90

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Margaret Neal, my Mom, looking at a Magnolia near our house last week.

In this spirit, dear elderly brothers and sisters, as I encourage each of you to live with serenity the years that the Lord has granted you, I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! And so I often find myself saying, with no trace of melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist: In hora mortis meae voca me, et iube me venire ad te – “at the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you.” This is the prayer of Christian hope, which in no way detracts from the joy of the present, while entrusting the future to God’s gracious and loving care. — St. John Paul II

My Mom turns 90 soon. She was born on 2.26.27. So this weekend is partay time for the Neals, with family flocking southward from up North too, to honor her life. So I won’t be posting until the festivities have ended and I have recovered. 🙂

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. — Proverbs 31:30-31

That’s my Mom. Her works praise her. They magnify God. She’s endured so much hardship in her life, and yet she remains a sweet, loving, beautiful soul filled with joy and hope. Pure, refined gold. I am not worthy to kiss her feet.

At my wedding, for the mother-son dance, I had Wind Beneath My Wings played.

Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.

My life’s debt is to live with worthy gratitude for the sacrifices she made to make my life better.

She loves to remind me that, when I was 3 years old and she was pulling me in a wagon through our neighborhood, I said to her: “I love to look at your face.”

Still do.

The salvation of the whole world rests on a Mother’s love. The world’s salvation still rests in mothers. You know them. I know them.

Though age has caused my Mom decrease in abilities and shrink in height, her soul continues to expand in vigor. Hers is a magnanimity to which I aspire.

May God bring her good and happiness the rest of her days, and may the highest heights of eternal glory joyously greet her in the next.

Amen.

Sound of Silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Last weekend I happened on a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence by Passenger. Dang. It’s such a brilliant song, both for its lyrics and its melody, and Passanger draws out from it such depth of feeling. It was part of my childhood, and so whenever I hear it now I think of my brother’s scratchy vinyl album playing in the living room as I tinkered with my Lincoln Logs.

Though I am not entirely certain what the song’s lyrics meant to Paul Simon, they have meant different things to me at different points in my life. I’d like to share very briefly here one meaning they took on for me while I was serving at Mother Teresa’s homeless shelter and hospice in D.C., Gift of Peace, back in the early 1990’s. I’ve shared this story here before, but when I heard Michael Rosenberg sing I thought of this experience in a whole new way. I’ll paste it again here and add a few flourishes:

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I was assigned to care for a man, we’ll call him Richard, when I started volunteering at Gift of Peace. Richard was in his 40’s, was originally from Tallahassee, Florida and had had a stroke while he lived on the streets. Actually, he had a stroke in midwinter, while he was sleeping in an abandoned car under a bridge suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. He was found and survived, but lost some of his fingers and toes, as well as his ability to move freely or speak intelligibly. A life full of tragedy, it seemed.

The sister who paired me with Richard said that, in addition to the bodily care he needed, more than anything else he required my companionship. My time. He needed me to sit with him, mostly without any practical purpose, and learn his language, talk about Tallahassee (where I had previously lived), sing songs, talk sports or just wheel him around. He had come from a world where no one listened, where few, if any, cared. I wrote in my journal one night, “Sr. Manorama wants me to break Heaven’s silence, be a word of God for him. That’s deep. Hope I can fill such a tall order.”

I would imagine him living out in the streets, surrounded by countless people, yet utterly alone. Those silent nights of dreamless sleep. There are so many like him in D.C., in every city and town, in homes, offices, marriages. Lazarus again passed by, unnoticed, neglected. No time or place is immune from the disease of apathy, the curse of neglect or ‘harmless’ benevolence. Studdard Kennedy writes of this in the Birmingham, England of the early 1900’s:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they nailed Him to a tree.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds–and deep.
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they only passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of His, they only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender, they would not wish Him pain.
They only passed down the street, and left Him in the rain—
the winter rains that drenched Him through and through.

And when all the crowds had left the street.
Jesus crouched against a wall, and sighed for Calvary.

When my time at Gift of Peace was complete and I was ready to leave — for good — I had to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I planned to soft pitch it to him with an “I’ll be back to visit” white lie. But Sister would have no part of that. I had to tell him I would not return or he would think I was like everyone else. A liar, abandoning him.

