Archive for Year of Faith

The Family & The New Evangelization

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Today is the Feast of the Ascension.  At the Ascension, Christ announced the Church’s mission to the Apostles:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  Matthew 28: 19 and 20.

Christians aren’t meant to sit back and cheer on the Church as she tries to spread the Good News of salvation and Christ’s love.  (Way to go guys!  Convert those lost souls! Woo-hoo!   . . .  Okay, where’s my remote?)  All Christians are called to the task of evangelization.  This truth is evident in the Vatican’s efforts to promote “The New Evangelization” at every level of society.  Ordinary Christian men and women are critical in transforming not only non-Christianized nations, but the de-Christianization of previously rich Christian communities.

But what about parents?  How can we be useful in the serious work of conversion when we have a family to care for?  Today my toddler decided to run the hose in our unlandscaped yard, creating a mud pile; she then rolled around in it until she was covered in mud from head to toe.  This morning, my teenager was having a hard time deciding whether he felt comfortable riding his bike to the middle of town to meet some pals for a movie.  He needed my attention and my ear all morning.  And I will not  mention (okay, I’m mentioning it) my nine-year-old daughter who needs gentle lessons in why growing girls need to wear clothes around the house.

Gee whiz!  I know I’m not alone.  We are busy raising our children and keeping our homes running smoothly.  How do we become part of the Church’s work of conversion?  I explored this question with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life today.  The fact is, not only are we called to participate in The New Evangelization, but we have a special role to play.

Our first disciples are very near

The Church has identified the family has particularly critical to the Church’s work of evangelization.  However, you don’t need to go off to distant lands to obey Christ’s call to convert the world.  We heed the call by evangelizing our own children:  our first disciples are our children.  We can spend lots of time in Church ministries, packing care packages for the poor, and raising money for missions, but let’s not kid ourselves:  If we fail our children, we fail the call.  Our culture tells us that what we do at home in the private sphere of the family is insignificant especially socially and politically.  But family is everything. It is always and everywhere.  Every human being begins as part of a family.

ConnectionThe family is the first school of love.  Christ said we are to teach and convert our children, so what are our children learning in our families?  Are they learning fear, hate, and rebellion or joy, love, and communion?   Lisa Popcak mentioned her concern that many of her homeschooling friends assume that because they are using a Catholic homeschool curriculum, their children will grow up to become faithful, fulfilled Catholics, but the evidence does not bear this out.  One study I looked at claimed that Catholic children are more likely than not to fall away from the faith in adulthood.  We cannot assume that because we form our child’s mind with good Catholic information that she’ll remain Catholic.  We must win her heart first.  To carry our values into adulthood, our child must see us as credible authorities and care about our values.  By attending to the quality of the attachment and connection between our children and ourselves, we are tending their hearts, and drawing them to Christ.

Studies consistently show that children who are raised in harsh, negative environments are less likely to internalize their parents’ values than children raised by firm but kind parents. Quite simply, we impact the world in the way we love our children.

See those Christians, how they love

The New Evangelization calls us to reach out not only to non-Christians, but also Christians who have lost the faith.  We can do this work comfortably within the vocation of parenting.  You don’t have to stand on a street corner with a Bible to fulfill this call.  The world will see the witness of our lives and wonder what we have that they don’t have!  (See those Christians how they love!) Just in our love, neighborliness, and hospitality toward others, we can evangelize the world.  Inviting acquaintances to your home to share a meal and to experience the love of a healthy, thriving family is a powerful way to participate in the Church’s mission.

Sharing the comfort and warmth of our families in this way will impact others in more ways than we can imagine.  I believe American culture in particular is starving for the kindness and warmth that can be found in strong, loving Catholic homes.  So, invite a work acquaintance home for dinner; bring a widowed or sick neighbor cards made by your children and bring your children along to deliver them; invite a fallen Catholic to share in your Easter dinner.  You don’t have to lean into their faces and ask, are you saved, in order to spread Christ’s Good News.  Your love is the Good News.  As one of the Popcaks’ callers put it, sometimes it’s most compelling to allow others to meet Christ in us, in our merciful actions, instead of through our words.

