Maintaining Peace While Home For The Holidays


The Holiday hustle and bustle is upon us and while many things can be very joyous, there are also many things that create stress as well. One of the biggest stressors this time of year can be the pressures and expectations from family members, especially extended family. Everyone has their own idea of what the holidays “should” look like and it’s easy to feel torn in many different directions—often to the detriment of our own needs, desires, or expectations. 


Are difficult people robbing you of your peace? 

Check out:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
(Making Peace with Difficult People)


It’s true that as Catholics we are called to be generous to others and to say, “yes” to opportunities to be of service. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a right to have our needs met as well. In fact, the principle of “mutual self-donation” articulated in the Theology of The Body assumes that in godly relationships, all the people in the relationship are equally committed to meeting each others needs, even when it requires them to grow and make sacrifices for one another. Sometimes, this mutual self-donation does not occur, which may leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained, or disappointed, especially around the Holidays. But there is hope! We can in fact work to create this mutual self-donation in our relationships by being assertive about our needs. Assertiveness allows us to achieve mutual self-donation, by seeking a healthy balance between meeting our own needs and being attuned to the needs of others. It enables us to see ourselves not as vending machines that exist solely to be used up by others, but as persons, who have gifts to give others but who also have a God-given right to be loved and treated with dignity.

Assertiveness is a virtuous practice, however can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to be gracefully assertive and achieve mutual self-donation in your relationships:

1. Be Direct–Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”  In other words, it is important to be clear, direct, specific, and honest about what you can do for others and what you need from others. This is the essence of assertiveness. When you feel like others are taking advantage, don’t get resentful. Instead ask yourself, “Have I been honest about my needs?”   Have you been direct about the kind of help you need from the people in your life? Have you let your needs be known–not just by hinting at them and hoping others will just “get it”–but by stating them clearly, specifically, honestly, and directly? The first step to being gracefully assertive is taking the time necessary to clarify what your needs are and to state them honestly with the expectation that others will be as generous to you as you are attempting to be generous to them.

2. Use the “Qualified Yes” Technique–When other people ask you to do things for them, instead of feeling stuck between having to say “yes” to everything and not being able to meet your own needs, and saying “no” too often, use the “Qualified Yes” technique. In other words, when someone asks you to do something for them, don’t immediately focus on whether you can help at all, instead, focus on negotiating how and when you might be of assistance. For instance, if your parish asks you to help with an event, you might say that while you wouldn’t be able to run the event, you could assist with this part of it. Or if your mom or siblings ask for your help with a project Wednesday evening, you might say that while you can’t help Wednesday, you could be available Thursday. Using the qualified yes technique allows you to avoid polarizing requests for help and feeling trapped between disappointing others and meeting your own needs.  Instead, this method gives you a way to be generous to others while still being faithful to your own needs and obligations.

3. Use Relationship-Friendly Boundaries–Sometimes you do need to set boundaries with people but you don’t have to feel like you are threatening the relationship to do it. Setting basic boundaries doesn’t mean pushing people away or even frustrating them. It just involves proposing a healthy and appropriate way for them to get their need met while saying “no” to less healthy or appropriate suggestions. For instance, if your in-laws are pushing you to stay with them over the holidays, but you know spending that much time together would be hard on all of you, you might say, “We’re really looking forward to getting time together, but I think it would be better for all of us if we stayed at a hotel.”  In this example, you’re respecting the desire for everyone to have family time, but you are setting a boundary that increases the likelihood that getting this time together will be pleasant and successful. Set boundaries that focus not so much on avoiding short term conflict, but on the long term health of your relationships.

For more resources for maintaining peace during the Holidays—or anytime of year, check out our resources at


Quick links and resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! (Making Peace with Difficult People)

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace

How to Heal Your Marriage (And Nurture Lasting Love)

Family Feud! 3 Keys to Managing Family Conflict

Is your family caught in conflict? Are you struggling to know how to navigate those tricky disagreements? Family conflict can be especially difficult if each person has a different approach to communicating their hurts, needs, or frustrations. This is why it is important to turn to God to teach us His universal language to manage those challenging times.

Theology of The Body reminds us the families are supposed to be schools of love and virtue.  One of the lessons we all need to learn in the family school of love is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully.  As Catholic families, especially, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to family conflict, but instead, inviting God to be the mediator of our disagreements, being intentional about asking what virtues we need to practice in conflict to have more productive discussions, and working hard to listen to each other rather than react to each other.  We need to remember that, as Catholic families, we are not called to just be loving when things are going well, but to be loving–and accept the mutual growth God is calling us to–in the face of disagreements.

So how do you manage family conflict in the ways that God calls us to?

