Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

__________________________________________________________________________

Transform your family into a joyful place where each member experiences life as a gift from God by checking out

Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

__________________________________________________________________________

How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

The Church At Home: Celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life

By Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

Whatever else God might be doing at this time, it seems clear that he is calling us to discover the power and importance of the Domestic Church.  With masses suspended and churches closed, we simply don’t have access to the spiritual resources we normally rely on. We are, quite literally, stuck at home with little choice but to figure out how to encounter God as we shelter-in-place.

Despite the very real limitations we’re all laboring under, God has not abandoned us.  His Holy Spirit is still moving powerfully in the world and I believe that it is time to learn how to encounter God more meaningfully in what I like to call “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.”

Developed as a result of the Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality  the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a model of family spirituality that helps families experience God more meaningfully in their every day circumstances and experience the faith as the source of the warmth in our homes.  The following is a kind of FAQ for celebrating the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in your home. I hope it will help you have a more meaningful encounter with Christ in your everyday life with your loved ones.


What is the “Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?”
“Liturgy” is a word that refers to “work” God does through his church to heal the damage that sin does to our relationship with him and each other.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of that healing, uniting us with God and giving us the grace to create communion with others. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is the primary way lay people exercise our common priesthood, consecrating the world to Christ by literally bringing Jesus home with us and letting him transform our common families into dynamic domestic churches!

Why Do you Say That Christian Family Life Is A “Liturgy?”
Great question!  We have a larger presentation (available on request) that explains the basis of the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life in Church teaching and the Catholic theology of family.  That said, check out this link for a brief explanation of the 5 Reasons Family Life is a Liturgy.

How Do You Celebrate the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?
Every family is different, so every family must feel free to chose specific practices that work for them.  But drawing from both the Catholic theology of family and social science research into what makes families in every culture around the world healthy and strong, we suggest that the Liturgy of Domestic Church is made up of three “Rites.”  The more your family looks for ways to practice these rites in your unique circumstances the more God’s grace can transform your family into a dynamic domestic church! The three “rites” are…

The Rite of Relationship:  Godly families are called to love each other—not just with the love that comes naturally to us broken, sinful, human beings–but  with true, incarnational, Christian love.  By challenging each other to live Christ’s sacrificial love in their homes everyday, the Rite of Relationship enables families to exercise the priestly mission of baptism.

     -The Rite of Rituals: When godly families make a little time, everyday, to work, play, talk, and pray together, they model how Christians are meant to relate to work, leisure, relationships, and God. In this way, The Rite of Rituals enables famlies to exercise the prophetic mission of baptism, showing each other and the world how Christians are called to live.

     -The Rite of Reaching Out: As Christians, we’re mean to be a blessing to others. When Christian families live their family lives with others in mind, being kind, charitable, hospitable, serving others, and working to discern their unique mission and charisms, they exercise the royal mission of baptism by serving with Christ and building the kingdom of God.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Relationship?
Catholic familes are called to do more than just live under the same roof and share a data plan! When Catholic families love each other through the priestly mission of their baptism, they practice the sacrifical love that comes from God’s heart.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of things every family can do.

     -Extravagant Affection—Christ’s love is incarnational and embodied.  The more we share generous, healthy, and appropriate physical affection in our homes, the more our family’s love resembles the incarnate, embodied love of Christ.

     -Prompt, Generous, Consistent, Responses to Each Other’s Needs—Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.”  God is immeasurably generous to us.  Families model God’s love when each member—parents and children—encourage each other to go above and beyond, responding promptly, generously, and consistently to each other needs and concerns.

     -Gentle Discipline—Christ is the Good Shepherd. He tends his sheep gently. He leads with love. He is slow to anger.  His mercy is neverending.  St John Bosco developed a method of discipline he called the “Preventive Method” which rejected heavy-handed punishments in favor of “reason, religion, and lovingkindness.”  He argued that a gentle approach to childrearing was more consistent with the call to Christian discipleship because it required parents to develop as well as teach self-mastery.  We discuss effective approaches to gentle discipline in our book, Parenting with Grace.

     -Prioritize Relationship—Christ encouraged the very busy homemaker, Martha, to “choose the better part” (c.f. Lk 10:42) by making time for intimacy over activity. Godly families follow Christ’s call when we prioritize one-on-one time and, as Pope Francis put it,  “waste time with each other,” even when that means opting out of activities that compete with the importance of family time.

