Your Family: On A Mission From God

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

Every Christian family is on a mission from God.  I want to walk through some simple steps every family can take to discern their mission. But first, where does this idea of a mission even come from?

The Roots of Your Family Mission

The Sacrament of Marriage is founded on the idea that God, himself, has called a particular couple together–not only for their mutual benefit–but as a visible sign of his free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world.  Christian couples and families don’t just live for themselves.  God means to use your marriage and family life to be an outpost of grace.

As a vocation, marriage–like Holy Orders–represents a particular way that a couple has been called by God to live out their three-fold baptismal mission of priest (blessing the world by modeling Christ’s sacrificial love), prophet (being a witness of how God’s children are meant to live), and royal, (using their gifts to be a blessing to others).

Likewise, in Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul said that every family serves three important tasks in build the Kingdom of God.
1) To create an intimate communion.
2) To serve life by being open to children and forming those children to be Christian disciples.
3) To be a force for good in their communities. (i..e, “participate in the development of society.”)
4) To be an outpost of grace in the world. (i.e, “to share in the life and mission of the church.”)

Likewise, a Christian household is called a “domestic church.” That means that Christian households are meant to be little branches of the larger church, bringing God’s love and grace out to the world.  Like the larger church, your domestic church is charged with building the Kingdom of God.

These various calls and tasks serve as the roots of both your personal and family mission.

It’s Not What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

A “mission” represents the specific way a particular person or community lives out a more general call. So, while all Christians are called to be priests, prophets and royals, and all couples are called to witness to Christ’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world, and all families are called to live out the four tasks in their lives, what living that out looks like for you and your house is going to vary widely from what that looks like for every other family.

Developing a family mission represents your effort to discern the specific way God is asking you and your household to live out these various calls in the unique circumstances of your lives. It’s as simple as that.

How Do You Create A Family Mission?

There isn’t one way to create a family mission but there are some general suggestions.  We walk through the following steps in more detail in my book, Parenting with Grace, but this will get you started.

  1. Pray Together (in general)–You can’t develop a family mission unless you are going to God together as a family ask asking him why he called you together and how he wants you to live.  Every day, get in the habit of asking God to help you be the family he wants you to be and to understand how to live out your call in the unique circumstances of your life.
  2. Pray Together (About Your Mission)–Pray as a family about the particular virtues or qualities God is calling your family to exhibit so that you could face the challenges you need to face more effectively and live more abundantly. Would you like to be more joyful, loving, responsible, faithful, generous, respectful, and so on?  Obviously we all want to grow in all the virtues, and you will.  But for the purposes of discerning your mission, you want to focus on the specific virtues or qualities you need to live more abundantly in the circumstances God has placed you.  Identify the top 2-4 (max) qualities or virtues that would help you take the life you are currently living to the next level.  That is, what qualities would enable you to celebrate the joys in your particular life and rise to the struggles in your particular life in a more graceful, godly way?  Write them down.
  3. Discuss–Next, take each of the virtues you identified one-at-a-time. Each person in the family (starting with Dad and Mom and then down from the oldest child) should suggest one or two ways you could use that quality to be a better parent or brother or sister and at least one example of how that particular quality might help your family handle a specific situation better than it currently does.  For instance, if you were discussing joy, you might say, “If I were going to be a more joyful dad, I would make a point of playing a more active role in planning family activities, instead of leaving that to mom so much.  And to be a more joyful family, I think we need to put regular family time on the schedule so that we aren’t just trying to squeeze each other in whenever other stuff wasn’t happening.”

    This part of the discussion should focus on the particular action steps you want to try to focus on to help you do a better job of living out the virtues that make up your family mission.

  4. Reflect/Revise–Discuss your mission on a regular basis.  Over dinner at least once-a-week, ask each other to reflect on each of the virtues in your mission.  How are you doing?  What’s working well?  What are the challenges?  How can you do a better job supporting each other as a family to overcome those challenges?  What choices do you need to make (i.e., activities to be involved in, priorities that need to be set, rituals that need to be created) to help you live out those qualities more effectively? Use your mission to help challenge each other to be better living, breathing examples of the virtues that make up your mission and to help you make decisions for your family that enable you to live out those virtues more effectively in your daily life together.

These are some basic steps of creating a mission. For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace and join the discussion at our FB Group CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

 

 

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.

Speak Up! The Negative Effects of Self Silencing

We all have a desire to “keep the peace,” and because of this, we tend to do a lot to maintain our relationships. Often, one of these tendencies is to self-silence—to not speak up for ourselves, express our needs, or vocalize our needed boundaries. We think that filtering ourselves, or keeping our needs to ourselves helps us to “keep everyone happy.” 

New research, however, shows that there are a great deal of negative effects that come from self-silencing. Not only does this practice not help us develop the types of relationships we deserve to have, but it actually is detrimental to our physical health as well. Researchers have found that individuals who self-silence—particularly women—have increased carotid plaque buildup, which could lead to a stroke or other cardiovascular problems.

Speaking up—respectfully and effectively—to get our needs met is crucial for our mental and physical health. Here are three ways to effectively speak up:

Making the implicit explicit—when someone says or does something that hurts your feelings, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Instead, say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by this, but when you did ____ or said ____ I felt hurt (or specifically state what you felt). What did you intend to mean by that?” Saying something like this phrase is effective because it offers the other person the benefit of the doubt—we are not accusing them of anything, however it asks the clarifying question to better understand the other person’s intention. 

Look for solutions—When you and another person have differing needs or opinions, ask the question, “What can we do to get everyone’s needs met?” This helps convey that there are options and that no one’s needs are less important than another’s. 

Create healthy habits—Create a routine where you and your spouse/significant other ask each other, “What can I do to make your day better?” This helps build the rapport between you and your spouse to say, “I want to work for your good.” Likewise, when we are in this habit of asking and being asked what we need to have a good day, it makes it easier for us to ask for something when a need arises. 

For more on how to effectively communicate our needs with others, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am EST/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

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.