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our family conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, you notice your kids fighting or not listening to you, or you see that family members are starting to butt heads, say, “STOP!” bring the kids to you, and invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian family. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Let God be your help and let him lead your family to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to family problems.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you have family conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well.  If you’re working with kids, stop and ask them what virtues they need to handle the situation well before you start and discussion.  If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict. Faith and science agree. Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into family disagreements, it’s the key to family peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance–especially on the part of our kids–as stubbornness that has to be overcome with a show of force. Avoid this. Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person (especially kids) are resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?” Of course, kids aren’t mature enough to articulate this, so they need us to help. Work hard not to react to resistance or disobedience. As St. John Bosco counseled parents, “work hard to maintain your countenance.” In the face of that kind of push-back, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message. Identify the need. Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources and support on working through family conflict, visit us online at!

Three Steps to Peaceful Parenting


Parenting can be beautiful and stressful, fun and difficult. We often wish that our kids came with an instruction manual so that we could take out some of the guesswork. The good news is that God actually has given us a guidebook, we just need to know where to look.

Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we all learn to live life as a gift, and that parents are the most important teachers in this school of love.  Catholic parents are empowered through God’s grace in the sacrament of marriage to do more than just “get through the day” with our kids. The world needs loving, responsible, godly people and God asks his faithful couples to give the word what it needs. The more we can approach parenting in a thoughtful, intentional, graceful manner, the more we are able to fulfill our mission as Catholics–to let God change the world through our families by raising the next generation of faithful, courageous, loving, responsible, and godly men and women.  It’s a tough job, but God gives us the grace to do it.

Here are three ways that God calls us to live as teachers in the school of love:

1. Remember To Lead–When you’re correcting your kids, only 5% of your energy should be focused on what they did wrong.  The other 95% should be focused on leading your children to a better place. Before you correct your kids, ask yourself, “What does my child need to handle this situation better next time?”  Put your energy into teaching those skills.  Punishments don’t work.  Teaching does.  Using techniques like do-overs, role-playing, time-in, cool-downs, and other loving guidance approaches to discipline focus on giving your kids the skills they need to succeed next time–instead of shaming them for failing this time.  Lead your children to virtue by showing them a better way to express their emotions,  communicate their needs, accomplish their goals, get along with others, and manage their stress.  The more energy you put into teaching instead of punishing, the quicker your kids’ behavior will improve overall and the less stressed you’ll be!

2.  Celebrate Success–Tell your kids when they handle a situation well by acknowledging the virtue they displayed.  You don’t have to throw a parade–in fact, it’s much better if you don’t–but simple comments like, “That was really responsible.”, “You handled that really respectfully.”,  “That was very generous.” “That was a very loving choice.”  and similar comments help kids understand that virtues aren’t just a list of words to memorize, but a practical guide for handling life’s ups and downs with grace.  Believe it or not, kids want to be good, and they desperately crave your approval.  By remarking on all the ways that exhibiting virtues help them manage their emotions, express their needs, negotiate stressful situations, and get along with others, you are showing your kids that they already have what it takes to do the right thing AND you’re making them want to get even better at it. Celebrate your kids’ successful efforts to display virtue by letting them know you saw what they did and that you are proud of them for doing it.

3. Fill the Tank–There is a fuel that drives good behavior.  Don’t forget to fill the tank. Both research and generations of wise parents will tell you that extravagant affection is the fuel that makes kids want to behave and try harder to please you.  Research shows that affection is actually communication.  Taking time to hold your kids close all throughout the day actually helps them reset  their heart rate, respiration, body temperature, and other bodily rhythms when they are feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed.  Affectionate parents literally incline their children’s hearts to them, and make their kids naturally turn to their parents for guidance and comfort. Yes, you will still need to teach your kids what to do but affection is the fuel that makes correction work.

For more resources on becoming a more peaceful parent, check out Parenting With Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids, and visit us online at!

Experiencing Advent in a Catholic HŌM

The Advent season is a beautiful time, full of anticipation and hope as we wait for the Christmas season and all that comes with it—the fun, the food, the family time, the presents, and the traditions. While it can be hard to wait, all this anticipation is meant to point toward our need to learn patience as we wait for the Glory of God, the Hope of Nations, to enter our lives more fully on Christmas Day.

So how do we communicate the spiritual benefits of waiting through this season to our kids?

Being patient is something that is often hard for adults, never mind kids, but the Rite of Christian Relationship can help us take advantage of this Advent season to develop and strengthen the virtue of patients.