So I told him. He would not look at me. He was hurt. Mad. Disappointed. I finally convinced him to look at me. In the eyes. Then I said very spontaneously, “I love you, Richard.”

It was a detonation.

He exploded into wailing and sobbing, heaving gasps. I was horrified. What had I done? Was my love a dagger? I tried to console him, but he would not be consoled. A Sister came over and told me it was okay to leave. She would take care of him. I walked away, down the hall to say goodbye to Sister Manorama. I told her, “That’s exactly why I didn’t want to say that was it, last time. Never again. Terrible.” She asked me what happened. I told her. She said, “Don’t you see how important that was? You told him you loved him. Who do you think has said that to him in his life? See, better than words, first you showed him your love was true these last months. That’s why those three words had such power. Got into his soul. Now he knows he’s loved by a man who knew him well. A brother. No one can take that from him. Go in peace.”

I still was haunted by those wailing sounds. Go in peace? A small comfort. Yet I saw, differently, all my life as an opportunity to break God’s silence, to fill deadly silence with love so that silence is no longer barren absence, but pregnant presence. Full of human and divine love. This is why each of us exist: to be a divine word, a divine thought spoken into the deep wells of silence. Transubstantiating absence with Presence, non-being with Being, darkness with Light, the wailing dirge with a New Song.

“But this song only really works if everyone’s super super quiet.” Only thus are we able to listen to the Word.

O God, split the night, that we might know we are not alone. Only then will others come to know, through us, they are not alone.

For you are with us, in the silence.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls (can’t you see that we’re lost)
Oh silence”

Don’t Worry, Mashley’s Here

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Maria (right) and Ashley

This last Sunday, my daughter Maria went to Mass with our family at a parish connected to the Seminary. After Mass, a number of seminarians who are fans of the music of Ashley and Maria came up to her and shared their appreciation. She was delighted, and therefore I was delighted that she was delighted.

One of the seminarians told Maria that the guys in the Seminary really needed a good song to help them get through the upcoming hardships of their exams.

Well, that’s all it took. She was on a mission.

As soon as we got in the car, Maria called Ashley and started to plan what song to cover for the seminarians. She asked me to drive her to straight to Ashley’s house. I dropped her off and in 35 minutes they had chosen a song, practiced it and recorded it. It bears their signature staid demeanor (in marvelous juxtaposition to the words), with birds singing in the background and a car whizzing by.

One of the seminarians told me to tell them: “The song reminded us of an oasis in the midst of life’s frenetic pace; to just stop everything and waste some time singing on a Sunday afternoon. Just because.”

Exactly.

Here it is:

 

Not Alone: A Single Mom Tells Her Story

Single-parent families often result from the unwillingness of biological mothers or fathers to be part of a family; situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the children; the death of one of the parents; the abandonment of the family by one parent, and other situations. Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. — Pope Francis

A few weeks ago, I was blessed to hear the faith witness of a woman named Sharon Heno. She’s a remarkable woman. After hearing her speak, I asked, as is my habit, if she would allow me to share her story on my Blog. She immediately replied, “Absolutely.” As her witness was so vivid, gritty and powerful, and I didn’t want to risk misrepresenting her, I asked if she wouldn’t mind writing it out herself. She obliged. I am so grateful. Below is a personal introduction, her story of faith, hope and love, and the song she feels best captures her life’s meaning.

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Who I am:

My name is Sharon A. Heno, I am by profession a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of the Counseling group, Behavioral Health Counseling and Consulting. Personally, I am a Mother and Survivor. I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools for my education. My elementary school was St. Clement of Rome then middle and high school Ursuline Academy. After a break in my academic journey I attended the University of Life. In all of this I survived violence, a stroke, among other health issues, financial troubles, being lost, and now single parenthood. I have survived many challenges in my life, but believe I have come out of each challenge with more awareness and insight into my life and my purpose. Eventually I returned to college and graduated from Loyola University. I went on to receive my Masters from the University of New Orleans and pursued my career in Counseling. Even now life is not free from challenges, I am ever changing and evolving to God’s calling. I openly share my story as I believe I am called to share my life’s ups and downs to encourage others facing obstacles.

