Archive for Theology of the Body

How Theology of the Body Impacted My Life

large family

My husband and I read a life-changing article thirty-two years ago when we were on a rare date night for our sixth wedding anniversary. Parents of four, we really wanted to remain faithful to Church teaching by refusing to use artificial birth control, but we already felt stretched to our limits financially, emotionally and physically. I am tiny and had never even held a baby before my first. Growing up in a Protestant home with only one sister, it had never even occurred to me that I would one day mother a large family.

After my conversion to Catholicism at nineteen, I earned a degree in English Literature at a Catholic College. Everyone thought I was called to the religious life, especially the Jesuit priest I worked with as a student chaplain. Everyone was shocked with my sudden vocation change, especially me.

I had moved east with Michael after our first baby was born which cut me off from daily contact with friends and family. Although I enjoyed living in the country, raising our own vegetables and later even all our own meat, it was an isolated existence. I felt like Ruth in a foreign land but without family support because Michael’s mother was busy with a huge extended family. In addition, my husband struggled with depression. Worldly opinion screamed that we should not have any more children.

Natural Family Planning

The question we had struggled with for years was, “How could we remain faithful to Church teaching when Natural Family Planning did not seem to work for us?” Intuitively, I already knew a call to trust in God could not just be an intellectual assent but included entrusting my fertility to God. Catholic teaching stated couples should space their children with abstinence but we slowly discovered I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation.

Of course, we did our best to remain faithful to NFP. However, each successive child after our third was conceived on the second, third, fourth and fifth day before ovulation. A couple of babies were created before I even had a first cycle when we thought I was still infertile. As my doctor said once, “Ah, I remember reading about a woman in New Zealand, two years ago, who conceived five days before ovulation.” I raised my hand and chirped, “Well, you can add me to that list!”

Theology of the Body

Then on our sixth wedding anniversary, sitting in a busy pizza place, I was flipping through our local diocesan paper when an article jumped out at me. I was excited as I read a statement by Pope John Paul II which stated that using contraceptives not only damaged a couple’s intimacy but also harmed their spirituality. We were both struck dumb, sensing a powerful Presence of God as this truth pierced our hearts.

Michael and I try never to let anything hinder our journey into God’s heart, so this truth now meant artificial contraception was definitely not an option. Of course, I cannot find the exact quotes we read that day but the following is close enough:

In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act…Therefore, in such a case, the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.

It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of these two aspects, as real bodily union is carried out in the conjugal act, but it does not correspond to the interior truth and to the dignity of personal communion – communion of person. This communion demands that the language of the body be expressed reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth be lacking, one cannot speak either of the truth of self-mastery, or of the truth of the reciprocal gift and of the reciprocal acceptance of self on the part of the person. Such a violation of the interior order of conjugal union, which is rooted in the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act. (Theology of the Body, Aug. 22, 1984, 398)

Love…is therefore the power given to man in order to participate in that love with which God himself loves in the mystery of creation and redemption. It is that love which “rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6) (Theology of the Body, Oct. 10, 1984, 406)

Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, the words of John Paul II , quoted in that newspaper article, resonated within both my husband and me. Guilt lifted off us and a surge of excitement, a sense of purpose welled up from within. It took time to really believe that none of our children were simply a failure of the NFP method. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth for us that God called each of our children into being with our co-operation. We’d stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose.

This Is Your Call

For example, twenty-five years ago, I once again slipped into panic mode, worrying if I was pregnant with my fifth child. Suddenly my whole body relaxed and I heard these words within me: This is your call. This is your vocation. This is your witness to the world.

All sorts of objections rushed into my head. “What on earth do you mean a witness, a witness to what? Stupidity? People don’t understand. They just think we are irresponsible or idiots.” Then unexpected joy bubbled within me and I sensed these words in my spirit, “I am with you.” Once again peace wrapped like a blanket around me. It was an actual physical sensation. My mind was calm and my spirit felt strong. That was it for me; I understood and I said, “Yes.” Though I still cringed under disapproval from society, I always understood my children were saving me by compelling me to dive deeper into my spirit, discovering the power of eternal Love at my core, a love that can stand strong against all opposition.

We have lived through years of suffering, surviving and even thriving thanks to the gifts of humor and faith. I can honestly say we are joyful because we answered a particular call to parent a large family. Thanks to Theology of the Body, I can proclaim with confidence that mothering a large family is my call, my vocation and my witness to the world.

“Would You Like a Side of Joy with Your Advent?”

“I realized this year I was ‘serving up’ Advent to my family and friends like I was a waitress — watching them dine, but never participating in the feast.”

This week we, as a Church, rejoice with grateful wonder, “Christ is near.”  But last weekend I awoke on the morning of the annual Advent Tea that I host for my daughter’s Little Flowers Catholic girls club and I thought, UGH.  Now, mind you, this event has always been my idea.  I love doing it.  I take out my special dishes, use all the pink and pretty I have at my disposal, and make those girls and their mommies feel precious and pampered.   So why on that morning, did I feel so completely, utterly Advented out?  Pooped even?

177292304Well, after Thanksgiving this year — a late Thanksgiving, right?  am I right? — it was like a non-stop race through several projects and commitments.  Boom, boom.  Like fires to extinguish, even though I was a little grateful they were there.  But then Advent was in the mix. SLAM.  A little sweet brick in my face.  Ow.

As I lay in bed that morning before our annual tea, I realized that this year I was “serving up” Advent to my family and friends like I was a waitress —  watching them dine, but never participating in the feast.  I was working hard to create just the right experience for those I love, but I was feeling spiritually detached.

My experience is surely familiar to other parents.  As we enter the last days of Advent, I want to share some thoughts on how we parents can love our children generously while balancing our need for spiritual nourishment.

Remember the Why

Rather than going through the motions of Advent, truly reflect on what it all means for you personally.   If we do all the right things for our family, but forget why we’re doing it, we’ve lost something valuable.  Acting out of duty is great, but acting from a disposition of love and generosity is even better.  Jesus wants our hearts.