Make Waiting a Positive Experience—Children (especially young children) struggle with the concept of time in general, which makes waiting even more difficult. When parents set a time frame on something, (such as getting a snack, when we’ll arrive at our destination, or when we get to play a game) our kids often ask (maybe a million times), “Is it time yet?”  Take this as an opportunity to make being patient a positive experience. When your child asks you over and over if it’s time, stay kind, loving, calm, and affirming in your response. Say things like, “I know you’re excited to have your snack (or play your game), you’ll be able to have it in X minutes. Can you tell me about what you’re most excited for (about your snack or game)?” This type of response is affirming and engaging. It helps the child process their own excitement and allows them to focus on preparing to receive their gift. Remember that your child is not being selfish or rude in asking you over and over how much time is left, they don’t yet have the ability to conceptualize time. Use your relationship with your child to teach them that patience is a good thing and model to them how to effectively practice the virtue of patience by being patient with them in your responses.

Fulfill Your Promises—Just as God fulfills His promises to us, it’s important we (do our best) to fulfill our promises to our children. If we tell our child a timeframe and fulfill our promise to them—such as, “You can have a snack in 10 minutes” then set a timer and give our child a snack in 10 minutes—we’re able to help them develop a better sense of time, and also develop a real sense of trust in their relationship with us. It’s easy to tell our child a time frame for something, then hope they forget about said thing in that amount of time. But using this “out” causes our child to learn that “10 minutes” maybe means hours or days—which hurts both their understanding of time, and their trust in us/their ability to rely on us.

Create a Visual—creating a visual representation of time passing is a great way to help our kids learn to be patient (and even enjoy the wait)! Of course, Advent calendars are a fantastic way to help our kids understand each day in the Advent season. However, we can do things like this even on a smaller, daily basis. If we need our child to wait for a few minutes, set a timer that they can see. If they ask you how much time is left, ask them to tell you what the timer says so that they can be engaged in the waiting. If you’re on a car trip, draw a map and every hour move a sticker closer to the destination. Make a schedule for the day and allow your child to color in the boxes that depict the hours as they pass or the tasks as they are completed. Creating a visual for time helps our kids to better understand the passing of time and learn to be patient.

Waiting is hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. As we see in this Advent season—this time of patience and preparation—there is real beauty in waiting and it makes the reward that much better.

If you want more ideas for experiencing Advent in your Catholic HŌM, join the conversation on Facebook at Catholic HŌM—Family Discipleship!

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

smiling kids

Emotional Intelligence  is a term coined by psychologist,  Daniel Goleman, that refers to a person’s ability to identify, manage, understand and process emotions so that you can effectively manage
stress, have healthy, rewarding relationships, handle conflict respectfully, and maintain good emotional health.

As the article I linked above explains, Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be even more important than IQ in determining career success and both relationship and life satisfaction. Considering all the benefits to be gained by developing Emotional Intelligence, it is something that every parent should be concerned with helping their children develop.  The Catholic family, I think, should be especially concerned with cultivating Emotional Intelligence because this quality has everything to do with helping a family be the “community of love” and “school of virtue” that Church says families are called to be.  Without Emotional Intelligence, it is impossible for a Catholic family to fulfill its mission, as spelled out in Evangelium Vitae, to be a community of people dedicated to living out relationships characterized by,  “a  respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift” (EV #92).

Over at  PsychCentral, Dr. Jonice Webb proposes  3 Tips for Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.  They’re definitely worth considering.

1. Pay Attention.   Work hard to see your child’s true nature.   What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with?   Feed these observations back to your child in a non-judgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.

Life Advantage: Your child will see herself reflected in your eyes, and she will know who she is. This will give her confidence in her life choices and will make her resilient to life’s challenges.

2. Feel an Emotional Connection to Your Child.   Strive to feel what your child is feeling (empathy), whether you agree with it or not.   When you feel your child’s emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you.

Life Advantage:  Your child will learn empathy and will have healthier relationships throughout his life.

3. Respond Competently to Your Child’s Emotional Need.  Do not judge your child’s feeling as right or wrong.   Look beyond the feeling, to the source. Help your child name her emotion.   Help her manage the emotion.

Life Advantage:  Your child will have a healthy relationship with his own emotions. He will naturally know that his feelings are important and how to put them into words and manage them.    READ MORE.

Those are some terrific tips.  If you’d like to learn more about how to raise faithful, emotionally intelligent children, check out  Parenting with Grace.

Parenting Wisdom in Shorthand

By: Judith Costello

father and child beach

A posted meme says: “‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’–NOT TRUE! Words hurt, scar and leave deep wounds all the way down to the soul.”   On the surface this meme sounds right. And it has been shared almost 200,000 times!

But when I saw it, a red flag started waving. My reaction was, “Don’t invalidate the parenting wisdom that is ages old.”

An incident came immediately to mind. My son was in first grade. He had been riding the bus to school for a few days when he came home with tears in his eyes. Another boy had been taunting him. The boy’s words were hurtful and mean. And yes, it made my son feel “wounded.” So how is a parent to react?

