Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"After-Christmas Sale"? Christmas Has Just Begun!

In my personal email on the morning of the 26th were no less than 10 messages for "After Christmas Sales." After Christmas? The true season of Christmas began on December 25th. It didn't end on that day. Unfortunately, merchants, retailers, and society in general have pushed the "holiday season" up so much that what is really Advent, the period of preparation before Christmas, has been transformed into a Christmas season of shopping, holiday parties, and gift-giving, that seems to begin earlier every year. 

What if those of us trying to grow faith-filled kids set things right within our own homes by separating from the herd, making the month before Christmas a time of preparing our hearts and minds, and then actually making Christmas celebrations start on.  . . well, Christmas?

The true gift of Christmas is Christ our Savior. As we work together to grow faith-filled kids, we can't forget to make this fact the most important, most prevalent thought in the minds of our children. Let's make an effort to make the "Christmas Season" continue from Christmas Mass up to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Here are some resources to help:

And so . . . Merry Christmas! The season has just begun! May God bless you and your children as you seek The face of the Christ child during this season of His birth!

As always, I welcome your comments, particularly the ways you and your family celebrate the Church's season of Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Confession

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Please bear with me... This will seem like a complaint at first.  I promise it is not!

I have a confession to make.  Not the kind where I need to go to the priest, although during Advent it is definitely a good time for that. This is a confession for you, the parents of my school.

I took over the morning traffic duty a year and a half ago, and I have to admit to you that it wouldn't have been my first choice of supervision duties. (If you walked by last Monday when it was pouring down rain, you could probably read the look on my face that said I was miserable.)  I don't know what I expected back before I started morning traffic last year, but I do know that I wasn't expecting it to be fun. 

And that's the point of today's message: my expectations have totally been turned upside down. Morning traffic is one of the most enjoyable times of my whole day! The main reason? You.

You, the parents-- and by extension the grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and students-- all of you who walk or drive through that line each morning have made it a great and welcome start to each day. In the beginning, my "Good Mornings!" sometimes fell flat, with no response. People driving by in their cars didn't notice my wave hello. I would sometimes get confused looks from folks who were obviously used to feeling invisible as they walked or drove through the line. 

Things have definitely changed, however. Sometimes, I can't even turn around before I hear someone calling out a "Good Morning!" from afar. Drivers are waving before I can even tell who it is through the glare of the sun! From the walkers who wait for the cars to go by, I enjoy hearing how things are going, what your family will be up to that evening, or how last night's softball game went. On those rare occasions, I even feel blessed to be present for you to share some heartache and offer my assurance of prayers.

I have to send a special thanks out to a couple of the grandpas who walk their grandchildren through the line each morning, too. I've gotten some great laughs from them over the last year and a half. (One suggested that Miss Chacon and I sing a duet at the Christmas Program next year. Sorry, it'll never happen . . . You don't want to hear me sing! Another thought wrist weights would be great while I hold up the stop sign and wave cars through because I'd build muscle by the end of the school year . . . Okay, I'm actually considering that one!) Each morning brings something different, and some kind of joy or laughter.

So in all truth, my expectations have truly been flipped upside down. God took something that I, in my human limitedness, thought was going to be difficult, and He turned it into something wonderful and life-giving. I have been truly blessed by all of you.

I have one small reflection on this for you-- consider it an early Christmas gift. As we approach Christmas Day and hear the Nativity story, consider that God turned Mary and Joseph's expectations upside down, too! Out of the blue one day, God stepped into their lives and asked something of them which they did not expect (and much more challenging than morning traffic duty, for sure). Being open to it, though, they followed, and out of their "yes" came the salvation that is possible for each one of us.

I know that many are facing difficult challenges. I know that sometimes the road ahead does not look promising, and that life doesn't always work out the way we expect. I pray that God's grace will be in the hearts of those that need it, so that they may continue to follow Him, and to give Him a chance to show how He can turn expectations upside down. 

If things are going well for you and yours right now, pray for those in our community who desperately need your support. God is always finding ways to break through to us (even in silly little ways, like through morning traffic duty). Let's all pray for the openness to let Him in!  As we do this ourselves, we’ll be setting the best example possible for the little pairs of eyes in our homes that watch and learn from us.

Merry Christmas! See you tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"And the Good Lord Helped Me"

On Veteran's Day, Mr. Edward Olivares-- a veteran of World War II-- spoke at the morning assembly at my school.  He talked to the students about being a radio operator during the fighting in France.  His incredibly dangerous job was to climb to the highest building in the city, watch enemy troop movements, and then direct the army's air strikes to their targets via his radio. 

Mr. Olivares acknowledged that many of his friends in the U.S. Army never made it back home from the war. He told the students and parents assembled, "So I tried my best . . . the good Lord helped me, and here I am today." After his talk, Mr. Olivares told me that he didn't know why God cared so much for him, but that it was "overwhelming" to think of, and he remains grateful to this day. He wasn't thankful to some far-away God who sat on a throne in the clouds.  Mr. Olivares was thankful to a close friend whose love for him was beyond his own understanding. I couldn't help but be deeply moved by the simple and powerful reality of this man's gratitude to God.  