Now, at this point, you might expect me to say that Jesus wasn’t born for the pretty in my tea party.  Oh, but I think he was.  Of course he was.  He was born to show us that the entire spectrum our human senses are fantastic and even a sign of the Holy if we allow it.  The problem was that I was trying so hard to force those girls to experience the Transcendent in Advent that I forgot who I was in the story of salvation.  That morning before the Advent Tea, I honestly just wanted to “get through it” on some level.  I wasn’t really in the mood for company and, after several days of neglect, my house was a mess.  I was not in a good place.  But I remembered why I love these Advent Teas so much: not so that I could show off a shiny floor, but so that I could open my home to human love and Divine Joy.

Never Forget the Who

I also forgot who Jesus is to me personally.  In my perhaps understandable desire to make everything “just so” for my human guests, I forgot the reality of my Great Guest.  Grounding my family culture in the liturgical calendar has been one of the giant breakthroughs in my own parenting.  But I can easily forget that I need one-on-one time with my friend, Jesus; that he loves me enough to wait for me to meet him all alone, by myself — just little ol’ me.

We parents need to pray.  Not only in those family prayers, which are so precious to him, but private prayer as well.  Busy parents may think there’s no way they can find time to pray, but consider your day and when it’s most quiet — and seize those minutes.  The big point I want to bring home for my loved ones is that their Savior is near.  He is here, in our midst, ready to love us, in our current reality, however broken or imperfect.  He only asks for our trust, our yes.

So that morning before the Advent Tea I might have spent the hours scrubbing my (very dirty) floor and making everything picture perfect for those precious girls and their mommies, all of whom I love so.  But I realized Jesus was calling me to prayer, calling me to sit a while with him in his arms.  So I prayed.  I prayed for a long time before I even got out of bed because I knew once I walked out my bedroom door, the excitement of the day would be flooding my home and carry me away (not in a bad way, but in a way that would make it hard for me to STOP and reflect).

My little and big girl guests arrived for the tea — dirty floors, dishes in the sink, little sandwiches still to be cut.  My physical home was not quite ready, but that morning it was more important that I was ready — that my heart was ready — and after my time in prayer and reflection, I think I was — at least more than I was a few hours beforehand.  We had a wonderful time.  The girls had their pretty and we moms connected.  One mom announced her pregnancy and we all cheered!  Toward the end of the party, my friend Angela and I led the little girls in a craft in my family room, and what do you know, the other mommies cleaned my kitchen!

I put my feet up that night and knitted some slippers for Dominic while watching a movie with my family, thinking of the arms of Jesus, so big and powerful.  So near.  I hope for the rest of Advent I feel less like a waitress and more like a child of God.  He has invited me, I know.  I just need to figure out hour by hour how to live the invitation.  Pray for me.

Photo credit:  Nomadsoul1 (photos.com)

Parenting the Fearful Child

161792239Kids get scared about stuff.  Heck, we all fear stuff.  While fear is actually a healthy response to a threat, sometimes we can fear things that are perfectly safe or even good for us.  For example, I hate big parties.   A few friends are okay, but giant gatherings of people I don’t know with no other purpose than socializing makes me very anxious.  I would rather stick my head in the toilet than . . . mingle.  AAAGH!   The reasons for this anxiety are complex, but the fact is, it has prevented me from attending some functions that I might have enjoyed.

Hopefully I will get over my anxiety about big parties some day, but I sense it’s with me to stay.  This knowledge and experience makes me more motivated to ensure I respond to my children’s fears with sensitivity and wisdom.  I can so empathize with children and their fearfulness.  Imagine how things look to them, when they have so little life experience, when their sense of safety and security depends entirely on others.

The Theology of the Body tells us that we are created for communion and connection – with God and with one another – but fearfulness and anxiety can actually prevent our children from having the peace of mind required for receptiveness to others.  They can become frozen in a state of fear and survival.  Why are children frequently fearful and what we can we do to help them through their fears?  This is the topic I explored recently with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life.  Here’s a link to the whole show, which I encourage you to dive into!  The Popcaks always have amazing insight on the topics they explore and while I was waiting for my segment I was astounded how they cut to the heart of anxiety and fearfulness, not just in children but in us as well.

Here are a few points I made on the show:

Understanding Childhood Fears

Let’s begin by considering why children are fearful in the first place.

  1. All children experience anxiety or fear on occasion.  Most childhood fears are very normal: kids are experiencing new things all the time and often need our help figuring out whether it’s safe or scary.
  2. Children face fear at every developmental stage:  Infants fear the absence of their parent; preschoolers enjoy the gift of their wonderful, emerging imagination, but it can lead to scary thoughts that they have a hard time processing; school aged kids start to fear real world dangers like fires, crime, illness; teens fear social rejection and even bigger problems in the world that they hear about on school and in the media.
  3. Kids have different temperaments and tolerance for stress: Some children fear things that a sibling finds fascinating; children can become fearful about different things as they move through developmental phases.

Helping Your Child Through His Fears

  1. Let her talk about it:  Childhood fears are very common and usually an understanding parent and little support, along with time, is all that’s needed to overcome them.
  2. Empathize:  Help your child feel understood.  Share a similar experience from your own childhood or mirror her feelings (“wow, you must have been so surprised when you saw that big dog running toward you!). Put her experience into words for her for she understands them better.
  3. Understand the emotional factors in your home environment that, according to scientific research, can either encourage or protect against childhood fearfulness

PARENTING PRACTICES THAT PROTECT CHILDREN AGAINST FEARFULNESS:

  • An authoritative parenting style:  authoritative parents are responsive and nurturing, but also guide and direct their child’s behavior and they have high expectations for their children.  They also encourage their children to share their thoughts, fears, and opinions.
  • Parental anxiety management:  We parents must avoid displays of distress or excessive concern about our own problems.  Don’t discuss money troubles in front of the kids or use them as a sounding board when you’re upset about something.
  • Value family communication and problem solving:  we must foster a very open emotional environment in our homes.  Ensure that at gatherings everyone is welcome to talk, and mutual problem-solving is part of your family culture.
  • Respond to child’s anxious behavior without anger or excessive worry:  Parents can empathize with their child’s concerns without communicating their own concern over the matter; we can model for our child the appropriate level of concern while supporting him through the experience

PARENTING PRACTICES THAT ENCOURAGE FEARFULNESS:

  • An authoritarian parenting style: authoritarian parents demand unquestioned obedience from their child and the child suffers harsh consequences for disobeying.  Children raised this way don’t feel safe with their parent, they don’t trust their parent emotionally.  This anxiety is toxic.
  • Parental over-control: these parents are very intrusive physically and emotionally; they even control conversations
  • Highlighting dangers in child’s environment:  These parents are excessively cautious, freaking out every time their child makes an effort to take a risk.  “Don’t climb too high!  Be careful!  Oh my gosh!”
  • Tolerance or encouragement of avoidance behavior:  These parents make a habit of agreeing that the child shouldn’t try something that’s difficult.
  • Rejection:  Having a parenting style that is basically judgmental, disapproving, or critical of the child makes it hard for the child to develop confidence and a sense of emotional safety.
  • Conflict:  A lot of fighting, arguing, disharmony between family members raises a child’s adrenaline on a regular basis, making it part of his emotional make-up.