My husband and I took him in hand and talked for quite awhile sitting on the side of his bed. After about 30 minutes he was calm; within an hour he was laughing about it. The next day he walked past that boy, looked him in the eye and smiled.

And do you know what our first words were? You guessed it—“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

We explained what that saying means of course. It doesn’t mean that words are never hurtful. It means–we can choose how we react! We can choose what we allow to settle into our hearts.

There are four important lessons here: 1) Bullies will always be with us. 2) Bullies are sad people. Their words come out of their troubles, their desire to control others and their ignorance. 3) It’s important to stay strong in yourself and let the mean words wash away like water going down the drain.   4) St. Paul said, “We do not wage war with human resources” (2Cor. 10). We must pray and stay focused on God’s words of love and mercy.

The message of this maxim is Biblical. We are called to help our children learn ways to cope with mean-spirited people.  If we don’t teach them  that they have resources for dealing with hurtful words, then our children will feel their identity is determined by mean people. And they will think that the government, or someone outside themselves, has to punish others to make things right.

So my response to the meme is two-fold:

1) There is history and wisdom in maxims like “sticks and stones…” That particular expression can be attributed to around 1862, published in a Christian magazine, but is probably much older. And the point of the “sticks and stones” saying is to teach children they can rise above whatever meanness they experience. Jesus said we will be persecuted and reviled, and we can actually celebrate it! We can unite our hurts or troubles with the suffering of Jesus and offer it up for our prayer intentions!

The tools of our battle against the meanness and lies of the world are  in our faith. St. Paul dealt with his detractors by saying this…”they only demonstrate their ignorance”…”we arm ourselves with the shield of faith.” 2 Cor. 10:12 and Eph. 6:16.

2) The first part of the meme has to do with  how we respond  to the meanness of others. That is what I have been addressing here. The second part of the meme has to do with  what we say to  others. That too is covered by an old bit of parenting wisdom: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Again this is a maxim…a shorthand way of saying important things. Jesus frequently talked about how we should avoid gossip and speak with charity. We should consider every word before we speak.

Words can definitely be used as weapons and that too is in the Bible. Our goal as Christians is to use words to be a light in the darkness, rather than  as knives that cut.

So as far as this meme goes, here’s another maxim….”Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” It’s great to come up with new ways to say that “words hurt, so watch what you say.” But don’t throw out the teachings of our ancestors in order to say that.

Credit to Judith Costello of CatholicExchange.


Show Us Your Face

By: Jenny Uebbing

mom laptop baby

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”

I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth  time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.

“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”

Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.

It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings.  But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a  little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.

All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first  century America can be ridiculously isolating — particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.

But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention.  Any  kind of attention, as their deteriorating behavior demonstrates quite clearly, will do.

I’ve spent the past several months rationalizing my behavior because  I’m recently postpartum and newborns are hard  and  I work from home so they  can have mommy around, it’s good enough that I’m physically present  and, most shamefully,  at least if I’m distracted I’m not tempted to yell at them.

Except I was tempted, often times  more  tempted, because instead of growing in patience and virtue and tolerance for childish appetites for multiple story recitations and block tower smashing, I was peppering our days together with long chunks of “Mommy’s here but isn’t actually  here  time.”

In short, I wasn’t in great parenting shape, because I have been spending the lion’s share of our days trying desperately to escape parenting.

I think it hit me hardest when our eldest, a mature three, dropped his nap. It was right after our youngest was born and suddenly, with three kids three and under, I had lost my precious chunk of uninterrupted mid-day productivity. Rather than pivoting and adjusting, I got stuck in a rut of denial, choosing distraction as a coping mechanism. When Pope Francis speaks about parents needing to waste time with their children, I think he was emphasizing the “with.” I, however, was choosing to focus on the “waste.”

I’m not claiming to have found some magical key to unlocking the secrets of stay-at-home happiness. Most days I’m lucky to still be smiling when the clock strikes dinner. I have realized how much I’ve been relying on outside props and fingertip distractions to keep  me  going, and how much I’ve come to view my children as little resentment-inducing interruptions to my very important tasks of emailing all the people and pinning all the recipes and furniture makeovers.

A few days ago I started a new thing. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s an old thing and I’m just late to the game. I’m calling it internet-averse living. It’s where I don’t open the computer except to do super specific things that I can’t do without a search engine, like look up the recipe for a paleo-friendly vinaigrette dressing for our dinner salad and pinpoint the ingredients for a rabbit-deterrant solution for the garden (aka our 2 solitary pumpkin plants.) In both instances, the internet functioned as a tool that helped me parent, not a crutch that propped me up while I failed to do so.

