Preparing for Lent In A Catholic HOM (Household On Mission)

As we prepare for Lent, we often rely on old habits or patterns. We give up the same thing for Lent or we engage in the same practices each year. Our rituals can become a little too habitual. Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up a bit, especially with regard to how we celebrate lent as a CatholicHOM (Household On Mission).

Specifically, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can help connect with the grace of lent to help each family member become a fully formed person—a whole and healthy child of God.

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, (I Will Give You Shepherds) St John Paul described four essential areas requiring special attention in the formation of priests (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) but his recommendations don’t just apply to seminaries.  They apply to our homes too! Christian households are meant to help each of us live out the common priesthood we inherit through baptism. Lent gives all of us “common priests” a special opportunity to use the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, to discover new ways to consecrate the world to Christ by living out Christ’s sacrificial love in all we do.

So how do we use John Paul II’s guidance for priestly formation in our family?

Human Formation – Human formation refers to the lessons we need to learn to be the kind of healthy, holy people whose lives lead others to Christ. Christian families encourage good human formation by mindfully and intentionally practicing specific virtues, working to be more empathic with each other, being good listeners and respectful communicators, being generously affection and affirming, and cultivating the kind of relationships that lead them into deeper communion with each other and  God.  This Lent how will you and your family focus on human formation?

One simple way your family can practice living Christ’s sacrificial love at home is by using the Family Team Exercise – Each morning ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and lunch?” At lunch, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and dinner?” Then, at dinner, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and bedtime?” This exercise is a simple way to live out the third practice in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’s Rite of Christian Relationship: Offering prompt, generous, consistent and cheerful attention to each other’s needs. It challenges you all to be more thoughtful and generous than you otherwise might be, and shows how generous service leads to a happier, healthier home.

Spiritual Formation – Spiritual formation is all about learning to have a close relationship with God and be a faithful disciple. One of the practices we recommend in the Rite of Family Rituals is a strong family prayer life. By having strong family prayer rituals, families invite  God to be the most important member of their household.

As a family, keep God close all day long through both formal and informal family prayer times. For instance, in addition to regular morning, meal-time, and bedtime prayers, you could pray over our child before a test, game, or important event. You could thank God out loud for the little blessings you experience.  You could ask God’s help before cooking a meal, or helping a child with homework, or having an important conversation with your spouse or child. Likewise, assuming your child is used to receiving blessing from you, don’t forget to ask your child to pray over you when you’re having a tough day. Give your kids the chance to exercise their muscles as budding spiritual warriors!

Using this lent to cultivate stronger family prayer rituals will help you do more to encourage the spiritual formation of the common priests in your household.

Intellectual Formation – Intellectual formation refers to the habits we develop that enable us to  know God better so that we can love him better. In the Rite of Family Rituals, we recommend regular family talk time as one important ritual that can help us achieve this goal at home. By carving out a little time during the day to have meaningful conversations about how our faith and life connect, how God is showing up for us, or how we think he is asking us to respond to the challenges we face, we can foster our family’s ability to grow in our knowledge of God and both the understanding and application of our faith.

Other good Talk Rituals include family reading time, where we can read stories from the bible, or the lives of the saints, or just good books that give us a chance to discuss our values and share how we can live them. Lent is a great time to make time to talk about why we have Stations of the Cross, or what the parts of our celebration of Holy Week mean and how all of our Lenten practices can help us draw closer to God and each other.

Pastoral/Apostolic Formation – Pastoral formation refers to our ability to cultivate compassionate hearts of service to others. The third rite in Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the Rite of Reaching Out, helps us do this by encouraging us to look for more ways families can serve each other—both at home and in the world. The Rite of Reaching Out is all about reminding us of the importance of leaving people better off than we found them.

This Lent, think about ways your family can do more to serve each other and your community. How can you be more generous to each other at home?  How can you and your family reach out to others in your life and be a witness of God’s love? Perhaps your family could work together to create small care packages for with cards, baked goods, or little gifts and share them with your neighbors/friends. Maybe make one care package each week in Lent for a different friend, relative, or neighbor.

However you choose to develop your relationship with God this Lent, it may be helpful to reflect on these four pillars and how they apply to your family. What areas are your strengths? What areas could use growth? What is one tangible practice you and your family could partake in this Lent to strengthen your Catholic HOM?

Join the discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship

Fire! Fire!—What To Do When You’re Feeling Burned Out

People often say they feel “burned out” by their struggles with anxiety, but most are unaware of the deeper truth behind this metaphor.

Imagine soaking your hands in bleach for several hours, even days. You would get a chemical burn that left your skin severely raw and irritated. Even brushing up against something afterward might hurt tremendously. In a similar way, the chemicals (glucocorticoids) produced by the brain’s fear response are caustic. When persistently stressful or traumatic events trigger prolonged or too intense exposure to these chemicals, they create something like a chemical burn on your amygdala, the CEO of fear/protection system. At the very least, this can cause us to feel every stressor more acutely. Making it harder to respond in a calm. Rational way. If anxiety persists, the amygdala blasts chemicals at another part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stores emotional memories.

If the amygdala is the CEO of your fear/protection system, the hippocampus is the board secretary. While the amygdala is triggered in the presence of a threat, its the hippocampus’ job to “take notes” and remember that a particular event was anxiety-producing the past. The next time you encounter that same event, or even something remotely similar, the hippocampus triggers the amygdala and reminds you that you “should” feel anxious—even if there is no practical immediate threat present.

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For more on understanding and overcoming your anxiety

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Calming down this threat system in our brain is an important aspect to overcoming burn out and finding peace.

Here are three ways to recover from burn out:

Be aware of your physical signs of stress—Stress shows up in our body (i.e. tight muscles, sweaty palms, wrinkled forehead) before our brain is willing to admit to itself that it’s stressed (i.e. feeling stressed/overwhelmed/anxious). Be conscious of these physical signs and when you start to notice your muscles tensing, or your breath becoming shorter/your chest feeling tighter or heavier. Focus on relaxing these physical responses to stress through rolling out your shoulders, stretching your neck, or taking slow deep breaths in order to decrease the stress chemicals in your brain before they take over your feelings.

Take breaks—Taking breaks from stress to do things that occupy you mentally and physically is a great way to decrease anxiety. Go for a walk while counting how many runners or cars you see, engage in a brief exercise break like doing 25 sit ups or 15 pushups, or take deep breaths as you say a short prayer. These breaks are not about finding long escapes from stress, but instead focus on taking down your anxiety in your environment.

Focus on Controllables—Increased anxiety often leads to a sense of powerlessness. We often focus on what we can’t control or what we wish we could do which leads to greater anxiety due to a heightened sense of a perceived threat in our brain. Focusing instead on what we can control—such as our responses, our breathing, our next step towards a solution—we are able to decrease the level of perceived threat and subsequently decrease our anxiety.

If you want more tips or greater support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

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!

The Rite of Christian Relationships–Conventional Discipline VS. Discipleship Discipline

In most households, the word “discipline” suggests an adversarial relationship. My child is “out to get me” and it’s my job to get them under control.

Discipleship Discipline directly challenges this antagonistic, fallen, and hopeless view of the parent-child relationship.

In Discipleship Discipline, you and your child are not adversaries. You are your child’s mentor. Your child is your disciple. Your job is not to control your child. It is to lovingly teach, guide, and shepherd your child to a responsible, graceful adulthood.

In conventional discipline, children misbehave because they are bad and out to get you. From a Discipleship Discipline perspective, children misbehave because they have either gotten stuck in their emotional brain (instead of their thinking brain) and/or they genuinely don’t know what to do. In either case, they don’t need someone yelling at them and punishing them into submission. They need someone to lovingly help them calm down, get back into their thinking brain, and learn/practice what to do.

Conventional discipline depletes the parent’s emotional bank-account with their child. Both parent and child leave these exchanges frustrated and suspicious of each other. More often than not, Discipleship Discipline contributes to the emotional bank account. The parent feels satisfied with their ability to teach their child how to handle a difficult situation better. The child feels grateful to have a parent who can patiently teach them how to handle themselves and the challenges they face more effectively.

Conventional discipline is always looking for things I can do to my kids to “make” them behave. It demands a constant quest for Holy Grail Techniques I can use on my kids. Discipleship Discipline seeks to cultivate a mentoring relationship between me and my child. It makes me want to put in the time to really understand my child’s heart and makes my child want to turn to me for help and advice.

