Monday, May 28, 2012

Be Deliberate About Growing Virtues in Kids

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Take a Lesson from Life
Is your child on a sports team?  

Parents who desire their child to develop extensive athletic skills are often quite deliberate about signing their child up for sports leagues of increasing difficulty and competitiveness as the child grows. They desire their child to have the best coach, be on the best team, and compete at the highest level. They encourage the child to participate in the sport at every opportunity.

Is your child in a dance or instrument class?

The development of both of these talents is often an incredibly deliberate, well-thought-out process by parents. They seek the best studio or the best piano teacher. They enforce practice, practice, and more practice.

In the same way, teachers who desire their students to develop complex mathematical skills are quite deliberate about designing a curriculum that builds from one skill to the next, making it possible for the students to grow in their knowledge and capabilities. They enforce homework policies the provide the students opportunities to practice the skills they have taught.

Be Deliberate About the Development of Virtues
Now consider: Would you like your child (or students) to be wise? Understanding? Courageous? Holy? Do you pray that your child (or students) will grow into a faithful adult? A person of hope? An individual who gives from a generous heart? A saint?

If so, are you working as deliberately to develop these gifts and virtues?  Sometimes it's a lot easier to be deliberate about developing a child's athletic, performance, or academic skills, than it is about developing their character, their morality, or their faith.

Some parents can say, "Well, I send my child to Catholic school," just as some Catholic school teachers can say, "I teach a religion class each day." These efforts are admirable and worthy of respect.  However, each parent and each teacher needs to ask himself or herself, "Is this sufficient for the development of virtue in my child (students)?" Does this demonstrate the same level of commitment to developing virtue as does the parent who pushes a child into club sports, or the teacher who carefully monitors each child's math competencies?

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not advocating the kind of intense, high-pressure, stress-inducing parenting that can sometimes infiltrate youth sports programs, dance studios, and the like. Anything, taken to the extreme, can become a negative. What I am advocating is that each reader evaluate his or her own dedication and active involvement in the development of virtue in his or her children (students). 

Do we sometimes think the virtues will just happen? Do we leave them up to God? Do we feel better-equipped to coach our child (student) in soccer or math than in faithfulness, temperance, or courage? (I would argue, as complex as the math has gotten nowadays, teaching the virtues is much easier!)

In subsequent posts, I'll examine some of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the ways we as teachers and parents can be a little more deliberate about developing them in our children and students. Sometimes, just a bit more energy and effort can make all the difference in the world! If we are to grow faith-filled kids, can we risk any less?

For more about the virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where Are We Leading Our Families?

Photo credit: Sean Molin Photography via photo pin cc 
As usual (and in less than 140 characters) "The Bible Geek" (aka Mark Hart), has convicted me in a way that not many can.  Here is the tweet, dated May 20, 2012:

If we do not lead our families to God...
where are we leading them, really?

Parents and teachers, I leave you with Mark's words this week, and with a prayer that we'll all seek God first. By doing so, may we lead our families and students to God.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thanks, Mom . . .

"My son . . . Honor your mother, and do not abandon her as long as she lives. Do whatever pleases her, and do not grieve her spirit in any way. Remember, my son, that she went through many trials for your sake while you were in her womb." (Tob. 4:3)

Thanks, Mom . . .
  • for those nine months carrying me-- I'm guessing it wasn't easy.
  • for ensuring that I was baptized, made my first (and second, and third . . .) reconciliation, received my first Eucharist, and was confirmed.
  • for being my biggest cheerleader and fan, even when I kicked the ball the wrong way down the field.
  • for dressing me in that hideous white blazer and red turtleneck one Christmas. (I had to learn humility somehow.)
  • for getting me to Mass 15 minutes early each week so that I could be an altar server.
  • for sending me to Catholic school for 12 years.
  • for telling me that if I got in trouble at school, I was in worse trouble when I got home.
  • for following through on that threat once. (Once was enough.)
  • for not being afraid to use a ruler, wooden spoon, ping pong paddle, belt (or just about anything else handy) when I started getting out of line.
  • for teaching me how to pray.
  • for showing me how to begin and end my day with prayer.
  • for praying for me constantly-- not just before bed or each morning.
  • for sewing patches into the knees of my corduroy uniform pants.
  • for making me learn to cook, iron, clean, change diapers, babysit, and braid hair.
  • for making me write, "I will not lie to my parents" 5,000 times. (My hand still cramps when I hold a pencil.)
  • for being a museum curator who could find a spot on the fridge for every drawing, no matter how bad.
  • for teaching me to respect women by demanding respect for yourself and my sisters.
  • for being a mediator/referee/judge-- whichever my brothers and sisters and I happened to need at the moment.
  • for doing laundry-- LOTS of laundry.
  • for being an excellent cook. (Except for that one casserole . . . you know which one I mean.)
  • for leaving notes on my pillow each night to check in with me, especially when I didn't feel like talking.
  • for always having a couple extra dollars in your purse each day.
  • for never getting upset when you noticed those couple extra dollars were missing.
  • for teaching me to put the toilet seat down when finished.
  • for telling me that you'd be happy with whatever career I chose, even a garbage man, as long as I was the best garbage man I could be.
  • for demanding that, no matter how late I was out Saturday night, I was at Mass Sunday morning.
  • for loving my dad in a soul-encompassing, once-in-a-lifetime way-- I hope to love my spouse the same way.
  • for loving my children even more than you love me. (C'mon, it's obvious . . . you let them get away with stuff I could never get away with.)
  • for showing me, in your own way, the love my heavenly mother has for me.
  • for doing it all without ever receiving a paycheck, an award, or even the occasional "Thank You" from your kids.
. . . for loving me.

