Archive for Fostering Spirituality

The 12 Days of Christmas (Catholic Style!)

12 days of christmasHappy Christmastide! Did you know the “Christmas season” for Catholics is not the weeks prior to Christmas (as advertisements would have us believe) ending on Christmas Day? Nope, we’re just getting started with the celebration!

Christmas Season in the Church begins on Christmas Day and lasts for 40 days, ending on February 2 (“Candlemas”). “Christmastide” is the 12 days following Christmas, including the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on the Octave of January 1 and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (traditionally anyway; in some countries Epiphany is observed on the Sunday nearest to January 6). Over on our sister site, Intentional Catholic Parenting, I’ve posted some great links to help your family celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and Epiphany, so check it out.

And for those of you who love trivia, here’s a fun little key to the 18th century song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with suggestions for how the song teaches Catholic doctrine (from Ann Ball’s Catholic Sacramentals).

Partridge in a pear tree        Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves                    Old & New Testaments

Three French Hens               Faith, hope, charity

Four Calling birds                 The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings                 The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six geese a laying                   Six days of creation

Seven Swans a swimming     7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight maids a-milking           8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing             Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-leaping              10 Commandments

Eleven pipers piping             The 11 faithful disciples

12 drummers drumming      12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Live Like a Saint: Saint Nicholas!

Note from the editor: Charisse put together this lovely spread for our winter issue of Tender Tidings, but we are still putting together the issue and St. Nicholas’ feast day is on Sunday. So we wanted to release her spread here so you would have time to use her ideas. God bless!

st nick

St. Nicholas, the patron and protector of children, is known for his generous spirit, compassionate heart, and natural humility. Born during the third century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey, Nicholas spent the early years of his life enjoying the temporal and spiritual blessings of his wealthy and devoutly Christian parents. After his parents’ death, the young Nicholas took Jesus’ words “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” to heart and used his whole inheritance to help the poor and suffering. Create a St. Nicholas gift box and mail it to a grandchild or godchild — or place some of the suggested items in your own children’s shoes to be found on the morning of December 6, St. Nicholas’ feast day.

Here are some ways your family can honor St. Nicholas in your home:

1. St. Nicholas card with candy “crozier” and hot chocolate

While still a young man, Nicholas was named Bishop of Myra. As bishop, he was known for his concern for children, the poor and needy, and sailors. He also suffered for his faith under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Stir up a cup of hot chocolate with Bishop Nicholas’ candy cane “crozier” and reflect on the love and sacrifice of this heroic saint. Card image found at

2. Small toy and virtue card

Many legends surround St. Nicholas that attest to his love for children. Miraculous stories of boys being restored to life after a brutal attack, a kidnapped child being whisked back home, and children saved from an evil butcher highlight Nicholas’ concern for these small souls. Present each of your children with a small toy and corresponding “virtue card” to help care for their souls. (e.g. a small toy airplane with a card that reads “Charity: May you always lift others up with your words. ‘Your words have upheld the stumbler; you have strengthened his faltering knees.’ Job 4:4”)

3. Gold coins and/or orange

One story attributed to St. Nicholas’ generous heart tells of a man with three daughters. Unable to afford dowries for his daughters, the man worried that they would never marry. But, mysteriously, three bags of gold (or three gold balls) appeared, apparently tossed through an open window during the night. They landed inside shoes that were drying by the fire. Place oranges or chocolate coins in your children’s shoes to remind them of St. Nicholas’ secret and humble generosity.

Visit for more ideas for celebrating St Nicholas Day.

Summer Spirituality for Kids


The Spiritual Works of Mercy move beyond the needs of the body to the needs of the soul. They nurture others at a profound level, bringing them into deeper union with others and with God. We are sometimes presented with the opportunity to carry out these works of mercy when we least expect it. The practical suggestions below will help even small children feel prepared for those unexpected moments. Pray the Holy Spirit prayer that accompanies each work of mercy so that you will “not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Trust that, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “you will be given at that moment what you are to say.” (Matt 10:19)

1.  Admonish the sinner

  • Don’t be afraid to tell your children (who have reached the age of reason) that immoral behavior is an objective sin. (“Playing my smartphone when I told you not to was disobedience. That was wrong and a sin.”)
  • Encourage your children to charitably remind their siblings or friends of the right thing to do when they see a bad choice being made. Role play some example scenarios.

Holy Spirit, please give me the fortitude I need to speak up for what is right and encourage others to follow God’s commandments.