Conventional discipline treats children as a problem to be solved. Discipleship Discipline recognizes that children are people who need to be loved and compassionately shepherded.

Conventional discipline focuses on “getting my kid to behave.” Discipleship Discipline focuses on “raising my child to be a godly young man or woman.”

Discipleship Discipline is a key component of the spirituality of the Domestic Church. It reminds parents and children that this is more to their relationship and it calls parents and children to be more than they are. It is a powerful witness to the world of the difference that Christian households are called to live.

To learn more, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Set Your Child Up For Success: The Relationship Between Attachment Style and Financial Well-Being

We all want the best for our children: for them to succeed, be happy, and be their best selves. But did you know that you can even have an influence on your child’s financial security later in life simply through the way that you parent? 

A study out of the University of Arizona found that “people with high attachment anxiety and people with high attachment avoidance both reported low life satisfaction and low relationship satisfaction. Those with attachment anxiety also reported low financial satisfaction.” 

Likewise, the study revealed that those with high anxious or avoidant attachment—both types of insecure attachment—“engage in more irresponsible financial behaviors.”

Often as parents we feel that there are only certain areas of our children’s lives that we can truly influence. But in reality, focusing on fostering healthy attachment with our children can set them up for long term success in all areas of their lives—even down to their financial security and success as adults. 

Here are a few ways to cultivate healthy, secure attachment with your children:

Respond Promptly and Consistently—starting as early as birth, we can begin to set our children up for a lifetime of success by responding to their cries, needs, and concerns promptly and consistently. Research shows that babies who are responded to by their parents in a way that is loving, generous, prompt, and consistent develop a stronger and healthier sense of self, greater independence, as well as more positive relationships and coping strategies than those whose  needs were not met in such ways. 

Date Your Kids—Spending one on one time with our kids in both big and small ways helps our children develop a greater sense of identity and self worth. Sometimes it feels difficult or even impossible to get time with each of our kids to go out to dinner one on one, go to a movie together, or attend an event with them. But while these larger ways of spending time with our kids are important and wonderful when possible, we don’t have to wait for an entirely free day or evening to spend one on one time with our kids. Spending 15 minutes to take a walk with one of our children, running to grab coffee, or joining with them and doing chores together instead of separately are just a few ways we can spend quality time with our kids on a daily basis. 

Physical Affection—When we hug our kids (or anyone for that matter) our physical bodies—such as heart rate, respiratory rate, etc.—sync up. When we do this often with our kids through hugs, cuddling, gentle/loving touches, we are helping them learn how to emotionally regulate and we are creating the bond of healthy, secure attachment.

For more information on how to cultivate secure attachment in your children and set your kids up for success, check out Parenting With Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids!

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.

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.

Feeding Your Teenager’s Faith

Faith evolves in stages. Knowing how to foster your teenager’s faith begins with understanding the unique spiritual food that nourishes an adolescent’s faith-development.

Teens occupy what’s called the “Synthetic-Conventional” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Relationship & Mission Stage”

Teens are focused on figuring out their place in the world. So, they tend to believe something is “true” if it facilitates their relationships and helps them feel like they can make a difference. In the same way, they believe something’s “false” if it complicates their relationships or seems to be a source of conflict and division in their lives.

When parents focus too much on what our faith doesn’t allow us to do, or who our faith doesn’t allow us to hang out with, teens get the message that faith is an obstacle to either having relationships or discovering their purpose. The stronger they feel that way, the more likely it is that they’ll fight against the faith–or reject it altogether.

Instead of becoming too focused on the “Thou Shalt Not’s,” concentrate on giving your teens experiences that prove their faith can help them have fulfilling relationships AND make a positive difference in some way.

The most important way to do that is to make sure your teens see how your Catholic faith is having a positive impact in your home and family life. They need to see that your faith is helping you get along better–and care for each other more–than other families that don’t live the faith the way you do. Additionally, it’s important to help teens find faithful peers they can associate with, and causes they can put their faith and energy behind.

The more you can help your teen discover how their faith can enable them to build strong relationships and a healthy sense of mission, the more you’ll be giving your teens the spiritual food they need to grow into a faithful adulthood.

Want more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith? 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!