Friends, I look forward to hearing the many things about your mothers for which you're thankful.  Please feel free to add them in the comments. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

You Are the Branches

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Today's gospel (Jn. 15:1-8) is pretty clear-- stay connected to Christ.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (Jn. 15:5) 

Simple, right?

Simple, until we humans get involved. We have a way of confusing the meaning of Jesus' words. Call it whatever you'd like: adjusting, tweaking, mitigating, simplifying... whatever your word for it, our goal seems always to be the same. We try to make the requirements just a little bit easier to meet.

We do this for so many reasons: 
  • Jesus' commands are difficult to follow; 
  • We don't want to feel bad about not being able to meet them; 
  • We're too tired to make the effort; 
  • We're too busy with other things to be able to put in the time necessary;
  • We're unwilling to make the sacrifice it will take to follow Jesus. 
So we water down the requirements. That way, we can say we are good Catholics, friends of Jesus, and connected to "the vine," and we haven't had to do much (if any) of the uncomfortable, unpleasant stuff necessary to be a true follower of Jesus.

Sometimes we're not even aware that we've watered down Jesus' words. Verse 5 of today's gospel is the perfect example. We hear this gospel every year, and we think: "Hey, I'm doing good . . . I go to Mass once in a while.  I try to be a good person. I don't steal or kill." But is that all that Jesus means when He says "remain in me"?

Looking at a different translation of the bible helps us get an even clearer glimpse of what Jesus means: He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is who bears much fruit.(Jn. 15:5, Revised Standard Version- RSV). The dictionary definition of "abides" is "to have one's abode; dwell; reside" (

Can we honestly say we are "dwelling" or "living" in Christ when we aren't following one of His most basic commands, such as the Third Commandment: "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day." (Ex. 20:8), which is understood to mean that we offer Christ our public worship at least once a week, on Sunday?

Can we honestly say Christ dwells within us if the last time we confessed our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation was six months ago? A year ago? Ten years ago?

Can we honestly say we live in Christ if the television or Internet gets more of our time than our bible?

Friends-- I believe we can do better for Him who gave all for us! If we truly began "abiding" in Christ without watering down what that means, imagine the powerful example we'd be setting for our children! Start small and build. 
If we are to grow faith-filled kids, can we risk any less?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Life Interrupted

As I thought about today's Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it hit me that both discerning and being open to God's will for our lives can be a serious challenge.

As human beings, we are used to the idea that we get to decide our future: our occupation, our home, our spouse.  We typically get to decide what we want, when we want it, and exactly how. Fortunately for us, that's usually when the ruler of the universe steps in to make things interesting.

Any feast of St. Joseph (there are several!) is the perfect day to contemplate God's amazing and sometimes unpredictable way of working in our lives, for St. Joseph is just one saintly example among many of a life "interrupted" by God.

Think about it from St. Joseph's point-of-view for just a moment:
You're young. You're engaged to a beautiful young girl. You've got your own business, your own house-- heck, you've even got a donkey! Life is looking good. And then, God steps in. He takes all of your plans about wedding, marriage, family, work, home, and He replaces that with one of the greatest challenges He could ask of anyone: foster-fathering His own Son, the savior of the world.

Talk about a change of plans! And yet, Joseph accepts God's work in his life without complaint. Through prayer, he discerns God's will, and he remains open to the messages that God sends in dreams. Ultimately, God's plans for Joseph's life work out far better than Joseph's own plans ever could have. 

St. Joseph's life and example are reminders to us of the virtues of faith and trust in God, with whom "all things work for good." (Rom. 8:28) Let's make sure our kids know St. Joseph's story, and that they know about the blessings that flow from trusting in God!

For more on St. Joseph . . .

Watch Fr. James Martin talk about "The Hidden Life of St. Joseph:"

And for a little humor, Mark Hart (The Bible Geek), describes what it must 
have been like to be St. Joseph: