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.

Whose Will You Be? A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

To whom do you belong? Whose will you be? At it’s core, this is what the Sadducees seem to be asking in this Sunday’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Chapter 20: 27-38. The response that Jesus offers is surprising:  in, “the resurrection of the dead,” he says, we, “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Does this mean, you might ask, that I won’t be married to my partner in Heaven? Depending on the state of your relationship, I imagine you’l be asking that question with either a smile or a frown.

Rest assured, though: as my own theological mentor often says, Jesus is not offering a deletion of relationship, but rather a completion. That is to say, Jesus is painting a picture of Heaven, not as a place which removes the closeness, trust and intimacy we experience with one person in marriage, but where we can experience that same closeness, trust and intimacy with every person. It has been said that Heaven is where we will “know and be known,” and this is the promise to which Christ refers in his admonition to the scholars of the law. In this redeemed order, marriage would simply be redundant. We will all belong to one another and, most ultimately, to God.
This is a beautiful promise, but it also leaves us with quite the responsibility here on earth. According to Christ’s paradigm, marriage is the “preseason” (if you’ll forgive the sports analogy) to the “game time” of Heaven. Marriage is the training ground where I learn to fully give my fullest self and receive my partner’s fullest self in return. Marriage is the place, it seems, where we first “know and are known.”
Of course, few of our relationships match this perfectly. But do not despair! If nothing else, Christ’s words to the Sadducees call us not to settle for the pettiness of the world but rather to aspire to the dreams and standards of God. Seeing as He’s the one who created us in the first place, He’d probably be the one to know if we (and our relationships) are capable of more than we might otherwise settle for.
Start by asking God to give you the grace and courage to discern how he’s calling your relationship to become more Heavenly, and if you need a little extra help and support, pick up a copy of How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.
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.

Bringing Small Children To Mass

We want our children to appreciate mass, but bringing kids 3 and under to church can seem like walking a tightrope without a net!  It’s easy to think, “What’s the point?.”

Even though small children’s brains haven’t developed enough to completely understand what’s going on, with a little help, they can still appreciate the beauty and the ritual of the mass. And you can help them participate in ways that can be very meaningful to them.

Remember, very small children are in the “Cuddly Stage” of faith development. They need to FEEL God’s love THROUGH you. Keep your little ones close.  Preferably on your lap or in your arms.  Give them lots of affection and quiet attention.

That might seem wrong at first. After all, aren’t you supposed to be paying attention to the mass? Of course! But with small children the goal is to point out the wonder of the smells, bells, sights, and sounds of the mass, and experience it all through their eyes. Let the loving attention you’re giving them remind you of God’s attentive love for you.

Help your little ones participate as best as they can. Teach them when it’s time to kneel, or stand, or bless themselves. At the time of the consecration, you might whisper, “Jesus is coming to show us how much he loves us. Can you say, “I love you, Jesus!’”  

Don’t force them to do these things, but gently encourage them at the right times. They’ll get it eventually. If they get antsy, just hold them close and focus on helping them experience God’s love through you. You might even pray, “Lord, help me show my child how much YOU love them. Hold ME in your arms and help me feel your love for me.”

Other things, like reading the gospel beforehand, and bringing a children’s bible or missal can really help little ones follow along.

You can also give them “special words” to look for throughout the mass like “glory” or “amen” or “and with your spirit.” Ask them to tap you when they hear the special word and reward them with a kiss and a cuddle.

These are just a few tips for bringing small children to mass. For more ideas, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality which concluded this past Sunday at Notre Dame was really a tremendous experience. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to those of you who were praying for the effort. As we have received many inquiries about the event, I thought I would share a few themes that emerged from the various presentations.

Research has shown that parents have much more influence over their children’s future faith than commonly thought, but this influence is more directly related to the quality of relationships in the home than it is to the education or religious practices a family engages in (Bengtson, Bartkus).

The experience of parental warmth–especially paternal warmth–in a religious household is the strongest predictor of parent’s ability to help children own their faith and values into adulthood (Bengtson, Bartkus, Narvaez).

“Articulacy” (i.e., the parent’s ability to present a coherent, personal story of why faith matters to his or her children) is a significant factor in familial faith transmission. This narrative doesn’t need to be theologically sophisticated, but it needs to be personal and meaningful (Bartkus).

Additionally, grandparents are a much more influential force in familial faith transmission than commonly thought (Bengtson, Narvaez). Generational influences of warmth and relationship is a strong indicator for the transmission of faith to younger generations. 

Finally, Christian Family life functions as a liturgy that is (arguably) composed of three “rites” that facilitate development in the priestly, prophetic, and royal missions of baptism (the Rite of Attachment, The Rite of Rituals of Connection, The Rite of Reaching Out, respectively).The degree to which these “rites” are present represents the degree to which a family can effectively function as a “spiritual womb” and “school of love and virtue.”