He is with us always

As we live this noble, sacramental life of parenting our children, of evangelizing world through our families, we will struggle, we will fall, we will suffer.  Christ promised he would be with us always in this work.   Especially through the sacraments, Christ will strengthen us and give us wisdom for the journey.  We must not only attend Mass faithfully in order to take the Eucharist, but we parents benefit from the healing and direction available through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We can also meet Christ in prayer.   Each family has a unique path, a special mission within the larger mission of the Church, but we will never know what that is unless we are willing to cultivate our prayer life, both personally and as a family.  If you can’t imagine how you can fit in family prayer in a schedule that is already jammed, start small.  Perhaps you can just pray the Morning Offering together before you all leave for the day, pray at dinner, and then pray again with your children when they’re going to bed.  Praying the rosary is a great way to introduce family prayer even with small children.  With lots of littlies, it’s okay to just pray one decade of the rosary.  Once you have made a commitment to prayer and it becomes family habit, you will notice real changes in the emotional and spiritual environment of your home.

Christ is also with us through the fellowship of other Christians.  I can become isolated in my large parish because I’m so shy, but when I make the effort to get involved in parish activities and events, I am always glad.  I especially appreciate how my children benefit from feeling part of our parish community: they love knowing the special, pretty places on the parish grounds, the names of our deacons (and where they eat lunch after Mass!), and those small seemingly mundane details that often give us all a comfortable sense of belonging.

He is with us always as we lead our domestic church, as we convert the world one moment at a time, one conversation at a time, despite muddied toddlers and teen angst — no, it’s through those things that our evangelical work thrives!

Living the Year of Faith: Hospitality

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As I looked towards this new Year of Faith from October 2012 through November 2013, I wanted to create some memories for my family. In our family we discussed different options to no avail. Then my husband suggested we focus on what we already do and give it an extra emphasis.  We found inspiration in a command from Romans 12:13: Contribute to the needs of the saints; practice hospitality.

So when encouraged, I realized, we provide the gift of hospitality.  Our family welcomes others on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis. And we wanted to use this year to pull out all the stops. Not only did we want to host people, but we wanted their visit in our home and with our family to be one that encouraged them in the faith. We wanted them to leave our house loving our heavenly Father more.

So we thought about how we might accomplish this goal.  Romans 15:7 exhorts us to welcome others as if they were Christ. Is that something I can do each time someone enters my home? Will we, as a family, be willing to give persons a welcome feeling without any judgment? Can we give them true friendship? Can we see them as Jesus in our midst (Matthew 25:35)?

When I looked up “hospitality” in the Biblical dictionary, I saw that hospitality was of vital importance to survival in the desert. We in 2012, too, live in a desert of sorts . . . in which meals together are lost in the desert of technology. So we welcome strangers, families and friends around our table and the media is off (that’s TV, phone, and mobile devices!).

Is there any better way to treat someone than to give them food and drink? To link to the Eucharistic banquet that we share at the Mass to the communion we have over a meal? Isn’t sharing a meal with others a foretaste of the Parousia?

Each time I sit at our dining room table, I remember the visitation of the three to Abraham in Genesis 18.  Isn’t God with us? Are you familiar with the Rublev icon in which there is a place open for those looking at the icon to join the three at the table?

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The Trinity welcomes us into the life of God and we can share the love of Christ with those who eat at our table. We keep this icon on the wall in our dining room. Just a glance around the table scans this icon and reminds us to join the Trinity in our behavior at meals.

Besides changing our mind set, I did a simple, yet often forgotten, step to make this year extra hospitable. I purchased a “year of faith” hospitality guest book.

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Each time someone visits our house, we encourage them to sign their name.  I hope it to be a great way to remind us of the images of God who pass through our doors in 2013.