4.     Play the fear out!

All human beings need time for leisure and release, especially children!  Plenty of play time alone and with the family is important for our child’s mental health and sense of peace.

Play therapists use play as a way to help a child process things that are bothering her.  If your child is fearful about a specific experience – going to school, visiting grandma, talking to new people – try to find a way to practice these experiences through play and observe what your child says or does.  These clues help us understand the better the root of our child’s fear so that we can help her confront it.  So if your child is fearful about attending school, play school where you are the student and she is the teacher and let her lead you through the play.  It’s possible no big light bulbs will come on for you, but just the act of turning her fear into a game is helpful in itself – it gives her a chance to practice the thing that she fears and in a way that she can control.

5.      Prayer

Helping our child develop the habit of turning to God during times of fear and anxiety is a gift that she will carry with her into adulthood.  Pray with her about her fear:  ask the Blessed Mother to wrap her arms around your child and place those fears in the hands of Jesus, who will know what to do with them; help your child pray the Rosary one of the most calming, meditative devotions, or pray to St. Dymphna, the patron saint of anxiety.

Cause for Concern

While all children experience some fear, some children are dealing with a more serious form of anxiety.  If your child exaggerates the danger or risk of an experience or if your child’s fears keep from participating in family events, leaving the house, or playing with friends, you should discuss these issues with your pediatrician or a mental health professional.   Childhood shouldn’t be something your child has to suffer through!

RESOURCES 

Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky, PhD

The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron

For counseling or a consultation about your child’s anxiety, please consider Dr. Popcak’s own tele-counseling services, the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  For childhood anxiety, he takes a parent-led approach.

Photo credit: Sebra, photos.com

What’s Your Excuse?

87490642My kids and I rediscovered the joy of reading together this summer.  We learned new words, gained knowledge about unfamiliar topics, and felt a sense of accomplishment as each page was turned.  But there is one hidden benefit of reading that surpasses all of the others; one benefit that occurs naturally but is still surprising; one benefit that makes reading “Elmo’s Favorite Things” for the hundredth time completely worth it.

The transformation is almost magical.  I open a book and four crazy, distracted, bouncy kids refocus their energy on the story that is unfolding.  They start to gravitate closer to me, and even my older children can’t help but be interested in what they thought was a “baby” book.  Suddenly, their desire to see the pictures on the pages become a good excuse.  An excuse to sit a little closer to me; an excuse to lean their heads on my shoulder; an excuse to snuggle into the crook of my arm.

Before I know it, we are one big pile of Mommy, books, and kids, all enjoying the excuse to be physically close to one another as we fill up our stores of love just by reading a good book together.

Whether eight or eighteen, our children need our physical affection to survive in this world.  They need to feel pure, authentic, physical love often so they will know immediately when they are tempted by false affection and perverted notions of intimacy.

Observe the genius of our heavenly Father.  Did He not create “excuses” for us to physically lean into His love when He established the Seven Sacraments?  It is by taking advantage of these wonderful gifts of the Church that we can see God’s welcoming arms as His love flows over us in Baptism, cry on His shoulder in Reconciliation, and literally experience a taste of union with God through the Holy Eucharist.  We feel His comforting embrace lift us to a new level of grace and inspiration through Confirmation, our hearts are united to His in Matrimony and Holy Orders, and we feel Him take our hand to lead us home through the Anointing of the Sick.  We can’t help but fill up our hearts with God’s love by embracing the fullness of these sacraments.  And when we participate in these physical signs of God’s affection for us regularly, that love overflows into our souls, minds, and bodies.  We truly become temples of God and feel as close to the fulfillment of heaven as we possibly can while still on earth.

In his book, Beyond the Birds and the Bees, Dr. Greg Popcak says, “For both boys and girls, a disordered sexuality has its roots in emotionally stingy homes.  Boys and girls of every age have deep needs for touch and affirmation, needs given to them by God.”

So what’s your excuse to get close to your kids?  A good book, a piano duet, or a playful wrestling match?  Playing a video game while seated next to each other on the couch?  A pat on the back as you pass each other in the kitchen?  Get creative, especially with your older children.  Give them opportunities to fill up their hearts with your love and affection and encourage them to take advantage of them.  Fill their hearts until they overflow, so that instead of seeking superfluous physical fulfillment in the dark corners of the world, their hearts, minds, and bodies will be capable of enlightening the shadows with the purity of God’s love.

Recommended Resource for Parents: 

Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Dr. Greg Popcak

Books I’m enjoying reading with my preschool through elementary school-aged kids:

Hooray!  I’m Catholic!  by Hana Cole

The Princess and the Kiss:  A Story of God’s Gift of Purity  by Jennie Bishop

The Squire and the Scroll:  A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart by Jennie Bishop

Image credit:  Hemera Technologies (photos.com)

The Freedom of Self-Mastery

115455115I am not a morning person.  Many early morning hours of my life have been spent rushing around, scalding my throat on hot coffee, and running out the door with a hope and a prayer that I didn’t forget anything important I might need for the day–all because I didn’t get out of bed when I should have.

Over the years, the early morning hours have become more precious to me.  I love slowly sipping a cup of fresh coffee as the sun extends its fingers over the earth.  I love the peace and silence of my house before anyone else is awake.  I love feeling like, for a few moments, it’s just me and God.

But I still struggle.  Four active young children, a nursing baby, and a full household to manage often makes it difficult to convince my body to do the will of my spirit.  The snooze button on my alarm clock is my vice.  I consider myself to be fairly self disciplined in many areas of my life, but between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 am, the snooze button is master.