Listen, mom glued to your smartphone on the park bench, scrolling your newsfeed while your precious little people do backflips off the jungle gym: I hear you. I have sat where you sit, and I will probably be there again sometime later this week. I’m not judging you. Parenting in general and motherhood in particular is exhausting and challenging and sometimes, frankly, it’s really boring.

But I’m learning, incrementally and painfully, that the most mundane moments are essential components to the growth and development of my motherly temperament. Physical pain is one thing, (and I’d include sleep depravation in that category) but mental pain in the form of self denial, boredom, or loneliness is a whole other arena I’m learning that we are expected to do battle in.

I can’t always escape. Sometimes, inexplicably, they only want  me.  Nothing else will satisfy them except to see my face, to catch my eye, or to hold my unadulterated attention.

Sound like anyone else you know?

So I’m trying. I’m learning so slam the screen shut at the sound of little feet pitter pattering into the kitchen in search of yogurt tubes and oatmeal. I’m trying to make my initial impulse one of supplicating prayer rather than vegetative scrolling. It’s not easy, because I’m not very good at it. And it turns out parenting, like so much else that is worthwhile and larger than oneself, requires little other than repetitive acts of the will to accomplish.

It’s not so much dependent on a specific skill set or a temperament which naturally finds miniature humans delightful, but on the willingness of a larger human to put aside her needs moment by moment, until an appointed time.

So mama? Step away from the screen. What you’re looking for is sitting right in front of you, but you’re going to have to dig deep to see it.

Love, your exhausted comrade in arms.

Credit to  Jenny Uebbing of CatholicExchange.


Questions for the College-Bound Son

By: Richard Becker

notre dame

Is this what it feels like to be the  father of the groom?

Father of the bride is bad enough — as Spencer Tracy showed us in 1950, followed by  Steve Martin  forty years later — but it seems like father of the groom would be even more irrelevant to the whole wedding vortex phenomenon.

Not that any of  my  sons are heading to the altar any time soon. No, my feelings of irrelevancy are related to a different life event and milestone: My oldest is heading to Notre Dame. As a freshman. Next month.

Shouldn’t I be doing something?

Practical things — equipping the dorm room, last minute tips on laundry, etc. — seem to be covered by my wife at present. At least, Ben isn’t coming to  me  for advice, so I’ve got to assume that his mother is fielding those questions. If there are any. He’s pretty much launched out on his own already.

So, how about composing a fatherly testament of vision and values as a farewell gesture?

I’ve read plenty of “To My Son on the Brink of Manhood” (or marriage or fatherhood) screeds written by celebrity and journalist dads, but I’ve really no interest in attempting anything along those lines. It seems like any sage advice or tidbits of paternal wisdom that I’d offer in such a declaration ought to have taken root well before now. Otherwise, I’m guessing it’s a bit late.

Like riding a bicycle. Today I was out with Katharine, my youngest, who is just on the verge of training-wheel freedom. She is balancing on the bike just fine — the trainers rarely touch down when she’s pedaling along — and it’s just a matter of time until she has built up enough self-confidence and I can remove the side wheels once and for all.

It seems like just a blink of an eye since I was doing the same for Ben. In fact, I think it might’ve been the same bicycle, and even the same set of training wheels! But let’s say I’d never taken the trouble to help him wean off the trainers when he was in grade school. Let’s say he skipped riding bikes as a boy, learning to use public transit instead, and then jumped right into driver’s ed as a teen.

And now he’s getting ready for college, where freshmen are generally not allowed to have vehicles at their disposal. Wouldn’t a bicycle be convenient? Completing his two-wheeler training at this late stage would be awkward at best, and likely to fail altogether.

An eloquent parting shot, untethered to a commensurate upbringing, seems equally awkward and prone to failure. Any advice I have to give now that I haven’t already attempted to instill is too late, and a late-breaking Desiderata would pointless. And yet if I did attempt to raise my son with attention to truth and beauty and permanent things, then rehearsing it all in bullet point form would be unnecessary, and perhaps even somewhat ridiculous.

Still, I feel like I should be doing something,  and, consequently, I’ve come up with a different kind of list. Instead of looking backward, at the things I hope I’ve taught him (or wish I had), I’ve decided to look forward. It’s a list of questions — questions I’ve already grown accustomed to asking former students when I encounter them long after graduation, and I’ve decided they’ll be among the questions I’ll ask my son when we see each other on weekends and breaks in the months and years to come.