At the end of the Year of Faith, we hope that we will have witnessed some trends. Seeing Jesus in those we meet. Deeper engagement in our Faith. Laughter. Joy. And a little taste of heaven here below around the dining room table.

Living Epiphany

epiphany4Catholics are lucky ducks: Christmas doesn’t last only a day for us, it lasts 40 whole days, until Candlemas on February 2!  Before then, though, we observe the Feast of the Epiphany.

Epiphany signifies the night on which The Three Kings were led by a star to Bethlehem to the crib side of the Christ Child, where they presented gifts to him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s called the “Epiphany” because it marks the night when Christ’s birth was revealed to the Gentiles, while December 25th marks its revelation to Israel. Many European families exchange gifts on Epiphany, not Christmas Day.  Traditionally, Epiphany is the 12th night after the birth of the Messiah: January 6th. That’s where the whole “12 Days of Christmas, partridge in a pear tree” thing comes from.

I’m kinda bummed that in the States we’ve moved The Feast of the Epiphany to the Sunday in between January 2 and January 8, so it’s not always exactly 12 days after Christmas, but this year Epiphany happens to fall on the 12th day, or January 6th.

Epiphany has really become overshadowed by Christmas Day, but it’s worth pondering its significance for our families. Both Christmas and Epiphany fall during the dark time, when the earth seems to sleep and creatures are huddled away from the cold. Both Feasts bring light to the darkness: Christ’s light glimmered on Christmas Day, as his divinity was revealed to the Chosen People of Israel. His light continues to shine in our homes on Christmas Day, as we exchange gifts and gather with family and friends.  On Epiphany, we are reminded that the light of God’s love illuminates a path for the entire world, Jews and Gentiles alike.  That light is no faint flicker: it’s hot and blazing like a mountain of sunbeams.  All are invited to look upon it; all can see the light if they open their eyes and hearts to the simple truth before them. Jesus may seem a world away to some people because his love seems too distant to them. They cannot comprehend that God loves them so completely, that he wants to be their intimate friend, that he invites them into his own family. The love seen in our families may be the only witness for some people of that adoring love God has for them. As our children feel loved and cherished, hopefully they will emerge into the world shining that light for whomever they encounter.

What can we do to bring Epiphany into our homes? Especially for smaller children, I think visible, tangible gestures are very effective in helping them feel connected to the day. Here are a few ideas.

Our Epiphany Tea

I’ve tried to emphasize and communicate the message of Epiphany increasingly more in our home the last few years.  We now leave up our Christmas tree and décor until Epiphany, then together we take them down and pack them away. But we leave our Nativity Set for last, because The Magi join us for a simple family Epiphany Tea, along with Baby Jesus snuggled in his manger.

Our Wise Men with Baby Jesus

Our Wise Men with Baby Jesus

I love to include candles and twinkly lights as part of Epiphany, because it becomes an effective way to explain the light of Christ to the children and how his light lives in all of us as love for others. Our string lights on our dining room sideboard will remain up until after our celebration and I bring out some easy to make hand-rolled beeswax candles my children made for Candlemas last year:

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I’ll do a post on making these candles before Candlemas, but if you’re eager to make them for Epiphany, Magic Cabin sells kits with instructions.  They’re super easy — much easier and safer to make than dipped candles and small children can even join in.  We’ve been enjoying the children’s homemade candles all year.

There’s a special French cake associated with Epiphany: The King’s Cake or Galette de Rois. it’s made from almond paste and looks scrumptious.  Here’s a recipe.  The traditional cake is intriguing, and perhaps I’ll give it a try some day, but we  just bake an ordinary ol’ cake. Last year it was a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I let the kids decide what kind of cake we make.  We decorate the cake with gumdrops to represent the jewels in a king’s crown.