2.  Instruct the uninformed

  • Have older siblings teach a Bible story or a principle of our Catholic faith to younger siblings. Get creative with a puppet show, play, or craft!
  • Ask one of your children to invite a non-Catholic friend to a fun parish event.

Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your gift of understanding, so that I can teach others the Truth about my Catholic faith.

3.  Counsel the doubtful

  • Encourage your children to look for reasons to praise each other. Use the power of positive reinforcement to confirm good choices.
  • To give good counsel, we have to be good listeners. Ask your children to tell you something interesting (not gossip) that they heard as they went about their day.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of counsel so I will know what to do and say when someone is feeling scared or unsure.

4.  Comfort the sorrowful

  • Come together as a family when someone is sad or sick. Have each family member think of something nice they can do or say.
  • Explain grief to your children at an age appropriate level. Have them help you make a card for someone who is suffering — just to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of knowledge, that I might see my life the way God sees it. Help me to share with others that everything that happens to us works for a greater good.

5.  Be patient with those in error

  • Teach your children calming techniques (deep breathing, taking a “time out” from a heated situation, getting a soothing hug from Mom or Dad). Tell them to use these techniques when they start to feel angry with someone so they can use a gentle tone of voice to work things out.
  • Remind your children that your family loves people more than things. Even if a sibling breaks a treasured possession or interrupts a fun activity, teach your children to show respect and kindness toward him or her.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of wisdom so that I can love You, and those made in Your image, above all else–even when I feel sad or mad.

6.  Forgive offenses

  • Give your children the words they need when they claim they “hate” someone who did something they didn’t like. (“Instead of ‘I hate him’, try ‘I didn’t like it when he smashed my Lego truck.’”)
  • Help two children who were upset with each other find something fun to do together once they’ve cooled off. Assist them in repairing their relationship.

Holy Spirit, please gift me with a healthy fear of the Lord so that I will be filled with a desire to please Him and forgive others as He forgives me.

7.  Pray for the living and the dead

  • Make a “spiritual bouquet” for someone who needs your prayers. Send them a card filled with paper flowers — one for each prayer you will say for them.
  • Write down the names of deceased relatives and friends in a prayer journal, and light a candle while you pray a decade of the Rosary for them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of piety, so that I will remain obedient to the prayer life you have chosen for me.

Image credit: “mercy” by Andrew Parvenov (

Praying in Silence with Children: VIDEO

A free video from Apostleship of Prayer.  Love these 3 tips for helping children become comfortable with praying silently.

  1. Timed prayer
  2. Secret good deeds
  3. Listening

Raising Children Who Love (or Don’t Hate) Confession

My guest essay on Dr. Greg Popcak’s blog Faith on the Couch:

I’ve heard that some people love going to Confession.  I personally don’t know any of them.  Maybe it’s an urban legend.  I think avoiding the confessional is our human default,

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

because we are uncomfortable exposing our weakness to others.  The Church wants us to know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift.  It’s more an opportunity than a duty.

Confession brings our human failings to the Light where we can find healing, courage, and support.  The devil hates that!  He thrives in the dark, like a fungus.  He wants us to keep our sins and moral struggles to ourselves, because full freedom from them requires community – it requires family, friends, and counselors, especially our priest when he acts as Christ in the confessional.  In particular, as embodied creatures we need the physical experience of the confessional:  when we feel and hear ourselves speaking aloud the truth of our failings, when the priest with his body and his voice acts as Christ extending his mercy to us, we can understand better the power of repentance and the reality of God’s forgiveness.

How can we raise children who understand this deeper truth about Confession, who welcome it as an opportunity?  Here are a few lifestyle tips that may help.  These aren’t lessons our children learn from a book, but rather from the way we relate to them:

Read the rest on Dr. Greg’s website!  Leave a comment, too!

Explaining Lent to Our Children

As a new mom, I used to look at my sweet, innocent pre-school aged son and wonder how to explain this Lenten season to him. Would I wait for him to ask me questions? What if he never did? Or worse…what if he did? How would I answer?

While the Christmas season found me gushing to my young son about the Christ child and a humble manger and that beautiful star of Bethlehem, Lent left me speechless. How was I to describe this very difficult part of Jesus’ story, of our story, to him?

crown of thornsThe day when I had to answer that question came before I was ready. We were at church, lighting candles in the chapel when my then three-year-old looked at a particularly bloody Jesus nailed to a cross. “Mommy,” he asked me, “how did Jesus get up there?”

“You mean, how did that cross get hung up there?” I teased him towards an easier question to answer. He didn’t take the bait.

“No.” He pushed further. “Who put Jesus on there?”