The entire Symposium was a truly anointed experience. We’ll be posting the videos of all the presentations to the symposium website (CFLSymposium.org) as soon as they are edited, and OSV will be publishing a book/discussion guide for those who are interested in continuing the conversation.

We were pleased to announce the partnership between the Pastoral Solutions Institute and Holy Cross Family Ministries to form the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life. The new institute will conduct original research on family spirituality, organize professional trainings and family retreats, and produce initiatives/resources intended to promote the renewal of domestic church life. We are already exploring a major event for family ministers in 2020 to (tentatively) be held at the Peyton Museum of Family Prayer in North Easton, MA.

Thank you for your continued prayers for this effort and stay tuned for more awesome insights from this historic event!

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with God and their faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Praying With Small Children

Praying with small children can be difficult. They tend to be wiggly and have short attention spans. When little ones are involved, it’s easy for family prayer time to seem more like…Wrestlemania. But you can have a meaningful prayer time with small children if you remember that little people need different spiritual food than bigger people.

Faith develops in different stages from early childhood, to middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Children around 6 and under are in what’s called the “intuitive-projective” stage of faith. But we like to call it “the cuddly stage.”

In the “cuddly stage” of faith development, children believe something is “true” and good if it FEELS loving, and safe, and friendly.  They believe something is “false” if it FEELS stiff, cold, and unrelatable.

You can focus more on things like prayer-posture and getting prayers “just right” as kids get a little older.  But in the “cuddly faith” stage, the best way to nurture your child’s faith is to make prayer-times–and other experiences with the faith–affectionate, inviting, imaginative, and even playful.

Let your little ones cuddle in your lap when you pray with them. Be affectionate.  As you hold them, concentrate on letting them feel God’s arms around them and letting them feel God’s love filling their hearts through you.  

Sing kid-friendly praise songs together. Use different voices when you read them bible stories or saint stories. Make it fun.

Engage their imagination by asking them to pretend that they were actually in the stories.  You can even act those stories out together!

By understanding the spiritual food that a small child’s faith requires, you can help fill their hunger for God. 

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

How To Pray Together as A Family

When you’re praying as a family, is it better to use the formal prayers of the church–like the rosary, traditional Grace-at-Meals, or a chaplet—or more conversational prayer?

We say, “Why not both?”  It isn’t that one type of prayer is better than another type.  It’s that they serve different purposes in our spiritual lives.

In our family, we like to think of formal prayers as the, “family prayers of the Church.”  They connect us with the saints and angels and all the other members of our Church past and present! Praying the rosary with our kids, or the divine mercy chaplet, or an Our Father, or even traditional “grace-at-meals,” is like going to visit God alongside all our spiritual aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s like inviting the whole church to pray with us, so we’re never really alone.

But sometimes–just like it’s good to get more personal time with the people you love–it’s good to talk to God using words that are uniquely our own.  Conversational prayer allows us to talk to God about our day, to thank him for specific blessings, ask him for special help, and discern his unique and unrepeatable plan for your life.  

Helping our kids become fluent in both conversational and formal prayer allows them to experience their faith as something that is both personal TO them and bigger THAN them. 

To help your kids have a more meaningful experience with all the different kinds of prayer the church has to offer, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

How to Make The Most Out of Lent

Lent is upon us and many of us are still praying and thinking about what Lenten sacrifice or practice we should implement over the next forty days. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what we should do for Lent. Of course there are the popular ideas of giving up social media or giving up chocolate, and while these can absolutely be helpful to our personal growth and relationship with God, these and other popular Lenten ideas can often be chosen with no particular personal meaning behind them. 

Lent is not simply a time where we deprive ourselves of joy for a few weeks—just because. It is a time where we are supposed to focus on our own personal relationship with God, developing our mental, personal, and spiritual health—so that we can make more room for God in our every day lives. As Christopher West describes, Lent and fasting is “never an end in itself, it’s a means to the joy of the feast.” Lenten practices are meant to reveal to us the full and true joy of the Easter Season and God’s love for us every day of our lives. 

So what are some ways for us to achieve the fullness of Lent and the gain the most out of our Lenten practices? Here are a few ideas…

Give up trying to do everything by yourself – Self-sufficiency and independence can be great qualities to have, but there is true beauty and humility in acknowledging when we need help from others. Asking others for help can foster fruit in a variety of areas. We can develop our relationships with others when we let them into our lives in ways that allow them to take care of us in some way. Likewise, when we are always trying to do everything by ourselves, and we’re constantly taking care of others without letting them take care of us, resentment often grows without us even realizing. This resentment can creep up on us and damage our relationships with others and with God. So this Lent, take a step back, give up stubbornness, embrace humility, and reach out to others when help is needed. Or simply allow others to help if and when they offer. 