“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work.  One can never consider it acquired once and for all.”  (CCC 2342)

Yes, the snooze button reminds me every day that I am an unfinished work, slowly being formed according to God’s will.  It reminds me that there is a fine line between improving ourselves and turning ourselves into “object[s] of manipulation” (TOB 123:1) by the many artificial means that exist to do so.  The pursuit of perfect self-mastery allows us to acknowledge there is a higher power than ourselves on whom we must rely to overcome our inherent concupiscence of the flesh.  Self-mastery allows us to live in the freedom of the Spirit rather than living as slaves to the urges of our bodies.

It is in these moments of glaring humanity, these moments of defeat and frustration, that we are on the brink of the perfection of divine strength.  For the Lord tells Paul in 2 Corinthians that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul continues by saying, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians: 9-10)

It is in these moments that we are extended an invitation to throw our entire selves into the arms of God, where the desires of our flesh become opportunities to grow into the infinite expanse of God’s vast love for us.  It is in these moments that we can surrender ourselves to God and become truly free by the power of His grace.

What a glorious thing true freedom is!  The freedom of self-mastery allows us to have patience with a child who doesn’t want to go to bed at the end of a long, tiring day.  Self-mastery allows us to manage our busy households in a way that keeps schedules running smoothly and laundry under control.  Self-mastery allows us to love our spouse according to God’s law through the beauty of openness to life and natural family planning.  Self-mastery allows us to be free to pursue the deepest desires of our hearts.

Aren’t these the things that make us who we are?  That make us persons, distinct from every other living creature on this earth?

“Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself.”  (TOB 123:5)

We should relish in the fact that we are not slaves to our physical beings as the animals are.  We were created with the capacity to choose love time and time again.  We were created with the ability to practice self-mastery in even the tiniest choices of our daily lives in order that we might better form our will to God’s–in order that we might become a living image of Christ Himself in the way we conduct ourselves and live out our vocation.

“…self-mastery is indispensable in order for man to be able to ‘give himself’, in order for him (referring to the words of the Council) to be able to ‘find himself fully’ through ‘a sincere gift of self’ [Gaudium et Spes, 24:3] “  (TOB 15:2)

In order for one to give a gift, that person must possess the gift first.  Let us seek to obtain self-mastery in every moment of our day.  Let us seek to possess the gift that will allow us to realize the full potential of who we are when we give it to others.  For it is only when we seek to know ourselves as God does, as a gift to be given, that we will become who He created us to be.

Image Credit: Mike Manzano (photos.com)

Clothed in Dignity

protect marriageI hung up the phone, feeling as if I had just caught a glimpse of some of the devil’s most triumphant work.  A place where bodies go who have been robbed of their dignity in a way that leaves their souls gasping for air.  A place where bodies go who have been dragged to hell and back because God’s vision of love was perverted into a crime of lust.  A place where bodies go to restore their shredded dignity and where their souls are seeking the fullness of the Truth.

I called our local safe house for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault to obtain a donation list of items that might help these women and children put the pieces of their lives together, beginning with their own personal dignity.

But how is this possible?  Where is the fulfillment in a world where the sin of lust has taught us that the desires of the flesh exist to be indulged in ways that only leave us aching for more?  Where is the hope in a world that has managed to separate the urges of our bodies from the true love that every heart desires?  Where is the source of light in a world where children’s temporal and spiritual needs are neglected because their parents’ physical cravings were so horribly misdirected?

The answer lies within each and every one of us.

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.”  (Genesis 5: 1-2)

“The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”  (Genesis 2:25)

Blessed John Paul II tells us in the Theology of the Body that “‘nakedness’ signifies the original good of the divine vision.  It signifies the whole simplicity and fullness of this vision, which shows the ‘pure’ value of man as male and female, the ‘pure’ value of the body and of [its] sex.”

It is within the sacramental marriage between a man and a woman that our vision is able to overcome the clouds of lust.  It is within the sacramental marriage between a man and a woman that God gives us the grace to be naked without shame–naked without the fear of being used or abused, confident that our spouse is viewing us as a dignified gift.

Charisse and her husband Rob on their wedding day!

Charisse and her husband Rob on their wedding day!

A married man and woman can see in each other bodies that complement one another perfectly, bodies that hold the potential to create new life, bodies that have the capacity to image the Blessed Trinity itself through their life-giving love.  This is how marriage in its supreme sacredness is truly “the way of the ‘redemption of the body’” (TOB 23:5)  This is how marriage allows us to “retriev[e] this dignity, in which the true meaning of the human body, its meaning as personal and ‘of communion’ is fulfilled at the same time.”  (TOB 23:5)

So let us clothe ourselves in the dignity of the Sacrament of Marriage, that we might be a light to others who have fallen prey to the skillful deceptions of the devil.  Live your marriage in the fullness of the Truth so that others will not lose hope in the reality of God’s love.

“Be fruitful and multiply” and teach your children well.  May the language of your body reveal the Truth of the ‘“divine vision” and an appreciation for the complementarity of your spouse’s body, exactly the way God created it.  Study the Church’s teachings on married love and pray with and for your spouse.  Have faith that God wants nothing more than to form your marriage into a beacon of hope for the world that will demonstrate to others the meaning of their desires and the answer to the deep longing in their hearts.  Be the witness that the world can’t deny, that the world can’t help but look to as it struggles to retrieve its trampled dignity and satisfy its craving for love.

This is what marriage is:  a symbol to the world of God’s great hope and love–a symbol of His life-bearing Spirit and total and faithful commitment–a reminder that we were all created with an inherent dignity that deserves to be respected by all.

Live the Truth of the real meaning of marriage and, in the words of St. Francis,  “Preach always.  If necessary, use words.”

RECOMMENDED READING

Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West is a great introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For Better . . . Forever by Dr. Gregory Popcak’s is a fantastic guide for married couples seeking insight into what it takes to create a loving, happy marriage.

Life-Giving Love:  Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage by Kimberly Hahn will help you discover the true design of marriage and the beauty of the Church’s teaching on procreation and life.