Cue butterflies filling the stomach. Had I been wrong in not bringing it up to him first? Was this going to be a shocking blow? My mind scrambled for the right words. How much should I say? How deep into the story should I go?

Before I opened my mouth to speak, I thought of all I’ve learned from my mother, a woman who, with my dad, pretty successfully raised six children. Once, when my sister’s daughter began asking questions about death, I overheard my mom’s advice for handling the situation: “Let your daughter lead these difficult discussions. Too often, we explain these things to kids at a level too deep for them to understand. We forget that it’s children, not adults, asking these hard questions. And we end up answering them as if they’re adults. You’ll be surprised to find that the simplest answers are all they’re usually seeking at the moment. No more. So start simple and let them lead.”

Start simple. I thought of what my son’s three-year-old mind understood. Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Cops and robbers. Good guys and bad guys.

“Well,” I began carefully, “there were bad men who didn’t like Jesus…”

“…and they hurt him?” my son finished.

“Yes,” I answered. I waited, wondering if I should elaborate but willing myself to follow my child’s lead.

“Oh,” he said easily. “I don’t like those bad men.”

I searched my son’s eyes for tears or anger. Instead, I saw compassion as he stared at the crucifix.

“Mommy,” he asked, “can I kiss his boo-boos and make them better?”

“Of course,” I whispered.

As I watched my child approach the crucifix, leaning to kiss Jesus’ nailed feet and reaching up to kiss his bloodied side, my fear and anxiety were replaced with love and peace, and gratitude for my mother’s shared wisdom.

“Let’s go find Daddy,” my son exclaimed, bolting into the church. I almost stopped him. I was ready now. I could do this. I almost wanted to go into further detail about just how much our Lord suffered for our sins, but my son was already at my husband’s side, choosing a pew for Mass.

As usual, my mom was right. My child asked what seemed like a big question, but all he wanted was a simple answer. The difficult details, I know, will fill in as he grows. As his mind gets bigger, so will the answers. But, for now, he’s satisfied.

And so am I.

Saint Mail: A Great Tool for Bringing the Saints Home

saint mail
Recently I received a package from Molly at Saint Mail, a unique company that brings the saints right into our homes every month.  My children received a sealed letter from Saint Isidore of Seville along with craft ideas, family chat suggestions, a beautiful book mark, a Saint Isidore fridge magnet, and a lot more cool stuff that had my kids occupied for ages.
some of the items we received from Saint Mail

some of the items we received from Saint Mail

I LOVE this concept.  I read my children lots of books about the saints, but this personal, hands-on way of experiencing the saints is perfect for small kids.   A subscription would be a great Easter gift for your kids!  You can subscribe monthly ($12.99), for six months ($81), or for a year ($144).  I admit at first the cost freaked me out.  But when my children received the package and I saw what was included, I believe it’s worth it.  I also realized my kids have a subscription to an on-line game that costs 5 bucks a month, so if ditch that I can afford Saint Mail.  Way better than the game.I asked Molly a few questions:

Molly, tell us a little bit about your Saint Mail and why you started it.

Saint Mail is a monthly subscription service that helps busy families meet the saints. Each month a package arrives (because kids love mail) with a letter from a different saint, a toy or trinket, crafts, saint medals and tips on how to celebrate the feast day. Its different every month and is meant to be a fruitful surprise!I started it because as a mother I NEEDED it. I teach CCD on Sunday and I homeschool my children. The saints are always bumped for more “important” topics. I wanted my kids to know they had a power team up in Heaven working for them. I would try so hard to be prepared ahead of time with crafts and stories of a different saint each month. Then I would get to Walmart (with three little ones) and totally forget the main part of the craft. Bonus…..I would remember right as I was buckling a fussy tired baby back into the car seat. I needed someone to hand me everything already put together so I could focus on math…or whatever else I was trying to teach everyone! It was my calm and steady husband that said to me “If you need it, there are probably other families that do too.”.

So give us an example of what a package might look like when it arrives.

One of our recent saints was St. Katharine of Drexel. I just fell even more in love with her the more I researched her life. In our culture today where collecting the most stuff is the goal, St Katharine of Drexel provides an alternative way to live. She gave up all of her riches and served. Each month the saint mails a letter giving the highlights of their earthly life in hopes to gently teach and guide. St Katharine also sent along a small Mary Statue since Pope Leo XIII (whom she met with before starting The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament)  was known as the Rosary Pope. St Katharine’s craft was creating a small New Mexico flag with fabric paint. She established her first school for Native Americans in New Mexico and was always amazed at the beauty of the area. She also included a medal, a magnet (to place on the fridge so you can remember the feast date), tips on how to celebrate the feast day and of course the family chat questions so families can learn together!