My Story: 

I don’t believe that being a single parent is a calling from God. Becoming a single parent is a result of our free will. From the start, with Adam and Eve, we know the story of free will. God often uses our choices to teach us lessons. What an amazing God to use this love to teach us lessons of life and love. As a young adult, I frequently pushed limits, tested my independence and had little time for God or the church in my busy life.

With this I often found my life in turmoil and crisis. I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

In early 2001 found myself back in crisis and my life reeling out of control. Discovering I was pregnant came as though I were diagnosed with a fatal illness. I was unable to receive the news as a gift, but rather as a curse. I went into damage control. I remember the feeling, fear and darkness took over, what was I going to do and how was I going to get out of this? My next steps were to reach out to the only other person who could understand, the only one who might have solutions. I contacted her biological father looking for support and comfort, I was met with something else. His fear was greater than my own and he too went into damage control. Our solution at this point was not to go further with this pregnancy. Looking back with no other intention but to cover up the shame we were feeling. He jumped into gear and took care of everything, setting the appointment, offering to pay and driving to the procedure.

Yes, he was in control and taking charge, this is what I thought I needed. And it was. Only at this moment I gave control to the wrong person, still believing we could change things and be in control of this situation. We had gotten in this, we could certainly take control to “fix” it.  While at the clinic, I heard that inner voice louder than ever before. I couldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do this. I had heard that voice before, but often reasoned it away. Not today, I suddenly felt peace not in knowing what I would do, but in not going through with the abortion. I left that day alone, without human support, but at that moment decided I would begin my journey in obedience, letting go. I left alone from earthly supports, but with 100% support from what I know today was my Heavenly Father. The shame I felt lifted and I was no longer in damage control, but rather asking the Father to show me what he wanted me to do.

I was still considering putting my daughter up for adoption, and some even offered to buy her. As I prayed about these, none of these options were met with feelings of peace for me. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those that put their babies up for adoption and for the families that adopt them. At this point in my life, I did not feel this is what I was being called to do. This was confirmed when her biological father refused to sign adoption papers which prohibited me from placing her for adoption. It appeared to many I was losing control and being abandoned, but rather I was letting go.

I felt the most peace when I proclaimed that at 31 years old, I would keep and raise my baby. Not sure how, but at that moment it was almost as if I were reborn. I had to let go of the demons of my past and embrace my future. Was I scared? Yes! I did not want to be a statistic, nor create one. How would I provide for her? How would I even survive the pregnancy alone? I felt alone, but would later come to see I was not. Looking back, God was there all the time, making what seemed impossible, possible. A friend of mine shared a biblical passage: “Go by faith not by sight.” This became my mantra and remains so today.

With the delivery of my daughter many miracles and blessings began to come, and only hours after her birth healing came to my family. We had not spoken the duration of my pregnancy, but they arrived and healing began. We began to heal as a family and individually. So much has been a blessing, but the lessons and challenges are there. There are daily struggles and fears that I face every day. Facing the trials and tribulations alone, carrying the support on my own. Trying to console me for not having the companionship of a husband, many often say, “Well you don’t have a husband but you have your daughter.” I agree, but I don’t believe you should rely on your child to process your fears and struggles. She is a child, and the challenges that I as a parent face should not and will not be shared with her. Children need to be allowed to be children.

Another challenge I face is with friendships. Friends are hard enough to make, but as a single parent, unfortunately, I have found you are almost ousted, excluded, which can intensify those feelings of loneliness. One thing I have learned is people or things cannot take away that feeling. I truly feel peaceful when I spend time every day in prayer. This is a challenge, as like so many I am always short on time. I have become more disciplined in giving my time to God and this brings me a peace I cannot explain. When I’m feeling, lonely I turn to my Father. He has said he can be all things. When my earthly parents can’t comfort me the way I need, it is God that offers support. When friends are scarce, God is a constant. As for finding a loved one, well, I do believe God has already selected him but right now God needs me to continue to grow and to stay focused on my daughter.

Some of the lessons I have learned and continue to learn are patience, living in the moment and most importantly nothing is possible without God, but everything is possible through him. He has entrusted me with the joy and responsibility of raising this beautiful creation of his.