  1. What are you reading?  He’ll be at Notre Dame, so he’ll be reading a lot, but he’ll know I mean what is he reading that he  doesn’t have to read.  Reading for pleasure, in other words. If it’s something I know, I’ll enjoy hearing his insights. If it’s something I don’t know, all the better. Note, too, that I’m not asking, “What are you watching,” or “What are you listening to?” These can be important questions as well, to be sure, but they don’t deserve anywhere near the same priority. My kids have grown up surrounded by books in every conceivable way, and I’d be very surprised if books didn’t continue to surround them as they make their own way hence.
  2. Where are you working?  That’s what I ask my former students, most of whom are staff nurses here and there (or full-time mothers, or both). For current students, like my son, I’ll ask,  Where are you in your studies?  The inquisitive “where” allows for an unfolding of conversation on a number of fronts: The progress being made in a particular program or discipline; the kinds of classes being taken at the moment; and, most importantly, the trajectory along which which current pursuits are trending. It’s an inquiry with both quantitative and qualitative angles, and it’s helpful in getting beyond mere questions of “what” classes and “what” jobs to the “why” and “who with” of daily living.
  3. How’s your soul?  This one is loaded, no doubt, but it, too, is calculated to get into meaty matters as rapidly as possible. “Are you getting to Mass and confession? Are you praying?” are too easily dispensed with — either with a hasty “yes” (whether truthful or not), or a painful “no,” followed by an even more painful conversational stall. Who needs that? We’re all adults here.   Sacramental obligations, vocational discernment, and the pursuit of holiness are totally his responsibility now, so I’m not going to grill him. I might’ve acted as a coach in such matters as he got older, but I’m on the sidelines now — a cheerleader, to be sure, and a ready consultant when asked. Yet, now I’m only one among many that he can turn to for input. Consequently, instead of grilling, I’m hoping for openness and candor, a space for us both to voice our inner joys and struggles as we wind our way along the murky years. No challenges, no guilt. Just invitation, and cross-bearing of burdens. And honesty. Listening.

These are questions that assume a lot, but don’t presume anything.  They take for granted where we’ve come from together, but they leave lots of room for where we’ve made — and will make — side trips apart. Like I said, they’ll be the questions I ask my son in the months to come, and probably they’ll be the same questions I’ll ask him years from now when he’s launched beyond Notre Dame, rising in his chosen profession, and raising his own family.

And, soon enough, maybe he’ll be asking them of others as well. Now that  would  be something.

Credit to Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.  


The Prodigal Father

By: Dave McClow


The “prodigal father” is the story of our time.    It is the story of fatherlessness in our families.   Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is and has always been highly aware of the crisis of fatherhood and its implications for society (see my previous blog).   He knows that when fatherhood is gutted, “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged” (The God of Jesus Christ, p.  29).   But he is also supremely insightful about what happens in the family, both positively and negatively, because of fathers! Let’s start out with the problems:


“A theologian has said that to ­day we ought to supplement the story of the Prodigal Son with that of the prodigal father. Fathers are often entirely occupied by their work and give more wholehearted attention to their work than to their child, more to achievement than to gifts, and to the tasks implied by those gifts. But the loss of involvement of the father also causes grave inner damage to the sons” (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

I’m not sure why he leaves out daughters, but the effect is just as devastating for daughters.   Are you leaving behind the gift of your children for busy-ness or business?   Are you too task and achievement oriented?   Part of this over-focus is the religious nature of our masculinity–our natural inclination toward sacrifice for a cause.   This is masculine spirituality that is often not acknowledged by men or women.   If men can’t relate to God as men, they turn to things which are not ultimate–that is, to things Scripture calls idols.   This is why work, hobbies, and sports can become all-consuming.

Fear is another component of turning to non-ultimate things.   Sometimes a lot of men view the murky waters of relationships and emotions at home like a foreign country to be feared. They would rather turn elsewhere to feel like a success.   We need to invoke my vote for St. John Paul II’s #2 motto (after “Totus Tuus, Totally yours, Mary”), “Be not afraid!”   We need to have courage!   There is nothing wrong with work, hobbies, or sports, but they must be rightly ordered–they must not take precedence over people or God.   Even virtues in the extremes become vice.

As Pope, Benedict XVI includes in the problem list broken families, worries, and money problems, along with “the distracting invasion of the media” in our daily life.   All of these things “can stand in the way of a calm and constructive relationship between father and child.” “It is not easy for those who have experienced an excessively authoritarian and inflexible father or one who was indifferent and lacking in affection, or even absent, to think serenely of God and to entrust themselves to him with confidence” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).


He nails the problems of modern life including technology; and the perennial problems of fathers who can be excessively rigid, indifferent, lacking in affection, or even absent.   These things damage our view of God and make it difficult to trust.   Next, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he contrasts two very different fathers: Zeus and God the Father.