Many families have more than one child who would be excited about Saint Mail.  Can parents purchase extra trinkets but just one subscription?

Families can buy one subscription for the entire family. I envision a warm family dinner when the conversation has more intention instead of arguing over the last tater tott.(Not that it wont happen…I mean who doesnt love a potato cylinder!) A very popular thing for families to do is to purchase the extra trinkets for all the children to have. That is only $3.75 per child per month. How exciting would it be to watch your child connect with that one special saint!

Helping Our Children Encounter Christ During Advent

An Advent tea party at the Cameron-Smith home

An Advent tea party at the Cameron-Smith home

In his Monday homily last week, Pope Francis urged us to “encounter Christ” during Advent and to allow Christ to encounter us as well.  I’ve been thinking about how I can help my children to this end.  I have to accept my role as a servant in facilitating this encounter, especially if it includes allowing Christ to encounter my children in their uniqueness — in their personal reality.  They are each so very different, and each developmental stage brings new opportunities for cultivating in our children a personal experience of the authentic and living Christ.  Especially for my very young children, I may get off on the wrong foot if I assume they will encounter Christ like I do, by the same means.

How can we create the kind of emotional, spiritual, and physical environment that best allows that encounter to unfold naturally?  Here are a few tips for helping your young children encounter Christ this Advent season:

Children Encounter Christ Through LOVE

It’s not that doctrinal truths are unimportant or irrelevant for young kids, but they must experience these truths through love if we want them to come alive — if we want them to factor in our kids choices and lives long term.  This means we must love our children unconditionally, because we are the models of the kind of love they will internalize.  Children who are ignored or mistreated can never internalize the mercy and tenderness Jesus feels for them.  Even when they stumble and fail, Christ adores them.  Can our own love reflect this Christ-love better, even while we try to steer them on the right path?

This also means that we should announce to our child God’s love for her and make that love as concrete and inviting as possible.   So when we set up our nativity set this Advent, we can emphasize how much God must love her that he sent this precious little baby to come into the world just for her – so that she could know him and love him. We can emphasize the reality of Christ’s early life with his family – how he lived with Mary and Joseph in a family just like she lives in her own family; that he did chores, learned to read, said prayers, fed his animals, just like she does; that he understands what makes her sad and angry because he felt all those things when he was a child.

Children Encounter Christ Through PLAY

Advent in the Cameron-smith home

Advent in the Cameron-smith home

Children experience God in a private, emotional way and they also experience God through the descriptions they hear about God in catechetical instruction and Bible stories.  Play is where those two very real experiences come together for children.  Play helps them make sense of what they’ve experienced emotionally and intellectually.  Playing with Christ during Advent can include stories and hands-on play.  Read engaging, beautifully illustrated stories about the nativity and early life of Jesus during Advent.  Allow your child freedom to explore these stories through art, drama, or just good ol’ table talk.

Include lots of hands-on experiences – a Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, Advent Calendar, and nativity set.  Permit your child to engage with these religious objects, especially your nativity set, because this is where the story of Christmas really comes to life for kids.  Some families have heirloom nativities which are too precious for little hands to bonk around, but consider having a second “play nativity.”  My family found a very affordable felted nativity set and my children spend all of Advent moving the pieces around our house as Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem!

Children Encounter Christ Through PRAYER

We want our children to develop a personal relationship with Christ in which Christ understands her and cares for her in specific, unique circumstances.  Little children are open to developing a friendship with Jesus, and this includes chatting with him in prayer.  If your child doesn’t pray much, try starting during Advent.  You can start with communal prayer.  Create a prayer plan for your family, but recognize that children don’t pray like grown-ups.  When we impose our own prayer styles on our kids, we risk extinguishing their authentic experience of God.  I’m not suggesting that we don’t teach them the great prayers of our Faith.  We do.  But sometimes we get out of their way, we listen, and we learn from them.  When you give your child emotional space to pray, he will tend to pray in short bursts, sometimes incoherently.  This is okay.  You will also notice a collapsing of the transcendent and nearness of God in your child’s language. (“You are the most beautiful thing in the world!  Look, I think you are like Harold my goldfish!”)  This is also okay.  Just listen and affirm your child in his experience.

So, let’s bring our children to Jesus this Advent and let them sit a while on his lap.  Have a blessed Advent!