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Whatever cake you make, the special touch is to bake a bean into the cake (wrapped in foil). The person who finds the bean is king (or queen) for the day and gets some special privileges! If you do “Christmas crackers” – little tubes that pop open when two people pull on loose foil on each end of the tube – you’ll notice there are usually paper crowns in them. We save one of these crowns to use on Epiphany for our King or Queen. This year I’m hoping to find some pretty Christmas crackers for the children to pop on Epiphany as part of our celebration. Last year, our little Lydia found the bean in our cake and she was our queen:

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Last year we made “Lambs Wool” for our Epiphany tea: it’s a warm cider with frothed apples. You bake the apples first with the skin on, then poor your hot cider over the apples.

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We had a blast making Lamb’s Wool, but the taste was just like ordinary cider with apple bits in it. Perhaps we’ll reevaluate our beverage offerings this year. Any kind of spiced tea, perhaps cinnamon, would be perfect for the day.

Family Story Hour

Reading the account of The Magi in the Gospels is a nice way to begin or end your Epiphany celebration. We have a few favorite storybook selections that we enjoy together on Epiphany:

The Last Straw (Thury): The journey of the 3 wise men told from the perspective a camel who is supposed to guide them to their destination. Beautiful illustrations.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings (DePaola): My children love the illustrations in all of DePaola’s books, and this one is no exception.

My way of celebrating Epiphany may be more elaborate than appeals to you or is practical for your family. More important than these outward gestures is the spirit of love that Christ gave to the world through his gift of himself.  Just that one little message sums up the day. If we can all remember to love our children, our spouses, other Christians, and especially non-Christians in a way that reflects that light within us, we will live Epiphany.

God bless you all and your families!

Have Yourself a Family-Centered Christmas

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All parents want to give their children a loving, family-centered Christmas, but it’s increasingly difficult in a consumer culture and a marketing machine that targets younger and younger consumers every year.  What can we do to resist the cultural pressure in favor of creating a simple but meaningful Christmas for our children?  I explored this issue yesterday with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life.  You can listen to the entire show here.

158781054I don’t think anyone would argue that Christmas has become much too commercialized.  Several years ago I read a book called Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson.  It really opened my eyes to the way marketing and advertising professionals have hijacked Christmas, turning it into a 5-month spiral into debt and empty expectation.  Historically gift-giving at Christmas was modest and simple.  Children usually received small, sentimental gifts — often hand-made.  They would not expect mounds of sparkly wrapped presents under their Christmas tree.  Giving gifts to adults was of minor significance.  Now some spouses are expecting cars on Christmas morning.  Profit-making companies would have us believe that joy = big gifts and that the most generous person is the one who gives the fanciest, most impressive gift.  Many people run themselves into debt every December because they feel obligated to purchase more gifts for their children than they can afford.  They fear their children will feel deprived in some way or feel less loved if we don’t give them what they want.  This is a big, fat lie, and we know it.

Not only are we not obligated to buy in such a frenzy, but our children will not think we love them less.  At least hopefully not.  If they do, well, we have bigger problems than an awful credit card bill.  But does that mean we should only give our child a homemade corncob doll for Christmas?  Surely not.  (Although, my daughter Claire would love to have a corncob doll like Laura Ingalls!)  We won’t ruin our child’s soul if we purchase some special gifts that we know he’ll enjoy.  While I’ve reduced the amount of money I spend at Christmas and tried to increase our family’s appreciation for the real meaning of Christmas, I do enjoy giving my children gifts.  I love thinking about what they might appreciate.   Heck, Philip and I love playing with our kids’ toys on Christmas morning!  As the Popcaks pointed on the show, giving gifts at Christmas is symbolic of the gift God gave to the world in the infant Jesus.  Giving gifts can be a true joy and a sign of Christian generosity, but we should never feel we need to spend more than we can manage or that we have some obligation to give somebody a gift if we don’t care to give one.

I think the significant difference in Catholic homes should be in the emphasis we place on Advent and the experiences we offer our children.  What do we talk about during Advent?  What do we hear our kids talking about?  If discussions primarily revolve around gifts – specifically, what the kids want for Christmas – then our focus might need a little adjusting.  Children may begin absorbing the cultural message that all their wildest dreams will be fulfilled on Christmas morning as long as they have the right parents.  The Christmas machine mentality is a lie anyway.  Even if our kids received all the toys and gaming units they could imagine for Christmas, they would be disappointed in the end.  They’d feel a little let down and empty after playing with those toys for a while.

