Sunday, March 18, 2012

12 Years of St. Joe

My "well-used" copy of the Novena to St. Joseph.

In 2000, I had the great fortune to be able to participate in a pilgrimage of sorts to the East Coast and Canada.  Among our several stops was St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec.  (Visit their website.) Aside from being stunningly beautiful, the Oratory is an incredibly spiritual and moving place, a tribute to my patron saint.  During my visit, I stopped in the Oratory bookstore and spent 50 cents on a small Novena to St. Joseph.(left) This little 23-page booklet is a powerful example of the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" (or cover price!).

I couldn't say how many times I've been through this novena since I found it twelve years ago-- too many to count.  (Someday I hope to ask St. Joseph, since I'm sure he's been keeping track.)  What I like best about the novena is the way it focuses on a different quality or role of St. Joseph each day, explaining in plain language how St. Joseph's life is an example for ours.  

This week we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19).  I'd like to share with you a small portion of the Novena to St. Joseph, Fourth Day: "St. Joseph, The Father of Jesus,"

Saint Joseph, teach us to love our own children as you loved Jesus.  From the example of our love may they learn to appreciate faith, purity, devotion, and respect for all that is beautiful.  May their vision of life always be Christ-centered.  Amen.

In these few short words, two big ideas are related.  

First, our children learn from our example of love.  As parents and teachers, let's never forget this.  We don't have to be perfect, but we can be great examples of imperfection as we seek to love by living out faith, purity, devotion, and respect.  

Second, our "vision of life" should be Christ-centered.  That means Christ first, before all other considerations.  Christ in all things, all times, all situations, all difficulties, all joys, all triumphs, all trials.

Please join with me on the Feast of St. Joseph this week to pray for all parents, particularly the fathers, of our school community, our parish, and our world. 

Do you have a favorite novena?  What's your favorite quality of your patron saint?  Share these in the comments below, and particularly with your children/students!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Explaining "Honor" to Kids

Photo by BenedictFrancis
Filial respect is shown by true docility and obedience.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2216)

Back when I was an eighth grade teacher, I tried very hard to make sure my eighth graders understood what it meant to "honor" their father and mother.  Many of them had the mistaken impression that as long as they did what their parents told them, they were following God's commandment.  

After a little prodding I was usually able to get them to admit that even though they eventually ended up doing what mom and dad said, they weren't very respectful while doing it.  Typically during the interchange between them and their parents, the kids admitted to raising their voices, losing their tempers, rolling their eyes, and/or loudly sighing their utter disapproval, etc.  

Sound familiar?

That's when I hit them with the truth.  God's law isn't just about making sure the body or mind is on board-- that's only part of the story! As their creator, God has a right not only to their bodies or minds, but also to their HEARTS! The cold, hard truth was that my students were NOT living up to the Fourth Commandment when they were disrespectful, complaining, and sarcastic . . . EVEN if they ended up doing what mom and dad said!

So, the next time your child (or student) sighs and rolls his eyes while grumpily taking out the trash, pull out Matthew 15:8 on him: "Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'" The look of shock on his face alone will be worth the few minutes it takes to memorize the verse!

Seriously though, obedience by itself is not enough to fulfill the Fourth Commandment. The hard-heartedness of anger and sarcasm shows a lack of "docility" or submissiveness that is part of true respect and honor for parents. 

When trying to help our children understand the depth of the command to "Honor your father and mother," it can help to explain to them this concrete difference: "doing what I say is obedience; doing what I say with a heart that bears no anger is HONOR."

P.S.  Teachers, grandparents, etc. . . . BONUS.  This one applies to you, too!  (CCC 2217 & 2220)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Real Deal

Anyone who has read the various entries in this blog by now has discovered the real deal: Growing Faith-Filled KIDS isn't mainly about the kids. I acknowledge this seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is that growing faith filled kids is less about the kids, and more about us-- the parents and teachers, and our own faith lives. In some sense, the old adage, "you reap what you sow," is never more clear than in parenting and teaching since children are the ultimate mirror.  Parker Palmer, an author and educator said it best:

"As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students . . . and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life." (Palmer, Parker; The Courage to Teach, p. 2).

The implications for teachers is clear, but for parents a rewording helps make it clear: "As I parent, I project the condition of my soul onto my children . . . and our family life. The entanglements I experience in our home are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner(spiritual) life."

As I write this I am fully aware that I risk both offending people and losing readers. Today's world seems to prize the ability to lay blame elsewhere.  I myself dislike being reminded that the problems and difficulties I experience in my life are often the result of my own doing, but ultimately I end up thanking God for the wake-up call that allows me to see reality clearly.

So if you're determined to stick with me now, I ask: what's the condition of your soul? If it's anything like mine, it needs some work. The only thing I can be one hundred percent sure of is that no human being who reads (or writes!) this blog is perfect. We all need a spiritual wake-up call. Following Palmer's lead, perhaps we can determine areas that need our attention by taking some time today to get in touch with the "condition of [our] soul." 

We can ask God for the strength and courage to look inward instead of trying to find outward sources of blame. We all know those areas that seem to be a consistent problem in our family/classroom life. We can resolve to be aware of them and to work on them for the sake of our kids.

If we are to grow faith-filled kids, can we risk doing any less?