If we look for a moment at pagan mythologies, then the father-god Zeus, for instance, is portrayed as moody, unpredictable, and willful: the father does incorporate power and authority, but without the corresponding degree of responsibility, the limitation of power through justice and kindness (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

If you are the kind of father who wants your kids to obey just because you’re the father, you’re in the Zeus camp, which uses the power and authority of the role without the responsibility which limits that power through justice and kindness.   This father uses domination and fear to lord it over the kids and demands obedience.   Consequently, because they don’t like the master/slave relationship, the kids usually have a temper problem and find ways to rebel.   Or as Protestant apologist Josh McDowell has aptly put it, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”   The master/slave idea is found more in Islam, a word which means submission. Allah is not a loving Father–in fact, this idea is blasphemous to a Muslim.   Allah is an all-powerful God who must be obeyed.


Zeus shows us how not to be a good father.   The Pope Emeritus says that Scripture helps us know of “a God who shows us what it really means to be ‘father’; and it is the Gospel, especially, which reveals to us this face of God as a Father who loves” (General Audience, January 30, 2013). The Father uses power and responsibility with justice and kindness, which is a more relational approach. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he unpacks this idea:

The Father as he appears in the Old Testament is quite different [from Zeus], and still more in what Jesus says about the Father: here, power corresponds to responsibility; here we meet a picture of power that is prop ­erly directed, that is at one with love, that does not dominate through fear but creates trust. The fatherhood of God means devotion toward us, an acceptance of us by God at the deepest level, so that we can belong to him and turn to him in childlike love. Certainly, his fatherhood does mean that he sets the standards and corrects us with a strictness that manifests his love and that is always ready to forgive (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

So the Father loves us first (1 Jn.) and is devoted to us, and this love creates trust, acceptance, and belonging!   It is only after loving us that he challenges us with his standards and correction; but even the challenge reveals more of his love for us.   He is like a coach or teacher who sees our potential and is therefore hard on us.  He is working for our good.   This is rightly ordered parenting: deep and wide love and then challenge.   Many fathers I work with start with the challenge and standards, skipping over the love part.   But doing this reverses the way we are designed and messes up the family.   To cut these fathers a break, this is probably how they were trained by their parents.

Psychologist Gordon Neufeld  puts it a little differently as he answers the question, “What’s the easiest way to parent children?”   His answer is not punishment, showing them who is boss, new skills, or even loving them.   It is getting them to love you.   He often asks, “When did your child give you his/her heart?”   If the parent is in Zeus mode, his or her reply is only a blank stare.   But when kids love you, they want to please you–it’s in their nature, and it’s the same with adults and God!   This is what it means to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven–when we give God our hearts in response to his love, we take correction more easily and experience discipline as a reconciliation–we are welcomed back home.

The Pope Emeritus continues his description of the Father: “God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces his lost but repentant son (cf. Lk. 15:11ff).”  He is “a Father who never abandons his children [Ps. 27:10], a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves” and whose love opens the “dimensions of eternity.”   This Fatherly love is “infinitely greater, more faithful, and more total than the love of any man.”   And knowing this love through faith, “we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering….” Of course, “[i]t is in the Lord Jesus that the benevolent face of the Father…is fully revealed.” In and through Jesus we know and see the Father (cf. Jn. 8:19; 14:7, 14:9, 11).  He is “the image of the invisible God” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has laid out both the problem and a theological solution: the problem is prodigal fatherhood, i.e., fatherlessness, in various forms, and the solution is God the Father as our model for fatherhood–“the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).   The contrast between Zeus and God the Father is striking and, from my vantage point as a pastoral counselor, insightful and helpful.   The Pope Emeritus has even more practical thoughts on the topic, but they will have to wait for another day.   With an epidemic of fatherlessness and our Faith’s revelation of a loving, tender, and challenging Abba, an interesting side point comes from the current Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (in  Life in the Lordship of Christ):  “It’s sad that in the whole liturgical year there isn’t a feast dedicated to the Father.”   Isn’t it time?

So, what kind of father are you?   If you see yourself more as Zeus than God the Father, you were more than likely trained by a Zeus, and you need to pray and fast to “our Abba” for a deep experience of his fatherly love so that you can love as he loved us.   The Catechism challenges us to tear down the idols of Zeus–the paternal images that stem from our personal history and distort God’s Fatherhood (see  CCC  2779).   And since the wound was created in community; the healing can only take place in community.   So find a priest, a friend, a Catholic men’s group, or call us to help.

Credit to Dave McClow of  CatholicExchange.


Another Ten Miles

By: Richard Becker


Five summers back, my daughter Joan and I walked to Michigan.

It’s not as spectacular as it sounds — we live on the south side of South Bend, and Michigan is only ten miles away — but it was still quite the urban hike and, now, a happy memory.

The whole thing was a lark that had its genesis at a family dinner when somebody mentioned how close Michigan really was. “It’s so close, we could probably walk there,” I remember Joan commenting. “We  should do that!”