Pope Leo XIII’s “Fidentem Piumque Animum” (Day 9)

rosary button


On this 9th day of our series of 1-minute Rosary Quotes, ponder this beautiful quote from Pope Leo XIII’s “Fidentem Piumque Animum”:

The form of prayer We refer to has  obtained the special name of “Rosary,” as though it represented by  its arrangement the sweetness of roses and the charm of a garland. This is most fitting for a method of venerating the Virgin, who is rightly styled the  Mystical Rose of Paradise, and who, as Queen of the universe, shines therein  with a crown of stars. So that by its very name it  appears to foreshadow and be an augury of the joys and garlands of Heaven offered by her to those who are devoted to  her.

I think for many of us our children comprise many of the roses on that garland that Our Lady offers to us.  Then there are our spouses, our friends, our parishes, and the gifts we’ve been given in living out our Christian calling.  When I consider my own garland, I know I don’t recognize some of the roses:  gifts sent to me by Mary, those “little graces” of the Christian life.  But I can strive to notice them!


Pope Leo XIII’s “ADIUTRICEM” (Day 8 of 1-Minute Rosary Quotes)

rosary button

On this 8th day of our “1-Minute Rosary Quotes,” we offer this quote from the 8th encyclical from Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary:

The power thus put into her hands is all  but unlimited. How unerringly right, then, are Christian souls when they turn  to Mary for help as though impelled by an instinct of nature, confidently  sharing with her their future hopes and past achievements, their sorrows and  joys, commending themselves like children to the care of a bountiful mother.

Mary is my mother, your mother, our mother.  Last night I hosted a lovely multi-family gathering in honor of our Lady and the Rosary.  As I heard the little prayers of our children rising up to Our Mother, I was moved to tears.  Children by nature turn to their nurturers for help and direction, for hope and inspiration.  I want to be more like them, not relying on my own strength or smarts.  I want to rely on Jesus, knowing he knows the way I should go.  Hail Mary!

Pope Leo XIII: Days 3 & 4

rosary button

Day 3 One-Minute Rosary Quote from Pope Leo XIII’s On the Rosary and Public Life

Mindful that in moments of great trial, pastors and people have ever had recourse with entire confidence to the august Mother of God, in whose hands are all graces, certain too, that devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary is most opportune for the needs of these times, We have desired to revive everywhere this devotion, and to spread it far and wide among the faithful of the world.

Day 4 One-Minute Rosary Quote from Pope Leo XIII’s Octobre Mense

Now, among the several rites and manners of paying  honour to the Blessed Mary, some are to be preferred, inasmuch as we know them  to be most powerful and most pleasing to our Mother; and for this reason we  specially mention by name and recommend the Rosary. The common language has  given the name of corona to this manner of prayer, which recalls to our minds  the great mysteries of Jesus and Mary united in joys, sorrows, and triumphs.  The contemplation of these august mysteries, contemplated in their order, of  fords to faithful souls a wonderful confirmation of faith, protection against  the disease of error, and increase of the strength of the soul. The soul and  memory of him who thus prays, enlightened by faith, are drawn towards these  mysteries by the sweetest devotion, are absorbed therein and are surprised  before the work of the Redemption of mankind, achieved at such a price and by  events so great. The soul is filled with gratitude and love before these  proofs of Divine love; its hope becomes enlarged and its desire is increased  for those things which Christ has prepared for such as have united themselves  to Him in imitation of His example and in participation in His sufferings. The  prayer is composed of words proceeding from God Himself, from the Archangel  Gabriel, and from the Church; full of praise and of high desires; and it is  renewed and continued in an order at once fixed and various; its fruits are  ever new and sweet.

Pope Leo XIII’s “Superiore Anno: On the Recitation of the Rosary”

rosary button

In his second encyclical on the Rosary, published in 1884, Pope Leo XIII  instituted the daily prayer of the Rosary during the month of October, especially in parishes.  Pope Leo XIII had been concerned about the Church and its need for protection from Satan.  He saw the Rosary as one of the most powerful weapons against the powers of darkness.  Our quote today:

Indeed, from the spirit of prayer which is poured out over the  house of David and the dwellers in Jerusalem, we have a confident hope that  God will at length let Himself be touched and have pity upon the state of His  Church, and give ear to the prayers coming to Him through her whom He has  chosen to be the dispenser of all heavenly graces . . . May our Heavenly Patroness, invoked by us through the Rosary, graciously be with us and obtain that, all disagreements of opinion being removed and Christianity restored throughout the world, we may obtain from God the wished for peace in the Church.

Here’s the entire document.

Our families are critical to the renewal of the Church, the New Evangelization, and the resistance against Darkness within the Church.   Our prayers are powerful, especially when we include the voices of our children in our prayers, especially when we offer up a Rosary!