That’s because joy ≠ big gifts.  The only true joy is found in union with God and communion with family and friends.  It might sound a little corny but it’s true.  God created us through love and for love; we will only find fulfillment in giving and receiving love.  If generosity is working for the good of the other, then generosity toward our children means we must be prudent and on guard during Advent and Christmas.  Let’s not let the Marketing Machine sidetrack us from what God wants us to experience with our children.

I think children can become addicted to the anticipation they feel when they see the ads and commercials with fancy, bright toys.  They think, if I had that toy, I would be as happy as that perfectly coifed, grinning kid in the commercial.  The Christmas-morning-dream-come-true message is surely irresistible for kids, unless we resist it ourselves through our example and by committing ourselves to creating something different for our babies.  Over the years, as I’ve gained confidence as a mother and received the grace of deepening faith, I can see that I’ve focused far less on material gifts at Christmas and more on the anticipation of meaningful family activities and traditions.

In our home, we don’t dive into Advent or Christmas on the first day of Advent.  We open the season gently.  We take out our Jesse Tree on the first day of Advent, but no other décor.  As the weeks unfold, more décor appears, and I try to make some of it with the kids.  When we bring out the Nativity Set (around the second week of Advent), we don’t take out all the pieces at once. We only put out Mary and the Angel Gabriel.  As the days pass and the story of the nativity unfolds, we bring out the appropriate pieces.  The set is not only for display; I allow the children to play with it. It’s made of lovely felted wool and the small children enjoy holding the pieces. We move Mary with Joseph around the house as they make their way to Bethlehem.  My children all love this tradition and feel more connected to the events of the nativity when they experience this way.

We have special music, books, and movies that only appear during Advent.  Some of these selections are like old friends whom we greet fondly every year.  My smallest children love the stories The Clown of God and Merry Christmas, Strega Nona both by Tomie DePaola.  We always watch the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life on the evening of Christmas Day.  Even though we know the entire script by heart by now, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the long-suffering George Bailey and Clarence his guardian angel.

Every year for many years now we’ve planned a Boxing Day Outing.  (Boxing Day is the day after Christmas in England where my husband grew up.)  We talk with the children early in Advent about what they’d like to do on Boxing Day.  It’s usually something modest, like a trip to the zoo, a museum, a movie a theater, or a hike.  But a few times we’ve gone on an overnight trip somewhere.  Our kids are always looking forward to the day after Christmas because we do something special together.

These traditions give our children a different kind of anticipation from the one materialism offers.  They are looking forward to moments of loving connection with family; they experience the intoxicating joy of experiencing familiar smells and hearing familiar sounds.  When those old books come out, when the familiar ornaments shimmer on the tree, when Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas,” they experience again something that brought them enjoyment many times before.   They are anticipating their own histories in a way.

I did something new this year that has really brought the spirit of the season home for us.  I asked the children to think of a gift they’ve received from God, and then in some way to give that gift back to Jesus for his birthday.  For example, my son Dominic said that God has given him the gift of courage, as he’s very brave about climbing and doing physically daring things. However, even though I teach the class, he becomes very unsettled during CCD, because it’s a large and loud class.  Sometimes he cries because he becomes so overwhelmed.  So Dominic said he would give Jesus the gift of courage and try to be extra strong during CCD.  He even told his class about it.

This year I also involved my children in my own gift-giving plans.  Considering what another person might enjoy and then finding a way to get it without going over my budget is something I never really shared much with them.  My daughter Claire and son Dominic went with me when I selected the gifts for their cousins.  They enjoyed helping me pick them out and talking about what sort of things Maddie and Olivia like to do.  This attention to the experience and feelings of another person is an important aspect of empathy.  Not only did we find some nifty gifts for my nieces, but I enjoyed this special time with my two middle children.