     -Catch Each Other Being GoodThe Christian life is all about growing in virtue. Godly families do well to encourage virtue by “catching each other being good,” acknowledging the little gifts of service and love we give to each other throughout the day, and intentionally discussing opportunities to grow in respect, love, generosity, togetherness, joy, and all the other virtues that help us live life as a gift.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Rituals
More than just “nice things to do” regular family rituals give families a way to exerise the prophetic mission of their baptism. Not only do family ritual create a strong sense of community, they give families a way to model the Christian way of life by cultivating goldy attitudes toward work, leisure, relationships, and prayer. Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can Work, Play, Talk, and Pray together everyday

Work Rituals—When families take a few minutes every day to do simple chores together, like cleaning up the kitchen after meals, folding laundry, picking up the family room, and other household tasks, they model teamwork, stewardship, and cheerful service.

     -Play Rituals—When godly familes make a point of taking a few minutes everyday to do things like play simple board games or card games, play catch, bake together, do a project, have read-aloud time, take a walk, or enjoy each other’s company in any other way, they model healthy, godly ways to have fun.

     -Talk Rituals—When familes take a few minutes of every day—perhaps over their regular family meal(s)–to discuss topics like the highs and lows of the day, the little ways God has blessed them, and how they might do a better job taking care of each other, they create experiences of heart-to-heart communion in the home.

     -Pray Rituals—Simple practices like morning and bedtime prayer, grace-at-meals, blessing each other, a family rosary or chaplet, family praise and worship times, bible reading, and other accessible, age-appropriate spiritual practices help families invite God into their homes and relate to him as the most important member of their family!  The one who knows them best and loves them most.

What Are Some Examples Of How Families Can Live the Rite Of Reaching Out?
When families love each other and their “neighbors” through the royal mission of their baptism, they cultivate a spirit of loving service in their hearts.  Although its important to find ways to serve your parish or community together as a family, true Christian service begins at home.  Every family must be free to choose specific practices that let them live this rite in their own circumstances, but here are some examples of ways families can practive the Rite of Reaching Out.

Serve Generously At Home—A true heart of service begins with serving the people closest to us. Look for ways to make each member of the family’s days easier and more pleasant.

Think of Others While At HomeRemember to take care of clothes, toys, and other things you have so that you can pass them on to others who may need them in your community.  When you’re cooking, make a little extra for the sick, pregnant, or elderly neighbor. Consider the ways you can be a blessing to others without even having to leave home.

Be Hospitable—Make your home a welcoming place for others.  Regularly invite people to share meals and enjoy opportunities for good, clean fun and even prayer together. Be the house on the block where the neighborhood kids like to gather. Host a neighborhood BBQ.

     -Be Kind in the WorldWhen you go out as a family, make a point of being kind and respectful to customer service people, waitstaff, and others. Practice good manners. Be thoughtful. Say, “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me.”  Hold the door for others.  Be aware of the people around you and how you can model kindness in the simplest interactions.

     -Serve Together Don’t let your parish life or charity work be one more thing that pulls your family apart. Look for age-appropriate ways to serve your parish or community together as a family.

     -Discover Your Family Mission and Charism—By prayerfully discerning the virtues God is asking your family to exemplify and how to use the gifts, talents, or interests your family shares to bless others, you discover the unique role your family plays in building the Kingdom of God!

~ ~ ~

Imagine what a difference Catholic families could make if we all did our best to live the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  Though simple acts like these, every family could cooperate with God’s grace to transform their homes into loving, sacred spaces and consecrate the world to Christ!

If you’d like to discover more about how the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can bless your family, I hope you’ll join our Facebook discussion group,
or check out my book Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide To Raising Faithful Kids.
_________________
Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak are the authors of many books, the hosts of More2Life Radio, and the directors of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling service of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

Not a Gumball God – A Gospel Meditation for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

God Goes to Flavor Town – a Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”

How often do we try to be someone or something else? How often do we try to fit into someone else’s mould of holiness?

Personally, I think this is an especially big temptation for us Catholics. We have so many examples of holiness to look to, both in the saints and in the sanitized version of the saints we see on holy cards, that we can feel inadequate by comparison. We strive in vain to meet their standard, adapt to their way, and mimic them… mostly poorly.

But Christ doesn’t want us to assimilate to some other standard of holiness. Instead, He cruises into the spiritual Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that are our hearts and tells us, radically, that our flavor is enough. He loves your flavor. He designed it. In His grand plan for the Universe, He intends your specific and unique flavor to serve as a vital ingredient in the donkey sauced-gumbo of creation. He doesn’t want you try in vain to exchange your flavor for someone else’s lest you lose your flavor in the process.