Give up overthinking and jumping to conclusions – This can be a hard one, but wow it makes a huge impact. When something small occurs, it can be all too easy—even automatic—to ruminate on the situation, overthink, and come to negative and often unrealistic conclusions. Not only can this ruin our day in about five seconds, it can also heavily impact our relationships. We may treat others differently because of a conclusion that we developed in our heads, and the other person will have no idea why we are acting the way we are acting. But how do we stop this habit of overthinking? First, take interactions and situations at face value. Don’t add ideas, put words in others’ mouths, or create outcomes that aren’t based in facts. Second, when these negative thoughts or overthinking spirals begin, instead of thinking of the most negative conclusion, intentionally think of the best possible outcome. At this point, we often begin to question, “What’s the point of thinking of the best possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Now, when this question arises, ask the same question about the negative outcome. “What’s the point of thinking of the worst possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Exactly. The difference, however, is that thinking of the best possible outcome gives us hope, while thinking of the worst outcome makes us want to give up. Hope gives us joy and helps us grow closer to God. Because of this, thinking of the positive scenarios is the more Godly practice. 

Give up over-scheduling and overworking – We live in a society that is extremely focused on achievement. Especially because of social media, we constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be able to say, “I’m so busy!” Sometimes it almost becomes a competition to see who has the busiest schedule. Being this busy leaves very little time for fun, for enjoyment, for relaxation. We lose touch with who we are as individuals, as a couple, or as a family because we are so focused on getting to the next activity or working on the next project. Give up this over-scheduling and overworking habit this Lent by setting aside time to do something that gives you joy. Make time to relax and spend time together as a family. Instead of scheduling an event or a project for work, schedule time for a date night. Whether you just hang out at home and enjoy the peace and quiet or you take a day trip to one of your favorite spots, regularly make time this Lent to step back, relax, and prioritize time to do something that brings you—or you and your family—joy.

These are just a few ideas to bring us closer to God this Lent. We don’t have to choose one of these ideas, and we certainly don’t have to practice them all. Maybe choose just one thing to work on this Lent. But as we decide what it is we will practice, let us start by asking God, “What barriers need to be removed in my life for me to be able to love You and love others the way You want me to?”  

For more on developing a deeper relationship with God, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and find more resources by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Bishops Fail At Being Human; Seek “Small Laws” to Guide Them

As the US bishops gather in Baltimore this week, I have to admit that I’m so weary of people saying that “the bishops can’t police each other. They have no authority over each other.” Of course this is true, but it completely misses the point.

Why in God’s name (literally) do you need a formal canonical/juridical structure to act like a basically decent, functional human being?

Let’s be honest.  If any other minimally sentient carbon-based life-form saw a colleague doing something illegal or unethical, they wouldn’t need a formal, legal structure to publicly call them out, appropriately shame them for their dereliction of duty, and challenge them to fix it or get out. Social pressure/fraternal correction is a perfectly legitimate cultural intervention that is readily available to the bishops BUT THEY DON’T USE IT!

How many bishops called out “Uncle Ted” despite his behavior being an “open secret” for over 20 years? And even after all that, how many bishops have publicly called out Malone for his gross dereliction of duty in Buffalo? Why not? Because episcopal culture has made an idol out of saving face and making nice. It’s as if the motto of every bishop on the planet is “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”   How does that square with Ezek. 39:8?  “If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to dissuade him from his way, then that wicked man will die in his iniquity, yet I will hold you accountable for his blood.”

Look, if the bishops would just act like basically human, more-or-less socialized, kinda-normal-ish people (much less, witnesses to the gospel), who were capable of occasional expressions of (perfectly appropriate) righteous outrage, we wouldn’t need any “policies” or “canonical structures.”  They would handle things the way any other family handles a brother, or nephew, or second-cousin-twice-removed who was acting like an idiot.  You don’t have any legal authority over those people, but–except in the most dysfunctional family–that doesn’t stop you from hunting him down and telling him that he can either get his stuff together or you and the rest of the family are going to make him miserable until he does. And that doesn’t stop you from continuing to make noise until something gets done.  That’s how healthy families work. They exert appropriate social pressure to maintain basic order and healthy functioning.  That’s what true fraternal correction looks like.  That’s all the “authority” you need.

The USCCB’s debate about juridical structures and canonical procedures is a perfect example of Chesterton’s dictum about small laws. The bishops, failing to follow the basic, unconscious rules that govern the social interactions of every other human being on the planet kvetch that they don’t have enough small laws to tell them what to do.

Ugh. Give thou me a break.

You don’t need new laws and structures.  You need a dose of humanity and an infusion of basic decency.

…And thank you for coming to my (Uncle) TED talk.