Be Not Afraid

LoveI can’t wait to talk to my kids about sex.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I CAN’T WAIT!  I can’t wait to teach my kids how to make this world a better place by holding a reverence for the sacred and by understanding that the Original Plan for sex was never Plan B.  That God’s plan never included unchastity, infidelity, heartache, and despair.  Sex is everything we are and everything we were created to be.  In the proper context of marriage between a man and a woman, sex becomes something that gives us a taste of the bliss of heaven and a glimpse of the magnitude of God’s love for us.  We become co-creators in God’s great plan for life in this world, and we have the ability to be a beacon of hope to all who are lost on their journey to true love.

I want my children to be able to recognize the corruption and distortion of the beauty of sex in this world as it stands in stark contrast to the heavenly purity within the sacrament of marriage.

As parents, we are called to lead our children on a path of purity and holiness.  This is no small task, as the very core of their beings — their sexuality — is bombarded with all of the wrong messages from the time they are born.  But God has blessed us with the tools we need to combat lust with love and perversion with dignity.  The Theology of the Body gives us everything we need to live God’s message of love and purity every day in our homes.

Be not afraid!  Study this great work and impart its infinite wisdom to your children.  Don’t just have “The Talk”.  Live the message of the Theology of the Body in your marriage, your friendships, and your relationships with your children.

The Theology of the Body is not just for married couples.  The Theology of the Body is a lens through which we can view how to better live every aspect of our lives.  It points our hearts to the love of God in heaven and allows our bodies to follow.  It gives us the gifts of self respect, dignity, and purity.  It allows those in the celibate religious life to remain faithful to their vows, and elevates a good marriage to an extraordinary marriage.

Most importantly, the Theology of the Body lifts the veil of deceit that the devil has lowered over the radiance of the true meaning of sex.  It allows our children to see the devil’s lies for what they are and realize their choices are not limited to those of this world.  Sex is sacred!  It is not something to be “protected”, “safe”, or “freely” and shamelessly given away while trapped in the fear of disease, emotional turmoil, or an unplanned pregnancy.  Sex is meant to be experienced with wild, passionate abandon within the context of marriage.  Through the grace of this sacrament, we find the ability to turn back time to the Garden of Eden–to experience a relationship with no shame, no fear of being used, and true freedom to love.

We are called to impart the joy of living the beauty of sex in this way to our children by living authentic, Catholic marriages.  Study the Theology of the Body, take a Natural Family Planning class, pray for your spouse.  We are all called to be saints, and as parents we must take this calling seriously.  Our children are depending on us.  They want to know the surest way to experience the love we all long for while still in this world.  I can guarantee you they will not find it if we don’t fill their hearts with the antithesis of what the rest of the world is teaching them.

Be not afraid!  We will all stumble as our humanity attempts to convey such a heavenly message, but I firmly believe the Holy Spirit will assist us generously in our efforts.  The message of the Theology of the Body is what God desperately wants for us because He loves us.  Let us seek Him with the same desperation by living out His plan for sex and marriage so that we might be filled with the grace and passion to teach our children well.  For it is within this school of joy that our children’s hearts will find peace and purity by resting in the love of God.

Theology of the Body Resources 

Websites:

www.christopherwest.com

www.thetheologyofthebody.com

Books:

Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Dr. Gregory Popcak will help your raise sexually whole and holy children.

The Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West is a great place to start learning about TOB

The Theology of the Body for Teens programs are excellent.  The parents’ guides for both the high school edition and middle school edition list many other fantastic resources and provide great conversation starters for parents and their children.

Thy Will Be Done

Charisse & Baby Faith

Charisse & Baby Faith

I gaze at my newborn daughter’s delicate features and feel my heart ache as it struggles to retain this moment that will go by all too quickly.  The joy of a new birth is soon mixed with the bittersweet awareness of the passage of time, and I am filled with the impulse to hold onto my daughter with possessive and jealous arms with no intention of ever letting go.

As I observe my other children going about their busy lives, the contrast of the peaceful stillness of my newborn snoozing blissfully at my breast creates an acute awareness of how quickly new baby squeaks and tiny baby toes turn into first toddler words and running toddler feet.  My two-year-old reminds me that self declared independence and weaning can happen sooner than I expected, and it doesn’t seem possible that my older children are gaining so much knowledge so quickly, playing at friends’ houses for hours at a time, and going to sleep-overs.  I can easily find myself ensnared by the temptation to long for something that cannot be–to wish that the moments of cuddling my newborn could last forever–to wish that my children could simply stop in time as they journey down the path to greater independence from me and assure me of how much they still need their mother.

Then I realize that this is why I parent the way I do.  Attachment Parenting offers my children the foundation of trust and love that is essential for them to carry out their God-given purpose in this world.  By being in tune to their needs and responding to them through my presence and actions since the day they were born, my children have a strong sense of self worth and moral integrity that will not easily be broken by the pressures of this world.  Attachment Parenting gives me the bonding time that I need with my children so I can be confident that I will guide them in the way God intended.  I love it when my baby needs to nurse or clearly just needs some snuggle time with me.  I never feel more needed than when one of my older children specifically wants me to play that game with him, read that book to her, or put that band aid on.  It is in these moments that our mutual trust and love become evident and our souls are bared so we can truly get to know one another.

I realize my children are a gift, not just to me and my husband, but to the rest of the world as well.  And while, as parents, we are their primary caretakers, we are called not to selfishly claim them and their abilities as our own, but to give them back to God as they learn how He wants them to serve Him.

As St. Peter Damian said, “Let us detach ourselves in spirit from all that we see and cling to that which we believe.  This is the cross which we must imprint on all our daily actions and behavior.”

So while I sometimes wish I could lock myself in a room and keep my newborn’s snuggles all for myself amidst the flurry of new baby visitors, I understand that my beautiful daughter already has a greater mission in life than filling my heart with joy.  She has the ability to thrill grandparents with her precious baby coos, to delight other children with her miniature proportions, and to remind all who see her of how sacred new life is.  Just as my baby daughter carries a unique ability to bring others closer to God simply by being who she is, so are my other children blessed with talents and abilities that will allow them to carry out the specific missions that God has planned for them.  My parenting style gives me the intimate moments with my children that I need to have the strength to detach myself when God is calling me to allow His child to do His work–a strength I call upon more and more as my children grow up.

Perhaps in these moments of child-led detachment we experience many of the same feelings that Joseph and Mary did upon finding Jesus in the Temple.  Mary asks, “Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”  And Jesus replies, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  (Lk 2:49)

Our loved ones are not our own.  They are precious gifts from God who, if we fulfill our vocation well, will never need to be sought with sorrow, but rather released with joy to do the work of our Father in heaven.

