Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Are "Good Kids" The Goal Of Catholic Parenting?

Several years ago, the Los Angeles Times published an Op-Ed on secular family values, suggesting that children raised in non-religious homes are just as likely as their religious peers to develop "positive traits and virtues." It made me question my motives as a Catholic parent. Am I just raising my kids Catholic as an attempt to have "good" kids? But research says faith isn't necessary for that...

And it's true. My non-religious friends from childhood internalized the Golden Rule and treated others with justice and mercy just as consistently as my weekly-church-going friends. Even without God, they were genuine, kind, and just plain likable. And now, twenty years later, most of these religiously-unaffiliated friends—at least the same percentage as my Christian peers—are moral, upstanding, generous participants in the community.

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised that Christians don't have a monopoly on moral conscience. The Catechism teaches that every person has access to an internal compass of virtue, quoting Gaudium et Spes:

"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (CCC 1776)

So why bother with our Sunday morning services, prayers before meals, family rosaries, parish socials, and Bible studies if the moral law is available to anyone and everyone, without any formal religious experience?

For one, whether our conscience is formed under secular or religious influences, it is not infallible. The still, small voice within us must be regularly examined, informed, and enlightened. While faith isn't necessary in this process, we receive help, as Catholics, through the Word of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the good counsel of others, and church teaching (CCC 1785).

Mass is also an immersive opportunity for moral formation. The Penitential Rite helps us examine our conscience as we acknowledge our failures. The Liturgy of the Word helps us form our conscience as we listen to Scripture. And throughout the Mass, we receive a concrete example of how to live in good conscience as we contemplate Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Still, the LA Times article warns that binding our moral framework to a single group can unintentionally backfire. What happens when a community that identifies as Christian doesn't bear the earmark of love? That answer can be found in the number of online support groups for "Exvangelicals" and "Deconstructing Catholics." All it takes is an awful experience with a clique-ish youth group, an angry church leader, an exclusive parish, or a dysfunctional religious family (with the necessary caveat that every family is a little dysfunctional, right?) for someone to question the entire moral structure of their associated Christian community.

One non-religious parent shared her concern with the LA Times:

“If your morality is all tied in with God... ...what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children… no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

So is it worth the risk, as Catholic parents, to raise our kids in the faith, if a bad church experience could actually harm their internal moral compass? Or what if, after all these years of catechesis, our kids still choose a destructive path as adults?

The painful reality of negative religious experiences cannot be ignored, whether it's caused by the institutional church, a local community, a family, or even a well-meaning individual who speaks out of turn. (Admittedly, this has been me, and I'm deeply, deeply sorry.) For those who have been hurt by religion, I believe Jesus leaves the 99 and pursues each one to the place they've found as refuge and sits with them in the wilderness for as long as they need. (This has also been me, and maybe, it's been all of us, chased out to the wilderness at one time or another by those who claim to represent God. If you're there now, I know it's difficult. I'm sorry. I hope it can somehow be a place of rest and healing.)

As Catholic parents, our highest purpose is not to teach our kids every jot and tittle of the moral law, despite having access to a 2,000-year-old library of Sacred Tradition to help us out. Even if we could somehow teach them every rule, the highest purpose of Catholic parenting is still not to enforce it all.

Our greatest purpose, as Catholic parents, is to introduce our kids to the Author of the universal truth within us. The innate "sense of moral goodness" within each of us is a way of coming to know God (CCC 33). Accordingly, our conscience is much more than just a storehouse of good values. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the work of our conscience, analyzing the gradation of goodness or truth or virtue in an act, is actually a search for ultimate good, "and this we call God" (ST, I. Q2. A3).

Catholic parenting means connecting our kids to God, teaching them how to listen, dialogue and wrestle with the Spirit of God. When we bring our kids to Mass, pray with them, discuss Scripture, jump through all the bureaucratic hoops for sacraments, and volunteer in the parish or community as a family, we're helping our kids encounter the Eternal.