Christ doesn’t need any more Saint Patricks or Saint Theresas. He needs a Saint You. Christ doesn’t need anymore missionaries to Ireland or Corinth; He needs a missionary to your specific family, to your friend group, to your people. He wants you to “shine before others”. He wants your seasoning, your flavor. What are you going to do to give it to Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

The Ruler of Relationship: A Gospel Reflection for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

It’s one of those passages that we’ve heard so often we take it for granted. But have you stopped to think what an odd statement it is? What a truly unique message it is in the context of the world’s religions?

Every other group on earth rates their success by how well their doing. Their leaders and their gods promise them that, if they do what they’re told, they’ll thrive. They’ll eat well, they’ll rule over great lands, they’ll smite their enemies. These are attractive promises! But they’re not the promises that Jesus makes.

That’s not to say, of course, that Jesus doesn’t promise to provide for us. He does, on several occasions. But these promises are secondary and far from the point. His first and primary promise? “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

With a simple turn of phrase, Christ forces his disciples to turn away from fish – the means of their livelihood – and towards human relationship. In doing so, he intentionally sets up the whole ruler by which we measure the success of Christianity.

As Christians, we don’t measure the holiness of a person by what he wears or what he eats or how much wealth he’s acquired; we measure him by the quality of his relationships. As Catholics, we don’t assess family life by how many rosaries are said, how many chores are accomplished, or how many little league trophies are won; we assess it according to the quality of the relationships in the home. And how do we evaluate the success of a parish, of our worship spaces? Not by the gold of the altar or the donors who patronize it, but by the strength of the community inside.

Christ’s entire standard for those who follow him rests on how much we are able to put our focus on and our goals in relationship. It’s a radical departure from the expectations of the world, but it’s the only ruler that will lead us back to him.

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Do You Get in God’s Way? A Gospel Reflection on for the Baptism of the Lord

“John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?'”

Working in the Church, we at Catholic Counselors are often tasked with helping people overcome scrupulosity. Only very recently, I encountered a woman who refused to go to confession because the emotional turmoil she experienced from exhaustively investigating her own heart for every possible, potential, nitty-gritty occasion of sin was simply to overwhelming to face.
Her experience, of course, is not uncommon. Many of us, myself included, struggle with scrupulosity now and again. A spiritual cousin to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, scrupulosity is the act of believing our own holiness is entirely our own responsibility. It’s the religious version of saying, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” and it insidiously encourages us to postpone or dismiss God’s grace in favor of handling it on our own. “Don’t come in yet!” scrupulosity calls to to Christ, “The room is too messy for you to see and I want to clean it up first.” What scrupulosity doesn’t say, however, is that the room will never be clean enough, never be good enough, for it to let Christ in voluntarily.
How often do we, like John the Baptist in this weekend’s Gospel, inadvertently stand in the way of God’s plan in order to appease our own misguided sense of piety? How often do we accidentally put a hand up to God’s grace to soothe our own idea of holiness? How often do we prevent Christ?
In times like these, Christ says to us what He said to John: “Allow it now.” The words, simple as they are unyielding, demand a fundamental change in perspective. Christ is not content to wait outside while we clean up the room “enough” for Him to come in. No, Christ plans to come into the room and clean it up for us, clean it up with us, and to do so with His love.
And what does He ask to facilitate this great gift? Only that we let Him into the “room of our hearts”. Only that we, as it was in John’s case, allow Him into the baptismal pool of our own souls. The bad news is, this may be difficult for those of us who really struggle with scrupulosity. The good news is, though, that giving our messy “yes” to Christ – however difficult it may be – is a literal hell of a lot less difficult than trying to save our own souls by our own means.
Give your yes. Let Him in. You’ll be glad you did.

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Did Pope Francis Need To Apologize? (And What His Apology Can Teach Us)

Dr. Gregory K Popcak

 

Pope Francis made the news New Years Eve for his response to a woman he met in a line of well-wishers.  The over-eager woman grabbed the Holy Father’s arm forcefully and wouldn’t let go.  The viral video shows Pope Francis wincing—some suggest in pain from his sciatica—and then turning and slapping the woman’s hand twice before breaking free and storming off.

The next day, Pope Francis issued a simple, but humble apology.  He said, “”Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”

We used this event as an opportunity to explore apologies on today’s show.  Many people think that apologizing for something means that they are accepting all the blame or admitting that they are a bad person.  For many, giving an apology means debasing themselves and so they are loathe to apologize for almost anything.

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is primarily about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with God and others.  Apologies are a big part of that process.  

But giving an apology doesn’t mean that you are accepting all the blame.  It doesn’t mean that it is all your fault.  And it doesn’t mean that you are saying that you are a bad person. Likewise, giving an apology isn’t a way of “evening the balance sheet” between people.

For the Christian, giving an apology has nothing to do with another person’s behavior or the context we’re in.  It simply means, “I have reflected on my behavior in the light of grace and my own expectations for myself.  Because of that, I believe that I should have handled that better and I am committed to handling similar situations better in the future.”