During this Holy Week, I pray that I might emulate Mary as Christ’s Way of the Cross became her Way of the Cross.  I’ll soak up these early years of holding my children close and make a choice in every moment to lead them closer to God by my word and example.  And as my children’s moments of independence fall faster and closer together, may I release them whole heartedly back into His care with confidence that my  personal fiat will inspire them to respond always in the words of Christ, “Thy will be done.”

Steubenville: Lessons for Parents

The conviction this week of two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, for raping a 16 year-old girl will lead many parents to ask themselves serious questions.  After a night of drinking, the two players and the girl ended up in the basement of somebody’s house.  The girl woke up the next morning naked, unsure of what had happened.  Photos were taken of her apparently passed out.  She was raped in a car on the way to the house and in the basement.  The boys were convicted and will remain in prison until they’re 21.

As the parent of a teenage son, this case forces me to think carefully about how I’m raising him.  How much privacy do teenagers need to feel we respect their judgment?  How do basically decent kids end up in the situation like that in Steubenville?  What can we do to protect our own teenagers from making such disastrous and heartless choices?

Teens and Privacy

Teens deserve opportunities to demonstrate their independence, but they’re still kids.  I’m wondering, of course, how the teenagers got access to so much alcohol in several locations that night.  I’m wondering, too, where the parents were at these parties.  It’s a great idea to be the home where our teen’s friends like to come, but we don’t want our home to be the home where they go to hide.  Philip and I have a very welcoming attitude with Aidan’s friends in our home. He’s never had a group of boys and girls together, always only boys.  We want them to know we like having them here and that we see them as individual, interesting people, not a group of boys.  Obviously we would never provide them with alcohol or let them bring it in.  Did the Steubenville parents just look the other way because these were football stars, or were they not around at all?  Did they care?

We give Aidan and his pals some level of privacy so they can enjoy themselves, but we always know where they are in the house and what they’re doing.  Their hangout spot is in our office right next to the family room.  We check in on them regularly to bring them snacks, and to ensure they know we’re around.  Aidan and his pals have sleepovers at our house once a month.  My husband Philip stays up until they’re going to bed, not only to keep an eye on them, but he likes the movies and games they play!

While we would never leave this group of kids unsupervised at night, when this same group of boys is here during the day, I do leave on occasion with my younger children to run errands.  I wouldn’t hesitate to leave my teenager home alone, but it does occur to me now that I consider the dynamics of teen relationships that I might choose in the future not to permit gatherings in my home with Aidan’s friends if I don’t plan being present in the house the entire time.  When I think about these boys it’s difficult for me to believe anything unthinkable would happen, but at the very least I plan to discuss this issue with the parents of Aidan’s friends.

If at some point, girls enter the picture and we’re looking at hosting a group of boys and girls together, we’ll have to talk with Aidan about our expectations and values.  I cannot imagine we’d ever allow girls in a room with the boys with the door closed.  Seems not much good could come from that much privacy.  While we trust Aidan, we don’t want to put him in a situation that’s more than  he could handle.

Start with Connection Protection

86508783So, obviously, appropriate supervision is essential.  Let’s not forget teens also need a healthy connection to their families. It’s easy for parents with lots of children to sort of forget that teenagers need intensive parenting and care just like the little ones; it’s just a different kind of care.  We need to nurture our connection with our teens so they know they can come to us with their concerns.  We, the parents — not our teen’s friends — need to be our teen’s go-to people when it comes to knowing what is right and what to do in hard situations.

Ensuring our teen remains part of our family routine and rituals – regular family dinner gatherings, game nights, outings, and family projects – can foster his sense  of belonging in our family and identifying with our deepest values.  Including him in discussions about some family decisions can help him feel respected.  Maintaining a lighthearted attitude with teens is especially important.  They often like connecting with us through joking around or even play fighting.

By maintaining our rapport with our teens, we make it more likely they’ll internalize our values and that at the very least they’ll talk to us if they’re considering or witnessing risky behavior.

Lessons in Virtue   

Of course, if teenagers want to drink they’ll find a place to do it.  I remember some kids when I was growing up taking bottles of liquor into the bushes in our neighborhood to hang out and drink.  Worse, if teenagers are intent on having sex or raping somebody, there’s not much we can do to stop them unless we lock them in the house. We have to raise them so that they don’t want to do these things.

If your teenager is old enough to discuss this case, it might provide an opportunity to talk about some big issues.  We’re all pretty sure our kids would never get themselves into this kind of situation.  Unfortunately, when teenagers start drinking, a pack mentality can set in, and they will sometimes do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.  If they want to fit in, they’ll go along with the crowd.  Peer pressure is awful for teenagers.  Talk to your teen about why drinking is illegal for teens and what alcohol does to the body, especially the brain.

This case also demonstrates the importance of guiding our children in several virtues.  Chastity is the big one.  Living in dignity and respecting the dignity of another person is essential to the Christian call.  Living a wholesome lifestyle and resisting pornography and immodest dress is unpopular in teen culture, but we have to have that talk.  In addition, a healthy attitude toward sex is important.  Our teens should know that they can’t rely on popular culture’s attitude toward sex as a guideline for their behavior.  The Theology of the Body teaches us that we should never use another human being to satisfy our own needs or desires.  Popular culture preaches self-centered pleasure seeking no matter the cost.

Courage requires us to do the right thing even when it’s hard.  Hopefully if our kids walked in on the scene in that basement they would have the courage to speak up, or at least get an adult to intervene.  Providing opportunities for our child to practice moral courage when they’re younger is critical.  If they hurt somebody, require them to make amends and make the situation right, whatever that takes.  If they see one of their friends feeling left out or being picked on, help your child be the one to step in to right the wrong.

Mercy is the ability to enter into the chaos of another.  I think empathy is closely tied to the virtue of mercy.  Empathy is our ability to feel and understand the emotions and pain of another person.  What does that other person really need?  It’s easy to assume we know, but if we are empathic, and really take the time to enter the person’s emotional chaos, what they really need is often different from what we originally assumed.  One of the football players in the case said he “took care of the girl” when she was drunk.  What does that mean?  Did he put a coat over her after he raped her?  The facts of the case demonstrate the chaos involved: the emotional and cultural chaos that led to the rape, and the resulting chaos of regret and pain.  Perhaps we can talk to our teen about what might be acceptable and safe options if they ever see somebody incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

Many discussions need to ensue from what happened in Steubenville, not only between parents and their teens, but between parents themselves, clergy and parents, and schools and parents.  But starting within our own domestic church by forming our children’s hearts and collecting them in our arms is a good place to start.