Twenty One Silence

[re-post from March 2016]

Those of you who read my blog with any consistency know well that I share my daughters’ affection for the group, Twenty One Pilots. I dig their sound, energy and vibe, but even more their clean and meaningful lyrics. I wish I could find a way to communicate to them my admiration for their work. I was thrilled to see on Word on Fire philosophy professor Father Damian Ference make these comments about them:

What I am saying is that Twenty One Pilots has offered a masterful incarnation of the culture of encounter. They meet their audience where they are, as they are, and they let them know that they “get them.” Once their audience trusts them, then they can slowly challenge them to consider a new way of seeing, a new way of living, and a new way of being. Is it evangelization? Maybe not exactly, but it is encounter, which is a prerequisite for authentic evangelization. They’ve accomplished the important work of preparing the soil for seeds to be sown, which isn’t easy. And, if by the end of the night, Twenty One Pilots can get some young people to say “Hello” to God for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, well, that’s better than most.

Among their songs, I have a number I really love and have nearly memorized. Among these is Car Radio, which is about abandoning the culture of distraction and being confronted by the frightful vulnerability found in stark silence. The lyrics are fabulous. I have given several retreats on the value of silence over the last twenty years, and have said far more about silence than anyone should. I’ve found again and again that people benefit more from those silent retreats about silence than any other I have given. Precisely for the reasons stated in this song. The music video for Car Radio, in true Twenty One Pilots form, is off-beat schizo-pop. It offers a wild visual narrative of the painful process of being stripped, shaved, of all those external “noises” that distract us from facing our inner struggles, preventing us from having to face head-on life’s most profound meaning-questions.

A man I know, who is now a bishop, said to me back in the 1980’s when I took a philosophy course from him:

There are nights when I feel the pain of loneliness to such a degree that I feel almost desperate. I used to immediately distract myself with TV or a phone call, or head out to the drug store to buy chips. But now I just sit in the chapel in my rectory and let it burn through me, in the silence, with tears, and ask Jesus to make me a better priest. Silence is the only way I can allow what is deep within me to surface out into God’s presence. And it’s a taste of hell.

I couldn’t help but think of this segment of the Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell…

Okay, let me get to the song and video. I’ll preface it with a gritty quote from Henri Nouwen that I’ve used to open many of the silent retreats I’ve given.

As soon as we are alone in silence, inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Parenting advice

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Dear friends of ours, when they found out they were expecting their first child, asked Patti and me for parenting advice. Though I think there are tons of people far more qualified than I am to offer true wisdom, I acceded to their wish. What wisdom we do have on parenting we learned from God’s kindly light, from others or from our many mistakes. Patti also wrote them her advice, which I never saw. I’m sure it was far more practical than mine. Below is what I wrote. As my blogs go, it’s long! But if there’s anything useful here for new parents, I hope it does some good.

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Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing. Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge. — St. John Chrysostom

Moral education entails asking of a child or a young person only those things that do not involve a disproportionate sacrifice, and demanding only a degree of effort that will not lead to resentment or coercion. Ordinarily this is done by proposing small steps that can be understood, accepted and appreciated, while including a proportionate sacrifice. Otherwise, by demanding too much, we gain nothing. Once the child is free of our authority, he or she may possibly cease to do good. — Pope Francis

“Thoughts on Raising Children.” I will limit myself to [twenty three], so I’ll actually give you something useful and won’t put off writing this until “that day” that will never come! There’s so much more to say. This is what came to me as I sat today. Have no illusions that we achieved them all! But we aspire to them all. Love you both. Cherish every day. Jesus is with you! Tom