I think these family experiences and traditions are anchors in my children’s lives.  They make this season rich and meaningful for them.  Of course, opening a few gifts on Christmas morning, and enjoying them while my annual Christmas morning sticky buns are baking, can also be one of those traditions.  I can’t help smiling when I hear the laughter and squeals of delight as my children open their gifts.  I love the chaos of wrapping paper flying everywhere and watching how my children explore one another’s gifts.  I just don’t want the message of the gift of the Incarnation to be drowned out by the Great Marketing Machine or by the insidious siren call of greed.  Hopefully with God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit my family will continue to make progress!

I hope you and your families enjoy a blessed and joyous Christmas Day!

Image Credit: Fasphotographic on photos.com

The Art of Waiting

“I just can’t wait!” seems to be the phrase of the season in our house right now.  The number of Advent wreath candles left to be lit and the number of Jesse Tree ornaments left to put up are carefully calculated every day.  Questions like, “But how long is 18 more days?”  are asked frequently as my youngest children still struggle to grasp the concept of time.

I remember feeling as they do once upon a time.  I remember gazing into the lights of our Christmas tree, imagining all of the wonderful things that would appear underneath it the night before Christmas.  I remember feeling that the waiting seemed unbearable, and that there was nothing as exciting or worthwhile as that moment when I first laid eyes on all of the childhood delights that magically appeared while I restlessly slept.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself wanting to slow time more often than rush it.  As my children grow, I sometimes suddenly have a vision of a house with no toys underfoot and no little feet and voices constantly filling our home with life and joy.  I know every phase of life will bring with it new and different pleasures, but that doesn’t lessen the pain that pricks my heart at the thought of leaving these younger years of our family behind.

I can’t deny that there are days when I can’t wait for my husband to get home, days when I can’t wait for my toddler to outgrow the into-everything-all-the-time phase, days when I can’t wait for my daughter to permanently leave her temper tantrums behind.  But it is in those moments that I have to stop, take a breath, and realize that it is by waiting that I find opportunity to grow closest to God.  It is by waiting that I seek the love and generosity I need to meet my husband at the door with a kiss and a smile, even while dinner is burning on the stove, my two year old is doing something he shouldn’t be in the bathroom, and my six year old is begging for some unreasonable request to be fulfilled.  It is by waiting that I seek the patience I need to pick up the contents from the same cupboard my toddler emptied five times already that morning.  It is by waiting that I seek the kindness and gentleness I need to effectively and sympathetically handle my child’s emotional meltdowns.  It is by waiting that I demonstrate my faith that all of these pieces of my life are also pieces of God’s plan for me, and that I will experience the fruits of these difficult moments when He knows my heart has been formed properly to receive them.

Perhaps this is why Mary responded with an unhesitant and certain “Yes” when she was asked to bear God’s Son.  The world needed saving.  Not saving through a flash of light, clap of thunder, and immediate conversion of all, but saving through a gentle and humble heart.  A heart willing to wait with faith and patience to witness the fullness of God’s plan.  A heart that waited nine months to give birth and 30 more years to fully understand what her child’s mission was on earth.  A heart that waited for her Son to die as it slowly tore in two with every physical pain that He endured.  By His stripes we were healed, and by His mother’s faithful waiting we were inspired.

What valuable lessons we fail to learn when we are too impatient to wait!

Sometimes I fear my prayers are in vain, that some problems in our culture are almost too big even for God.  I grow impatient and wonder why God doesn’t just fix this right now!  That’s when I look to Mary’s “yes” and realize that my timing is not God’s.  My obligation is to faithfully say “yes” to a devout prayer life and Catholic lifestyle, even though I don’t know if some of those prayers will be answered during my lifetime.

Some of today’s problems may not be resolved until judgment day, but I find hope in the fact that waiting with complete trust in God’s omnipotent wisdom will ensure that the part I play in His plan is one that will lead me to Him when my final day arrives.