To be honest, one of my hopes in raising our kids in the Catholic Church is that they'll be "good" kids—kind, generous, just, and all the other virtues, even as I recognize that children from any background, religious or not, can develop similar well-formed consciences. However, my ultimate hope, as a Catholic parent, is that these childhood faith experiences will enkindle a curiosity in my kids' souls to help them connect deeply and genuinely with God.

Of course, there are many reasons to raise kids Catholic. What are some of yours?


*Also published 11/2020 at CatholicMom.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

When Patriotism Isn't A Virtue

Catholic Americans seem to revel in polarization. Our country's two-party political system, which siphons the electorate into severely limited options, certainly doesn't help. But there's an accompanying divisive insistence, particularly among Catholics, that one secular party or the other holds exclusive claim to virtue and love for our homeland.

What we overlook in these claims of virtuous patriotism are integral components of piety and charity. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "piety is a protestation of the charity we bear towards our parents and country."

Imagine if our children spoke to us with the same tone we exercise in online political comment feeds. Has your 8-year-old ever passive-aggressively expressed concern for your eternal damnation? How effective has that been in furthering parent-child dialogue?

Comparing filial dialogues to patriotic ones is not far fetched: the Catechism addresses patriotism in its exegesis on the Fourth Commandment"Honor your father and mother"—as an expression of filial piety to our fatherland. This means, as in a family, our interactions are meant for charity and the common good of all members, leading to growth in reverence toward our parents and, by extension, our fellow citizens and homeland (and ultimately, God).

Endless online pseudo-dialogue only compounds our poor practice of patriotism. Pope Francis addresses this failure of social networks to facilitate meaningful conversation in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:

"Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable. These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone. But monologues engage no one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory."

Why are Catholic comboxes some of the most vicious places on the Internet when it comes to politics? We miss countless opportunities to contemplatively turn issues under the light of church teaching when we compulsively pitch them left or right instead.

Please read the rest over at Where Peter Is.

Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash

Monday, October 26, 2020

Always, In Every Place: A Reflection on the Solemnity of All Saints

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, November 1, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

We celebrate a different saint nearly every day of the year. Some days, such as St. Patrick's on March 17, are more popular than others. (Anyone remember St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil on October 19?)

With such a crowded liturgical calendar, is All Saints Day just a catch-all feast for leftover saints?

We might try to put a number to it: 800 or 1,700 or 10,000 "official" canonized saints. Or in this week's First Reading, St. John references 144,000 Israelites in heaven:


"I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the children of Israel." 

(Revelation 7:4)


But it's St. John's next revelatory insight that best captures the spirit of All Saints Day: 


"...I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue…" 

(Revelation 7:5)


On November 1, we celebrate every saint, known and unknown, from every time and place in history. And we're not just celebrating that they've made it to heaven, but that all of us can


This week's Responsorial Psalm describes saints in the making: 


"Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face." 


Do I long to see God's face? Do I long to be in God's presence?


Our Second Reading from 1 John helps us further understand what it means to be a saint. To become a saint, we are—


Loved by God: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us…" (1 John 3:1)


Walking by faith: "...what we shall be has not yet been revealed…" (1 John 3:2)


Trying to imitate God: "...we shall be like him…" (1 John 3:2)


Living in hope: "...has this hope based on him…" (1 John 3:3)


Do I see myself as God's beloved? Do I try to imitate God's love for others, living in virtues of faith and hope?


Finally, in this week's Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a new standard for sainthood. Maybe, as we listen to the Beatitudes, we're surprised to hear that eternity with God isn't based on someone's place in church hierarchy, name recognition, or number of theology degrees.


"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 

(Matthew 5:3)


The first condition for sainthood is to simply realize we're too spiritually poor to even reach heaven without God's mercy in the first place. The Penitential Rite, prayers we say at the beginning of each Mass, and examinations of conscience are regular reminders of our spiritual poverty: 


"I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do…"


"May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life." 