I took her at her word (to her chagrin, it turns out), and we planned the trek. A few weeks later, we slathered on sunscreen and hit the road in the early morning, arriving at the  Dairy Queen  just north of the state line about eight hours later.

No earth-shattering revelations or extraordinary encounters along the way; no epiphanies or profound father-daughter exchanges. Just slogging along in the heat, mile after mile. A McDonald’s here, a library visit there, a couple photo ops, and gyros for lunch. The conversation was intermittent, and almost nonexistent in the final stretch. It was an exercise in endurance, you see, and to succeed required only stubbornness: We  will  walk to Michigan,  just  to say we’d done it — and we did!

The first step is undertaken lightly, pleasantly, and with your soul in the sky; it is the five-hundredth that counts  (Hilaire Belloc).

Recently, Joan and I put in another ten miles,  but this time the setting was quite different. We were in New York City for Joan to receive special honors at the  Scholastic Art Awards  ceremony in Carnegie Hall. Thankfully,  Marian High School  helped underwrite our travel expenses, but funds were still a bit tight, so we had no budget for taxi rides. Instead, we took subways and buses mainly, and hoofed it in between.

And hoof it we did. From the  Port Authority  near Times Square to the  lions  at the Public Library, and then zigzagging uptown: First Fifth Avenue for about eight blocks, then over; Madison Avenue for a while, then over, finally, Park Avenue up to the  Armory  at 67th Street — at least a couple miles on foot, and we’d only been in the city a couple hours.

So went the entire weekend: Subway rides to neighborhood centers, and then walking block after block to our various destinations. From Yonkers and the Bronx down to Washington Park, we experienced New York the best way possible — that is, at eye level and on the street. Like when we walked west on 112th through Spanish Harlem to come up behind  St. John the Divine. The gargantuan Cathedral loomed before us, growing bigger and bigger with every step, and we, smaller and smaller. It was as if our march allowed us to become pilgrims and penitents; much better than showing up in a cab or disembarking from a tour bus.

Our cuisine was street-bound as well: Hot dogs and pizza slices, chicken kebabs and blintzes, all mixed up with secondhand smoke, vehicle exhaust, and that unmistakable pungent scent of the city. I think we sat down for a single restaurant meal, and even then we rushed to grab a table outside. Sitting  inside  seemed too far removed from the exotic world we’d come to see and hear and assimilate.

Given all the time we devoted to just getting around, we didn’t get to see everything we’d hoped to — no Empire State Building, no  MOMA  or Cloisters, and nothing downtown at all. That wasn’t a big deal to me since I’d already soaked up quite a bit of New York  some years ago, but I had high hopes of getting Joan around to many more sights and landmarks. Turns out, it wasn’t a big deal to her either, and for the best of reasons. “I’m glad we’ve been getting around like we have,” Joan said at one point. “It seems like it has given us more freedom to do as we please and to really take things in.”

On a walking-tour you are absolutely detached. You stop where you like and go on when you like. As long as it lasts you need consider no one and consult no one but yourself  (C.S. Lewis).

So what’s next?  Compostela  maybe?  Or the Appalachian Trail? Either of those would be  way  more than ten miles.

No, I’m thinking Chaucer, and retracing the route of the Canterbury pilgrims. It would be more manageable (about 60 miles or so), and more Joan’s style anyway.

But if it was totally up to me, I’d have us in Rome, and we’d do a walking-tour of the Holy City’s  seven pilgrim churches  — a tradition of visiting the four major and three minor basilicas that was popularized by St. Philip Neri. Pope John Paul II altered it a bit in 2000 by substituting a more contemporary church for the ancient church of St. Sebastian. However, if you visit all seven of the original churches, plus the one John Paul added for the Jubilee Year indulgence, you’ll end up covering just about…ten miles!Coincidence? I think not!

So, whether it’s ten miles in Rome, three score in England, or hundreds somewhere else —  I’m ready,  come what may.  Of course, I know it’s pretty iffy that I’d even have the privilege of ever again joining my daughter on a trekking journey, regardless of the mileage involved or destination. Heck, it’s a wonder and a total gift I got to go along this time — I get that.

Yet, for us dads, that’s just part of the deal. It’s assumed in the “come-what-may” part of dadhood that if we’re  doing  our job, we’re working ourselves  out  of a job. God willing, sooner or later, our kids will merrily leave us behind, trekking and journeying with abandon to places we can’t even pronounce.

In other words, we have to be ready to weather the transition from  parenting  youngsters to  accompanying  young adults — and as I’m easing into that transition, it seems that the accompanying is truly intermittent, and largely up to their discretion.

Bittersweet, for sure, and no doubt I’ll miss out on plenty of ten-milers. But, come what may, I’ll be here for the homecoming. I’ll be here for the welcome home.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
~  Bilbo Baggins

Credit to Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.