Photo credit:  Jupiter Images (photos.com)

Are We Done Yet?

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to by 7!!

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to be 7!!

I think it started in earnest when I was expecting our third child.  Questions like, “So is this it?”,  “How many do you plan to have?”, and  “Are you done after this one?” almost always seemed to follow close behind the initial congratulatory remarks once family, friends, and even complete strangers learned of my pregnancy.  When I first heard these questions, I often fumbled for words.  The curiosity of others seemed so far removed from my husband’s and my way of thinking.

When I was once asked how many children we plan to have, I simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.”  The person who asked me the question appeared shocked and exclaimed, “You mean you haven’t talked about it?!?”  I nearly laughed out loud.  If there’s one thing faithful Natural Family Planning practicing couples do, it’s talk!  We revisit the question of whether or not we are being called to conceive another child at least once a month.  The subject has already come up between my husband and me as we enter the last few days of my pregnancy with our fifth child.  The truth is, we still don’t know for sure how many children we will ultimately have–and it is the very essence of that uncertainty that blesses our marriage and spiritual lives with riches beyond compare.

Our humanity can never fully comprehend the plans God has laid out for us as we make our earthly journey to heaven.  He, along with the Church, is our compass, our map, and our guide.  For this reason, we are called to seek God’s will in all that we do.  We are incapable of choosing the correct road to follow all on our own.  Our judgment is too often clouded with sin, internal spiritual warfare, and self doubt.  But if we surrender our will to that of our heavenly Father, He will protect our souls from being corrupted by the lies and deception of the evil one.

This way of life, of course, carries with it a degree of uncertainty.  But earthly uncertainty has the potential to evolve into divine surrender, and our great gift of fertility cannot be excluded from this.  Choosing to ignore the devil’s attacks on this most sacred and holy part of our marriage is not always easy.  Seeking God’s will does not come without trial and tribulation.  A heart open to God is especially vulnerable to the stealthy ways of the devil.

 “…if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.  Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.  Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life.  Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him…Consider the ancient generations and see:  who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? …For the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  Sirach 2: 1-6, 10, 11

How quickly our plan to serve the Lord becomes an issue of trust.  Do we trust that if we seek God’s will alone that He will give us the strength and self mastery we need to faithfully practice Natural Family Planning in the midst of a serious medical condition?  Do we trust that God will answer our prayers for a conversion of heart in a spouse resistant to adhering to the precepts of the Church?  Do we trust that God will provide us with the means to faithfully raise another child?  Accepting our fertility as a gift affects so many facets of our lives and of our faith.  We find ourselves continually assessing how God wants us to embrace this gift at any particular point in our lives.  Are we being called to bring another life into the world, or do we have a just reason to postpone pregnancy?  It is only through the discipline of prayer and proper conscience formation that we will be able to discern God’s will.  We can be certain that God will never ask us to do something that is in direct conflict with the teachings of His Church.  We can also be certain that God will never ask us to do something that will not ultimately lead us to a great sense of joy and peace in our lives.  So we must pray, educate ourselves in the faith, and communicate with our spouse what God is saying to us in the depths of our hearts.

 “Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one’s partner, helps the spouses to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility.  By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.”  Humanae Vitae  21

This responsible acceptance of our gift of fertility is a key factor in our children’s “just appraisal of human values.”  They observe us viewing the gift of new life through the eyes of God.  They see the love of our marriage emulating the blessed Trinity as the love of two begets physical and spiritual fruits.  They see that accepting the responsibility of conceiving a new life is neither a decision to be taken lightly, nor one to be forever cut off from the grace of God.  A mere five times for them to observe all of these truths through the tangible miracle of a tiny baby suddenly doesn’t seem like enough!  Our children live in a world where they are bombarded by the snares of the devil.  His subliminal messages often appear more glamorous and appealing than God’s truths of what will truly make us happy.  Our children need to see us surrendering our bodies and souls to God with complete trust.  This will nurture their sense of trust and discernment, which will in turn fill us with a sense of peace as we learn to give our children back to God.

Is this not where Catholic Attachment Parenting begins?  With our attachment to God and His will–only then can we discern properly what He desires for us and our children.

So are we done yet?  I don’t know if God will bless us with any more children, but I do know we are not done trusting in Him.  I know we are not done seeking His will.  And I know we are not done reaping the graces that He will continue to shower upon His faithful followers until we are one with Him in heaven.

Losing Control

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing control.

Take today, for example.  In the time span of just a few hours, I heard about some less than enthusiastic support within our parish for the Theology of the Body for Teens class that my husband and I teach, I slipped in a toddler-made puddle of water and all 140 pregnant pounds of me crashed to the floor, my husband won tickets to a college basketball game for the same night we had a much needed date planned, and a cup of milk was spilled all over my lap at lunch time.  While none of these were catastrophic events, they all added up to give rise to a multitude of emotions, many of which held the potential to lead me down a path filled with the snares of sin.

Sometimes we work so hard to lead others to the beauty of the truth of God’s plan, to nurture our relationships, to take good care of ourselves, and to practice virtue through our daily tasks, when we realize that any one of those abilities can be taken from us in the blink of an eye, even if only for a moment.

I was looking forward to getting out with my husband, and I had even just secured a babysitter for our big night out.  I want to just mope a little and feel sorry for myself that I will have to sit at home with the kids for yet another night by myself while my husband is out, fancy free and footloose, enjoying the big game.

But my conscience is telling me something isn’t quite right about that attitude.  If I take the focus off of myself for a moment, I remember that Rob’s plan, if he won the tickets, was to take our eight-year-old, Owen with him for some quality father/son time.  How blessed I am to have a husband who doesn’t want to use the tickets as an excuse to escape from his family with a guy friend for the night, but wants to create a meaningful memory with his first born son!  And then it hits me–I’ve been praying God would grace me with that same virtue of generosity that my husband so readily displays, and I nearly missed a huge opportunity for growth because I was so caught up in feeling sorry for myself!