Jesus lists seven more blessings for those who desire sainthood, an eternity with God in heaven:


"Blessed are they who mourn… the meek… they who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the clean of heart… the peacemakers… they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me…" 

(Matthew 5:3-12) 


Who comes to mind when you hear the Beatitudes? A particular saint? A family member who's passed away? Perhaps a friend? How can I better live the Beatitudes?


"Always, in every place, one can become a saint, that is, one can open oneself up to this grace, which works inside us and leads us to holiness… Every state of life leads to holiness, always! In your home, on the street, at work, at church, in that moment and in your state of life, the path to sainthood has been opened." 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed (Mary's Seventh Sorrow)

Two people show up unexpectedly as Jesus dies on the cross.

They're late in coming—but not too late.

It's Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two of Jesus' secret disciples. To this point, they've only met privately with Jesus for fear that his friendship would destroy their hard-earned reputations and high rank on the Council. But in the final hours of Jesus' life, something changes.

Not only do Nicodemus and Joseph publicly identify as Jesus' followers, they ask Pilate for his body and then provide everything that's needed for Jesus' anointing and burial. Their actions passionately declare: I know this man. I love him. I bless him.

This is the final post in a series on Mary's Seven Sorrows as reflected in our seven basic human desires. This week we consider Mary's Seventh Sorrow, Placing Our Lord in the Tomb, in light of our basic human desire to be blessed.

To be blessed is for someone to see us as special and beloved. Surely Mary always had this regard for Jesus. From the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel first described Jesus to Mary—"the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God"—she believed in the unique goodness of her Son. How profoundly deep her sorrow as she buries the One who blessed her, who knew her and loved her better than any other. And now, as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea help with the entombment, they confirm a similar deep friendship with Jesus: yes, this is someone special, and we love him.

Are you blessed by someone in your life, someone who sees you, knows you, and loves you just for who you are? 

"Affirmations are about what we do, [and] blessings are about who we are," Mark and Debra Laaser write in Seven Desires, explaining how our desire to be affirmed differs from our desire to be blessed. "...This desire to be blessed may be our deepest, most primal need."

When we realize that we are blessed—known and loved exactly for who we are—it's a nourishing comfort deep in our souls.

At Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River, He receives a blessing from God the Father. Jesus is blessed, not for any miracles He's performed or wisdom He's shared, but simply for who He is:

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Our first experience of blessing should be from our parents. Do you remember your parents delighting in you? As a parent, how can I comfort my children with the assurance of my blessing?

When we're unsure if we are blessed, unsure if we're loved for who we are, we might question if we're really worthy of love. It can lead to sadness, anger, and insecurity over whether we are enough.

Did you know that God blesses you? God knows you and likes you. God delights in you.

Did you know we can bless the Lord? God is blessed by our desire to know him, our love for him, and our delight in him.

"Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!"

When life is difficult—seasons of discouragement, loss, disappointment, isolation, sickness, even death—may we experience blessing, God's interminable love for us, as a deep, sustaining comfort.

When life is joyful—like the party that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary must have hosted when their friend Jesus, whom they so lovingly buried three days earlier, came back to life on the first Easter Sunday—may our celebrations spring from the comfort of blessing deep in our souls, the assurance we are seen, known, and loved by God.


Posts In This Series:

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed


Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Parish.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sorrow, Presence, & The Desire To Be Heard And Understood (Mary's Sixth Sorrow)