During the holidays, it's common to recall the blessings for which we are thankful.  This year, however, perhaps we could consider a shift in the common "I'm thankful for" script? Instead of running off a list of things that has become rote, let's all take the chance to move to a deeper level with God.  First, think about Mr. Olivares's deeply personal gratitude to God-- a God he believes has been intimately close to him, particularly during the most difficult time of his life as a soldier in World War II.

Then, maybe recall the ways God has been intimately close to you during the trials of your life.  Offer thanks to Him-- not by listing material items, but by talking to Him personally, as if He were seated next to you.  If you feel distant from God, invite Him into your heart and mind. Make plans to draw close to Him during the seasons of Advent and Christmas through daily conversation with Him.  Finally, share your reasons for being thankful with your children.  Remind them of the true source of those blessings.  Your example will move your children to a deeper level of trust and faith.

For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (Catechism of the Catholic Church,#27) 

Feel free to share those things for which you are thankful by leaving a comment below. Have a blessed and peaceful Advent! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Preparing Our Families During Advent

"The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation."(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2221)

During Advent we hear much about "preparation." Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  With the busy-ness of life, this can be difficult to accomplish.  However, the Catechism, points to a responsibility for the preparation and formation of our children, too, and not just ourselves. According to the Church, no one can replace parents in this responsibility of forming the minds and hearts of their children. 

This Advent, consider the time and energy put into holiday preparations like shopping, gift-giving, parties, and more.  Are these activities balanced out and put into perspective by activities centering on the true meaning of Christmas?  For instance, consider gathering the family to read the infancy narrative in Luke 2. Make a family Advent wreath and light the appropriate candles with each new week. Research and create a Jesse Tree. Most importantly, make time for weekend Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Small things like this can make Advent spiritually enriching for both parents and children.

Heavenly Father, wipe away all distractions in our lives.  Help us to put you first in all things!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Use the Term "Growing"? Isn't Faith a "Gift"?

The title of this blog, "Growing Faith-Filled Kids," very directly points to the active nature of a parent's or teacher's vocation-- to "grow" faith-filled kids. However, I have heard well-meaning people say things like, "But faith is a gift from God...," or "All we can do is plant the seed..."

Though both of these statements carry some truth, there is a danger if we stop there. Growing a garden of beautiful flowers or a crop of vegetables takes much more attention than planting the seeds and waiting to see what happens. Likewise, growing faith-filled kids is more focused and long-term than simply scattering "seeds." Growing faith-filled kids is about how we till the soil of our children's minds and hearts so that they will be receptive to the grace of God's gift of faith, and how we give opportunities for that gift of faith to take root and grow in our children. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "The invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company."(142) Those well-meaning people mentioned earlier are correct in one way. God first moves in our lives, whether through a person or an experience, He invites us into a relationship with Him. What a gift! What an incredible seed! The Creator of the universe takes such a personal interest in each of us-- in our precious children, especially-- that He "moves among" us, inviting us into a relationship with Him.

The Catechism goes on:  "The adequate response to this invitation is faith . . . By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer."(142-3) "Faith-filled kids," (or adults, for that matter) are those who have learned to respond to God's invitation by submitting mind and heart to God. This is where we come in.

Since our natural tendency as human beings is to turn mind and heart away from our Creator (see Gen. 3 . . . or most of the Old Testament . . . and human history for that matter!) our children need to be taught and trained to respond to God's invitation with a willing mind and a loving heart. As any parent or teacher knows, children need much help growing in these qualities!

And so, "Growing Faith-Filled Kids"!

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the invitation to believe in you, to love you, and to remain forever in your company. Grant us the wisdom and courage we need to till the garden of our children's minds and hearts so that they will respond to your invitation with faith. Help us not to neglect the ways our participation as parents and teachers is necessary to our children's growth in faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Storms Come...Build Solidly!

On a day when our Gospel is from Mt. 7-- how "the winds blew and buffeted the house"-- Southern California faces high wind warnings, downed power lines, and fallen trees. The daily readings and the realities of life are no coincidence! 

It got me thinking about the two scenarios presented in the Gospel: a person who built his house on the solid foundation of Christ, and one who built on the shifting sands of the world. In both cases, the winds and storms came. The person who built upon Christ had no special guarantee or freedom from the storm. 

In fact, Christ guarantees us that trials will come, not only on this occasion, but also on many others. We have to ask ourselves what kind of foundation we'd like in place while we weather those storms: one that shifts and is blown from underneath us, or one that is firm and everlasting? 

A strong foundation isn't built by chance. If we choose Christ, we should not waste any time working on that foundation, building it up through prayer, strengthening it through the frequent reception of the Sacraments, and reinforcing it with the wisdom of Scripture. 

As parents and teachers, we know that the trials or "storms" of life affect our children intensely. Preparing a solid foundation not only aids us in dealing with life's difficulties, but it helps us buffer our children, who depend so greatly on us to make sense of life's hardships. 

Lord, help us to build our house upon You! May we turn to you always, not just during the "storms" of life!  And while we're at it, Lord, we pray that aid and comfort come to those affected by today's weather.  Help us respond to calls for assistance.