  1. Remember your children aren’t yours, are not your possession, and you are neither the arbiter nor the judge of their worth or purpose or mission in this life. They are given by Him to you, entrusted to your care. Though you are given the dignity of being co-creators with God in bringing your child into being, once they exist your power over them is only that of shepherd and steward, a divine vicar who mediates and discerns for and with them. You must not manipulate their life’s unfolding under grace. Your main task is to help them learn, like the prophet Samuel, to hear the voice of God for themselves and be ready to consent to His will when they know what it is. So your primary posture toward your children is reverence and gratitude, holy fear and a readiness to reveal to them, as best you can, the Face of God each day in your own faces. Especially in your smiles.
  2. The greatest gift you can give your children is your marriage, which is meant to be for them a safe playground within which they can grow. Framed by stability, consistency, joy, faithfulness, affection, laughter, openness to life, generosity, hospitality, humility, forgiveness, adventure and diversified unity, this playground will allow them to feel safe enough to sprout, grow and bloom. Let them see a living model of what love looks like so they can internalize what is to be the grand narrative of human existence: The wonder-full drama of human and divine love!
  3. Order your home with rhythms of time and predictable patterns, within which spontaneity means something. Your home should know that balance between the given and unyielding structures of nature and the creative and spontaneous freedoms of grace. Too much rigid structure can stunt the unfolding of their playful uniqueness, while too much freedom can leave them without the safety of boundaries or the solid foundations of virtuous habits. Somewhere between tyranny and anarchy is charity. 🙂
  4. As spouses-become-parents, you are sacramentally consecrated as priests empowered to bless your children and intercede for them in their needs. Bless them every day, all their lives. Make it a bedtime routine every night, a brief ritual that will imprint itself in them as a gesture of care and tenderness. A sign of the cross on their foreheads with a brief formula that is your own, including the Trinitarian invocation, with a splash of holy water. Relentlessly pray and quietly sacrifice for them every day, especially in times of need, celebration or rites of passage.
  5. Teach them to pray. Have them memorize the traditional prayers from the earliest age. Encourage them to speak to God from their heart with intention (i.e. knowing they speak to God who loves them) from the first days they can speak. Never make prayer a punishment, never discipline them with anger during prayer, and make daily family prayer time short and sweet and consistent, though with a variety of forms. Give them a role in creating prayer forms as they mature. Use sacramentals as much as possible in prayer — candles, holy water, incense, holy images, relics, beads, etc. Soak their senses.
  6. Make Sundays special days of worship, catechesis, joy, fun, food, family. Develop Sunday traditions that set it apart, a special time of family leisure and celebration. We recommend “screen free Sundays” to protect face time: no electronic devices with screens all day, except for family movies or sports. Have Sunday Mass stand as a centerpiece of the day. Have a special meal, offer hospitality to others, visit a nursing home, play games, take trips to the park.
  7. Teach them to work, sacrifice and serve in (always) age-appropriate ways by giving them home responsibilities early on (i.e. chores). Though your witness as parents to a life of hard work and servant leadership is essential, challenging them from a young age to work and make sacrifices themselves, and put others first, is far more important. Can’t emphasize that enough! This links to the principle of subsidiarity, which, as you know, means that the life of a home is a work of shared governance as each takes his or her proper role in contributing to the common good of all. “Do your part.” Responsible care and use of their own possessions, as well as responsible care for common areas and things in the home, should be part of every stage of their growth in virtuous self-mastery. Social justice, and all the social virtues, are first learned at home.
  8. Let them know love for the poor, the sick and the needy. Make sure they are never far from those who suffer and help them develop, age appropriately, compassionate and merciful hearts. Keep close to the lowly and teach them to live simply.
  9. Oversee their friendships. Friendships are of extreme importance in the growth of children, and ensuring their friendships are healthy and compatible with your family culture is crucial. Get to know the familes of their friends and try to connect your families as much as possible, so they see friendships and family life form a natural unity. That said, don’t be overprotective helicopter parents that require perfect friends who will not challenge and stretch your children. Let them learn how to fight and reconcile, to deal with differences and learn the appropriate virtues for real life. For God’s sake, don’t try to protect them from all disappointments, mean and hurtful words, or the ups and downs of relationships. Strike a balance and let them learn some of life’s harder things for themselves. Bit by bit.
  10. Expose them to great art from the earliest age. Music, paintings, plays, musicals, movies. Encourage their love for painting, sculpting, drawing, singing, building. Get them into kinesthetic learning modes as often as possible. Sing with them and teach them to sing, to play instruments, to write poems and stories. Teach them to make beauty!
  11. Cultivate a love for reading. Read to them, teach them to love to read, especially literature that grows their moral and spiritual imagination. Let their imaginations run wild, without help from screens. Don’t moralize your children, browbeating them with moral lessons, but inspire them with stories of virtue and vice, sin and redemption. Let their consciences grow gradually and don’t expect too much altruism or impose a rigid code of moral rectitude at too young an age. If you press too hard, they may explode later in life. Let them experiment and learn in the playground of your family.
  12. Help them to see the beauty of the natural world by spending lots of time outdoors, exploring the mysteries and adventure and excitement and dangers of nature. Let them get dirty and muddy and wet. Teach them to fish, hunt, spot birds, explore the wild world and breathe the fresh air deeply. Let them feel cold and hot, rough and smooth, sharp and soft. Let them get stung and pricked and scraped knees. Let them be afraid of the thunder, awed by the wind and thrilled by the first snowflake.