Here it is:  my big moment.

And so my heart turns from the darkness of anger and resentment and fills with gratefulness for a husband who is such a wonderful father to his children and example of loving generosity for me.

As for those other little mishaps in my morning?  I am inspired to continue to seek new and charitable ways to lead more parents to want their children to learn about the Theology of the Body.  I am also even more convinced of the power and importance of prayer and am ever hopeful in the great power of the Holy Spirit to turn people’s hearts to the Truth.  Conversion happens only through the power of God and not solely in what I say or do.  I am also more aware of what a blessing those are who support our mission to inspire our teens to holiness with the life changing words of Blessed John Paul II.

Baby is still kicking, so aside from a few bruises, I don’t think my fall caused any permanent damage.  It did remind me of how grateful I am for my healthy pregnancy and caused me to marvel at the amazing design of my body and its ability to protect the vulnerable life within.

And the spilled milk?  I’ve heard before that “God is in the details.”  All of those cups of spilled milk remind us that we are ultimately not in control at all.  I wish sometimes that I could force my life to go according to my plan, and that everything would work out the way I have it written in black and white on my calendar.  But it’s in the cups of spilled milk and the unexpected puddles that God reminds us to surrender our frustrations to Him.  It’s through the unavoidable changes of plans and criticism of others that we can be inspired to turn to a rich prayer life filled with confidence that, where we fall short, God and the Holy Spirit will fill in.  If we can’t offer up the little glitches in our daily routines to Him, then how will we be prepared to surrender ourselves completely to Him in the big decisions of life?

So although there are moments when I want nothing more than to “get it together” and have everything go my way, maybe God knows that losing control is exactly what I need.

Being Yourself

My three-year-old daughter, Hazel, has had a rough couple of days.  She has been a little more sullen and moody than usual, and my mommy instincts have been warning me that perhaps there is something disturbing her physical well-being in a way that I just can’t quite diagnose.

Despite her rather volatile temperament, Hazel, Henry, and I decided to head out to playgroup this morning, hoping that a change of scenery would cheer both of us up after two days of riding an emotional roller coaster.  As a mom, my children’s pain is my pain, and it’s difficult not to spend every waking moment searching for the secret to their interior peace when something is so clearly causing them distress.  My fear that I somehow wasn’t the mother that Hazel needed me to be combined with a feeling of walking on eggshells lest I trigger a sudden tantrum had left me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

We were the first people to arrive at our destination, and Hazel played happily enough by herself alongside her little brother, Henry, but it was near the end of the morning that the real transformation occurred.  She suddenly decided to accept a little boy’s invitation to play with him, and I watched them fall into a rhythm together as they shared their toys and played joyfully in a world that only the two of them could see.  It was as if, before my very eyes, she became more like herself again simply because she found someone she could relate to in this moment in time–someone who could give her exactly what she needed in order to rediscover her usual pleasant personality.

I realized that my worry that I wasn’t giving her what she needed over the last couple of days was unfounded.  I’ve been giving her everything a mother can give, when what she really needed was something only another like-minded three-year-old could give–someone who could play with her and relate to her in her world, and with whom she could reciprocate that specific type of companionship.

The Theology of the Body teaches us that we are all unique and unrepeatable beings who were created for relationship.  It seems to follow logically that this results in an infinite number of unique and unrepeatable relationships in this world, all of which contribute to our ability to fully realize who God created us to be.  It is in the reciprocal self donation of the different relationships in our lives that we are able to reveal the many facets of our own personality.

“The Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father ‘that all may be one…as we are one’ (Jn 17:21-22), opened up vistas closed to human reason.  For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God’s children in truth and charity.  This likeness reveals that man who is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”  (Guadium et Spes)

This idea of fully finding ourselves through a sincere gift of self  leads me to reflect on exactly how I am teaching my children to relate to the people God has placed in their lives.  Rather than only focusing on how to respond in a virtuous way in a given situation, I am prodded to encourage them to take this a step further and ask, “How does God want me to give a gift of my own unique self to this person or circumstance?” or “What is something special that only I can do to love this person or make this situation better?”

As parents, we all want our children to be happy.  But we are only truly happy when we are fulfilling God’s calling with every fiber of our being.  It is through exploring our talents with prayerful discernment that we are able to determine how those abilities should be used to serve God by serving others.  It is when we surrender ourselves to the glory of God by returning His gifts to Him with limitless generosity that we reach a point of self-realization, or complete knowledge, acceptance, and peace with who God created us to be.

So how do we teach our children that their worth is so great and their unique personality traits so special that they have the ability to infinitely bless others and praise God simply by being who they are?  As parents, we must strive to get to know them better than they know themselves.  We can only achieve this by spending time with them.  Lots of time.  Not hovering or smothering, but putting in the time at every opportunity that arises.  Our children want us to watch their sports events and concerts.  They want to have “dates” with Mom and Dad.  Younger children, especially, deeply crave our attention:  it’s their way of saying, “Please help me figure out who I am and what I am doing in this overwhelming world.”

We need to observe our children in various settings, taking note of their personal strengths and weaknesses.  When they come to us with a problem, we can teach them to call upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom before speaking or acting.  In this way, they will develop the habit of always seeking God’s voice first in this often noisy and confusing world so that they might hear directly from Him how each relationship can bring out the virtues and abilities with which He specifically blessed them.

Lately I’ve been observing my children especially closely as we read scripture, pray, and discuss moral dilemmas together.  Being the unique and unrepeatable people that they are, I’ve come to realize that their individual qualities will affect their personal relationship with God as well.  One of my children is more logically minded and accepts the teachings of God and the Church simply because they’re “the rules”.  Another child gets caught up in pondering the mysteries of the Church and how great God is that He can work such miracles.  I hope to encourage them to continue to develop their relationship with God in their own unique way, even if it is different from mine.  It is only through this close personal connection with God that they will fall in love with Him enough to embrace His guidance and grace through the doctrines of the Church.

And when they fall in love with God enough to embrace all that He asks of them, to give a sincere gift of themselves to Him in all that they do and in every relationship they enter into, I will be able to send them into the world with confidence that they know exactly who they are and will be forever filled with the joy of giving.

“So abandon yourself utterly for the love of God,

and in this way you will become truly happy.”  Blessed Henry Suso