Spend some time this Advent learning the art of peacefully waiting in the comfort of God’s embrace.  Leave behind excessive shopping, baking, and decorating to reflect on the joy that Mary must have felt with each passing day of her pregnancy.  Enjoy every moment, whether it brings pleasure or pain, as an opportunity to grow closer to God and receive His great gift of faith.  We may not know what tomorrow will bring, but the Incarnation is proof that the best things in both this life and the next truly are worth waiting for.

Five Ways to Build Your Family’s Faith!

Faith is a living, breathing, ever growing entity:  it changes as we move through different liturgical seasons, periods of spiritual dryness, and different phases of our lives.  The Year of Faith gives us the opportunity to consider how we can help our family grow in grace by embracing our relationship with God.  The following are a few ideas that have helped my family’s spiritual life to thrive.

1)   Make a written prayer and sacraments schedule.

This is the single most important thing I have done recently to keep our entire family’s spiritual life on track.  Inspired by the book A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot, I wrote down a detailed daily, weekly, and monthly prayer and sacraments schedule for myself and our children.  This includes a few different times of daily prayer, individually and as a family, daily scripture study, monthly set times to receive the sacrament of confession, monthly set times for my husband and I to enjoy Adoration, and Sunday and daily Mass times.  You can discern what practices are most needed by your family and when you can fit them in.  Write them down, commit them to God, and start today!  When my interior life is in order, my exterior life follows.

2)   Create a Catholic home.

I heard somewhere recently that if a total stranger were to enter your home, he or she should realize fairly quickly that a Catholic family lives there.  We can do this not only by the way we treat each other when we are at home, but by displaying sacred art, figurines, and anything else that reminds us at a glance where our priorities should be as we go through our busy days.  Our homes are not meant to resemble a church or a monastery, of course, but I find that a saint figurine placed on the dinner table can inspire all sorts of questions and discussions, a portrait of Mary reminds me to call on her aid in the difficult moments of parenting, and a holy water font by the door encourages frequent blessings and short prayers to abound as we come and go.

3)   Give your children hands on lessons in faith. 

I’ve always loved doing craft projects with my children.  I also believe that the lessons I want to convey to them have more impact when they can associate them with something they helped make themselves.  We’ve made Mary mobiles to represent her Assumption, kites for the Ascension of Our Lord, and during Advent, I like to let my kids make and color their own Jesse Tree ornaments.  A resource I enjoy consulting for ideas is A Treasure Chest of Traditions For Catholic Families by Monica McConkey.  There are also numerous resources available online.

Cooking with your children is another wonderful hands on activity.  Building the Family Cookbook by Suzanne Fowler has wonderful saint stories to go along with each recipe.  More than once I’ve heard the question, “Is this a saint meal?” as we sit down to dinner.

4)   Be a living example. 

Practice what you preach!  Envision who you think God is calling your children to be and work on being that person right now.  What virtues do your children need to work on?  Make it a point to uphold those virtues yourself.  Children are so perceptive of even the slightest indication that a hypocrite could be in their midst.  Do you want honest children?  Be honest yourself in every word and deed.  Do you want chaste children?  Live a chaste marriage.  Take a Natural Family Planning class and learn more about the Theology of the Body.  Do you want obedient children?  Be obedient to God’s will for your life.  So much of our faith is passed on to our children when the fewest words are spoken.  Live what you want them to learn!

5)   Build family rapport.

Our children will want to please us when they have a solid and loving relationship with us.  Our lessons in faith will mean more to them if they fully believe in our steadfast desire to work for their good.  Schedule family game nights, incorporate parent/child “date nights” with each of your children, and find time to simply have fun as a family.  As Greg and Lisa Popcak convey in their wonderful book, Parenting With Grace, make your family time so appealing that your children wouldn’t dream of choosing anywhere else to be in those moments.  Your house is the place that they should always want to come home to.

I still get overwhelmed by the number of ideas I would love to incorporate into our family’s faith life.  I’ve found that I simply have to choose to make a small change and God provides the grace I need to move forward from there.  Many blessings to you and your family during this Year of Faith!