  13. Have clear rules for technology. Don’t be afraid of teaching them how to live in a digital world, but have clear guidelines and keep to them. Don’t trust their online explorations for a long time — filter everything. Protect their imaginations when they are to be innocent, but help them face the dark images of life when it is time as they mature. Don’t leave them naive when they should not be. No phones until they absolutely need them. Stand strong, the pressure is fierce.
  14. Guard your speech. Create a language culture in your home that you would like them to imitate all their lives. Be especially wary about gossip, detraction and calumny. Don’t talk about your children in front of them, unless you feel they must hear what you say and would benefit from it.
  15. Yelling is a sign you have lost control. Avoid it at all costs, and work mightily to keep to serene, firm, immediate and consistent consequences. Talk is cheap, action works. Work hard as a couple to be on the same page for applying discipline to the children. You will differ, yes, and you will have to work on that always, but never let your children see you divided on essentials. Never disrespect your spouse in front of them, or let them disrespect your spouse. And unless you have agreed on it for some specific purpose, avoid the good-cop, bad-cop default roles, e.g. dad’s nice and easy on us, mom’s hard and mean. Kids pick up on that and exploit it, and tend to lose respect for parental authority when they see division. Though there tends to be the natural default in a marriage (one is better at discipline than the other), you must work hard to keep toward a happy medium and a united front.
  16. Practice forgiveness. Let your children see you forgiving each other, let them hear about people who forgive others, forgive them often and teach them how to forgive and reconcile. Be humble when you are wrong. Help them see that forgiveness is not overlooking wrongdoing, that it requires a change in the forgiven person, and that it is not a sign of weakness but of strength. Help them develop a healthy conscience that sees mercy as the predominant context of sin and failure. Let all this dynamic be the way in which they learn the meaning and value of monthly Confession. Have a family tradition of going to Confession, even before their first celebration of the Sacrament. Once they receive, have a post-Confession celebration every time — friends of ours called it “Prodigal Son” — that links the experience of forgiveness with the experience of joy.
  17. Teach them how to suffer and fail and sin. They say in my dad’s Russian church that the vocation of the priest and the parent is to teach their children to suffer well. The natural instinct of a parent is to protect their child from suffering and failure, and to a certain extent this is absolutely appropriate. But it must be balanced with your vocation to teach them how to suffer with grace and courage, how to offer their sufferings up to God for good, how to learn from suffering and to not be afraid of it (unless there is good reason to!). The best teacher is to allow as many of the natural consequences of their actions as possible to befall them, so they learn the world of cause-and-effect, personal responsibility and how to avoid bad decisions in the future. Natural bad consequences are often far better teachers than manufactured ones. You also have to teach them how to fail, how to accept failure and its consequences, to learn from these, grow and not be crushed by them. Start this lesson early, and cultivate, age appropriately, virtues like courage, humility, patience, longsuffering, perseverance. Teach them not how to sin, but how to recognize it, face it, repent of it, and rise up from it full of hope and joy. Help them to distinguish sin from weaknesses and imperfections, to avoid scrupulosity and obsessive guilt, and help them see it is really about relationships, and the greatest harm of sin is the damaging or destroying of a relationship and not simply the violation of a moral code. But know that process of growing a conscience is uneven and gradual, is Spirit-led art. So you need to beg the Spirit to guide you, as He alone is the true pedagogue of their soul.
  18. Talk about the faith openly and often, embrace your role as primary catechists and don’t default to allowing parish or school to do your work for you. Whether you choose to home school or not, what they learn from you is their most important source of faith formation. Talk about the Trinity, the Saints, and especially Mary, their patron saints and guardian angels. Teach them to pray for the dead, and visit graveyards so they know how to reverence the dead.
  19. Teach them to honor their mother and father by never allowing them to disrespect either of the two of you. Let them know that you guard each other’s honor, and will not stand for any dishonorable behavior. Honor your own parents openly and visibly. Never speak disrespectfully of your parents in front of them, or of any of their relatives. Though you may have to speak difficult truths to them about family now and again, always do so in charity and justice and respect. Teach them to intelligently honor all authorities in their life (e.g. teachers, priests), and never speak of these people with disrespect, even though, again, you may have to speak difficult truths about these people.
  20. Let them always know that they can tell you anything, no matter how bad or scary it is, and you will not respond with anger or outrage. Yes, you will have to respond to things that require a firm response, but you will never receive anything they tell you with a harsh or angry or punishing response. Always with love that is in their best interests.
  21. Every night when they go to bed, as they grow, let them talk freely. It may take patience and you will have to draw some boundaries of time, but they should feel that there is a designated time and space for sharing their inner lives and that you are interested in everything they say. Building trust from the beginning is the pearl of great price. And let me say, bedtime is a very opportune time to let them open up.
  22. Give them great memories that they can draw on all their lives, memories of a childhood and young adulthood that they can celebrate and laugh and cry over one day.
  23. As Dad, I say: mostly, have them listen to their Mom. “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).

