-esteem, poverty, addiction…” These words made me uncomfortable, a little angry, somewhat sick. “Those will not be my children,” I thought to myself. However, before I could dwell on his statistics, the priest said (quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), “when human fatherhood has dissolved all statements about God the Father are empty”. This idea played over and over in my mind, as I held back tears. It made perfect sense – if one doesn’t understand what it’s like to have a human father, it is difficult to understand and trust in God the Father. With that statement my purpose became clear. After that statement, my dedication to sharing the faith with my children became renewed. I vowed to live a Catholic vision of family life for my children no matter the circumstances.    

With this in mind, I sought to answer two questions:

  1. How can my children even begin to understand God the Father without their own father as an example of Christ?
  2. How can I help my children to trust in the Lord when they have already experienced so much heartbreak in their young lives?

These are complicated and loaded questions that will most likely take me the next 20 years to answer, yet I have in my heart a simple plan: model and pray.

It’s a great responsibility to model our faith for our children. Our behaviors are what truly reveal our beliefs. It can be frightening when we become aware that our children are listening to us and watching us much more closely than we ever realized. We are the first and the primary teachers of faith to our children. I never expected to carry that responsibility on my own, but my situation only strengthens my commitment. I know that I must model the faith in hopes that they can experience the true love and trust of God the Father.

Along with trying to model the faith for my boys on a daily basis, I pray. I pray so fervently for my children, for my parents who help us everyday, for our supportive friends, for my former in laws, and for him – my ex-husband, their absent father. At first, those prayers were extremely difficult. There was, and still is, so much anger towards him. However, I pray for him. I know that it is a necessity. It’s the greatest modeling of the faith I can do for my children. I pray for him I pray for him at night. I pray for him in the car. I pray for him in moments of sheer single mother panic. I pray for him when it’s just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew at Sunday mass.

Crafts Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Saints

Foolproof Catholic Craft for the Craft-Challenged

Don’t skip this post! I know, I know. Another crafty post. You’re not crafty, I understand. I’m not either. I’m right there with you. I skip past blog posts about crafts all the time and I don’t normally follow blogs that are big on crafts. Even when they are cool and very Catholic crafts. I am on Pinterest, but I dare you to find anything “crafty” on my boards.

The fact that I’m even writing a craft blog post tells you how easy this craft has to be. Seriously, very easy!! So here’s how this came about:

I had heard of an idea a long time ago of putting holy cards on a key ring as a great Mass toy for toddlers. I wish I could remember where I heard this idea, but it was so long ago I honestly have no idea. But the concept stuck with me. I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect size key rings for two years. I either found really cheap ones that didn’t look like they would hold up in the hands of a toddler or I found touristy key rings that cost way more than I wanted to spend.

This is the problem with me and crafts. I have occasional ideas, but I have no idea what materials are needed to accomplish what is in my head. And even when I have an idea, it takes me forever to find something and I eventually give up.

Then one day I was at the hair salon. I was waiting for my appointment and on the table in front of me were two rings of laminated cards. I picked them up to look at the rings, I really didn’t care about the products being advertised. But the rings reminded me of ones I had seen before, I just couldn’t place them. But I had an idea of where to find them.

Later that afternoon I headed to the dreaded craft store. The store I always feel lost in, it’s like a whole different world in there. I wandered the aisles, up and down, up and down, completely at a loss for where to find these rings. I was about to give up when I decided to check the back corner where the knitting stuff was. I looked down one aisle and saw the little thingys of thread for cross-stitch (my mother was a cross-stitcher, so I at least recognize those items), and that’s when I saw them!! The rings! And not only that, I then knew where I had seen those rings before. My mother used to use them for keeping her cross-stitch thread together. Duh!!

These rings were perfect and I bought a package of two for a whole $2.00. That was it!

Honestly, as stated above, any crafty ideas I get usually get derailed at the point of trying to find materials. So this was a big step forward. [All the actual crafty people are laughing at me. Don’t deny it, I know you are and I’m okay with it.] I’m the queen of the craft-challenged.

Once you have the rings, all you need is some holy cards and a single hole punch. The holy cards were easy and my local Catholic bookstore had a discount if you bought 20 or more cards. Perfect! I hate to admit it, but it took me some time to find a single hole punch (yes, I didn’t already own one).

The rest is easy, totally foolproof. Here’s what I did:

My materials: the rings, some holy cards (I put about 15 cards on each ring), and a hole punch.

Above are my cards with little holes punched in. I did mine in the upper left hand corner, being careful not to punch through any text on the back of the card.

Here’s a good picture of the rings. What I like about these, as opposed to a key ring, is that they pop open easily so you can put all your cards on it and then close them up. My two year old twins were not able to open the ring up either. Another great plus!

My finished products. For my boys I chose mostly male saints with several of Jesus and one of “Mama Mary,” as my boys like to call her. There are a lot of ways you can go with this. I think this would be a great way to keep up with your various holy cards (this doesn’t have to just be a kids thing). You can choose other themes for your cards as well: various Marian images, the Mysteries of the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, and anything else you can think of. One day maybe I’ll have a little girl and I’ll make one of female saints for her.

My boys were fascinated with these at Mass on the Sunday after I finished making them. Mission accomplished!

Fatherhood Ink Slingers Marriage Mass Molly G Motherhood NFP and contraceptives Parenting Pro-Life Issues Spiritual Growth Vocations

NFP – Long Term Promises

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.

Kaitlin discovering new connections at the science museum. How wonderful if she can make connections with God and the Eucharist by listening at Mass every week.

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.

Maura and her rosary