Some callers to the show today argued that Pope Francis didn’t need to apologize for his behavior because his response was a “human reaction” to being grabbed inappropriately.  Another person suggested that Pope Francis behavior was justified by every human being’s right to self-defense.

Both of these points are absolutely true.  It was a human reaction and we do have a right to self-defense.  But these points are also irrelevant.  Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong.  It means, “I believe I could and should do better in similar situations in the future.”

By apologizing, the Holy Father didn’t say, “I’m a bad person.” Or “I’m a bad Pope.” Or even, “This was all my fault.”  (And in the last instance, it clearly wasn’t all his fault.”  By apologizing, the Pope Francis simply said, “I could and should have handled that better and I am committed to doing so in the future.” 

We would all do well to follow his example in this instance.  Let’s worry less about assigning blame, finding fault, or worrying about debasing ourselves.  Let’s focus more on taking responsibility for our actions, acknowledging that there are often better ways to handling situations than our first impulses dictate, and committing to using those healthier, godlier alternatives in the future.

When Your Child Stops Believing

For most Catholic parents, nothing’s more important than raising our kids to be faithful, godly adults. 

Sadly, a study by CARA at Georgetown found that 89% of people who eventually left the Church said they’d actually lost their faith between the ages of 10 and 13. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help your kids negotiate their doubts.

When your child expresses doubts about God, begin by thanking them for trusting you, and telling them you’re proud of them.  Why?  Because doubts are a natural part of mature faith development.  

In fact, the reason so many kids lose their faith between 10 and 13 is that they’re transitioning from the “Story and Structure Stage” of faith–that focuses on learning rules, rituals, and stories–to the “Relationship and Mission Stage” where kids need to learn to apply their faith to real life problems.  

This transition comes with lots of questions.  Without patient guidance, kids can start thinking of faith as just a bunch of rules, rituals, and stories that have no real practical bearing on their world.

After you’ve diffused things, start asking questions. Don’t grill them.  Just explain that you’d like to understand what’s going on. In particular, ask if they’re having a hard time applying their faith to some challenge they’re facing.  Nine times out of 10, teens’ faith crises are either caused by difficulties with reconciling their faith with real-life problems, or being led to believe that their faith is an obstacle to having meaningful relationships and finding their place in the world.  

Of course, another reason kids have doubts about God is that they may have never actually MET him!  Going to church isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re praying daily as a family, and when you do, make sure you’re not just saying words at God, but actually modeling how to talk to him as the person who knows you best and loves you most. 

Finally, help your kids express their doubts directly to God. Teach them to pray, “Lord, I’m having a hard time believing in you. Please show me that you are real.”  

For more ideas on how to help your kids through faith struggles, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“…do not be terrified; for such things must happen first”

 
These words from Jesus, spoken in the midst of truly unsettling, apocalyptic-seeming predictions, are at once calming and baffling. He tells us all about the many awful things that will happen throughout human history – war, betrayal, natural disaster, the destruction of those things which our societies hold most sacred – and then basically tells us that we should relax anyway. Is He telling us merely to trust Him? Is He just insensitive to our plight?
I think it goes deeper than either option. In actuality, Jesus wants us to focus on the right things, regardless of what else is going on. Remember, he’s speaking to an audience ringing their hands over whether or not the liturgical salad fork is in the right spot. This is a people easily distracted by the pettiness of life, and Jesus is basically saying, “buckle up, fam. If this stresses you out, it’s gonna get a lot worse.”
But Jesus isn’t just trying to scare us straight, so to speak. What Jesus wants us to focus on instead, it seems, is the person right in front of us. How many of us, like the Lord’s audience in this Gospel, fret over trivial things while forgetting about what matters right now? We ask, “What if my kid doesn’t turn out right?” But Jesus asks, “How does your kid need to be shown love right now?” We ask, “What if I never get what I need from my spouse?” He asks, “But how can you show more love to your spouse right now?” We ask, “Will I be stuck in this dead end job forever?” He asks, “How can you use your dead end job to love somebody right in this moment?” To Jesus, it doesn’t matter what’s on the news or what’s falling from the sky or even what evil lies in your neighbor’s heart. What matters to Jesus is loving right now.
His words remind me of my favorite line from The Avengers“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.” Or my favorite REM song: ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)’. In a world where every message from the radio, the TV, and even unfortunately the pulpit tells us to worry about something that’s going to supposedly kill us sometime over the next 2-50 years, let’s listen to Jesus instead and ask ourselves: how can I love the person right next to me just a little better right in this moment?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.