Love them.

Fall Away

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Maria

[Re-post from February 2016. Extremely busy days for me, so re-posts help. Oh, but did I mention that March 2, 2017 I’ll see Twenty One Pilots live, in concert, in New Orleans? #frenziedjoy]

God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings. There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us. — Catechism #2847

My daughter Maria introduced me to the group Twenty One Pilots in 2015 and I have (figuratively) joined their fan club. I will be posting more on them soon. Recently Maria wrote a brief reflection for school on a song of theirs, and I found her reflection so excellent I asked if I could publish it here. She graciously agreed.

Here was the prompt she received in class:

For this activity, you will be analyzing a song, poem, article, short story, or character in a book. Your typed response will answer the general question, “How does these lyrics or story promote authentic human freedom?”  You will need to attach the lyrics of the song, the article, the story, or some type of description of what you chose to analyze to the assignment (If you do a song or another media source you may attach the youtube clip as well).  Your response must be at least 200 words.  Pay careful attention to clarity of writing and grammar.

Here was her answer:

The song “Fall Away” by twenty one pilots discusses authentic human freedom in an obscure but brutally honest way. Tyler Joseph, the writer of the song, divulges his struggle of concealing who he really is and talks about his fear of “falling away” from the truth and, ultimately, God.

I believe that the message Joseph is trying to convey is that he strives to live the life he is supposed to live, but many self-doubts hinder his ability to do so. The line “but I don’t want your way, I want mine” is Joseph addressing God, saying that he wants to create his own path instead of taking God’s path of true happiness. Another line, “I can feel the pull begin/feel my conscience wearing thin,” expresses his struggle to retain his original beliefs and morals as the outside world pulls him away, giving him a false idea of what freedom is.

While this song does not exhibit an explicit representation of authentic human freedom, it does describe the difficulty many face to use their freedom how they ought to. In our tainted, confused world today, freedom is generally defined as the right to do or say whatever one wants. Especially with the recent upsurge in social media, the pressure to believe in a fixed set of ideas has increased, leaving many people in doubt.

Only with God can freedom be used unerringly, which is why it is imperative that we make ourselves immune to the temptations around us.

Here’s the song:

Here are the lyrics. 

I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall away 
I disguise
And I will lie
And I will take my precious time
As the days melt away
As I stand in line
And I die as I wait as I wait on my crime
And I’ll try to delay what you make of my life
But I don’t want your way,
I want mine
I’m dying and I’m trying
But believe me I’m fine
But I’m lying,
I’m so very far from fine And I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin
It will start to break up and fall apartI don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall awayEvery time I feel selfish ambition
Is taking my vision
And my crime is my sentence
Repentance is taking commission
It’s taking a toll
On my soul
I’m screaming submission and,
I don’t know if I am dying or living
‘Cause I will save face
For name’s sake
Abuse grace
Take aim to obtain a new name
And a newer place
But my name is lame
I can’t walk and I ain’t the same
And my name became
A new destiny to the graveAnd I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin,
It will start to break up and fall apart
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I don’t wanna fall, fall away
I’ll keep the lights on in this place
‘Cause I don’t wanna fall, fall away