While Scripture doesn't detail the transition from Jesus' death to his burial, centuries of tradition contemplate the sorrow of Mary receiving her son's body from the cross.
I wonder if John and Mary Magdalene considered pulling Jesus' mother away until after his body was wrapped for burial; wouldn't an up-close experience with her son's tortured body overwhelm Mary? Oftentimes, if a victim's body is badly damaged, a medical examiner will protect family members with only discrete opportunities to view or touch part of the body. 
And yet, Mary holds her precious son's body, grieving at the brutality of his death, while also aware that this story isn't over. After 33 years of presence, listening with her heart, pondering one strange occurrence after another in the life of her son, Mary understands, even in her sorrow, that something bigger is happening here. 
This is the sixth post in a series on how Mary's Seven Sorrows reflect our seven basic human desires. Consider the Sixth Sorrow, Mary Receives Christ's Body from the Cross, in light of our basic human desire to be heard and understood
At Jesus' death, his followers were confused and despondent. Many had fled. Perhaps they were thinking, "What was it all for? What a waste." 
But Mary recalled Jesus' warnings about what was to come. She remembered Simeon's prophecy that her heart would be pierced. She knew Jesus had allowed himself to be scourged, mocked, crucified, killed. And she must have connected, as her Magnificat declares in Luke 1, that all of this was somehow part of God's promise to Abraham nearly 2,000 years earlier.
Even as chaos and sadness descend on the scene, Mary's intentional presence throughout Jesus' life helped her hear and understand her Son. 
Was there someone in your childhood who really listened and understood? So often, when one of my kids begins to talk, I hold up a finger of pause: "Not now… I'm busy… I'm on the phone… I'm tired… I just talked with you five minutes ago… Can you just give me a moment?" What about as an adult? Can you recall a time when someone really listened intently as you shared?
When we're repeatedly ignored or misheard, we might begin to think our concerns and ideas don't matter. We might stop trying to communicate altogether—why bother if no one's listening? We might start shouting our thoughts in an attempt to make ourselves heard. We might talk quickly without stopping, afraid to lose control of an opportunity to speak. When children feel unheard, they often resort to tantrums, yelling, flailing, and acting out. 
How do I respond when I feel unheard? Talk louder? Talk more? Talk angrily? Do I stop trying to talk altogether? 
How can I more intentionally be present to hear and understand others? As a parent, how can I help my child feel heard and understood? 
 
Pieta
Michelangelo / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)



Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.
*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Sorrow, Loss, & The Desire To Be Included (Mary's Fifth Sorrow)

Jesus' dying words were a gift of community to those He loved most:

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 

'Woman, behold, your son.'

Then he said to the disciple, 

'Behold, your mother.'" 

(John 19:26-27)


As Mary's physical motherhood ends with Jesus' death, He asks her to begin a spiritual motherhood, not just for John, but for any, for all, who might desire to slip their name into Scripture as "the disciple whom [Jesus] loved." (John wrote several opportunities in his Gospel account for readers to substitute their names as "the beloved disciple" of Jesus. See John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.) 


This is the fifth post in a series on how Mary's Seven Sorrows reflect our seven basic human desires. Consider the desire to be included in light of Mary's Fifth Sorrow, Jesus Dies on the Cross. 


As Jesus died, He created a community, a spiritual family, for his disciples that continues even today. And Mary, recognizing her unique relationship with Jesus wasn't meant to be exclusive, expands her motherhood; she desires to include anyone in need of a spiritual mother.


Each of us longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Are there groups in your life where you know that you belong no matter what? Sometimes we pretend to be different than we are to feel included. Sometimes we exclude others to feel more secure in our own inclusion. 


Our first experience of community is within our family. As a child, did you feel included in your family? Did you feel known, welcomed, and included in your early church experiences? Sometimes a bad encounter at church makes us think God is exclusive—definitely not interested in someone like me.


But Jesus loves community. He said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Anywhere and anytime we get together, Jesus desires to be present and included. Do you believe God wants a friendship with you that's deeply genuine, that goes far beyond "polite-dinner-conversation" into honesty, vulnerability, and true inclusion? 


When Jesus died, Mary responded to his invitation to community by opening her heart to all as a spiritual mother. How will I respond? Are there ways I can open my heart to include others, to create communities where people feel invited and welcomed?


As a parent, how can I meet my child's need to be included?





Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Sorrow, Suffering, & The Desire To Be Touched (Mary's Fourth Sorrow)

An encounter between Jesus and Mary on the way to Calvary, the place where Jesus would be crucified, is not recorded in Scripture. However, John 19 confirms Mary was present during Jesus' final suffering, and tradition has long held she met him as He carried his cross.


Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary

GualdimG / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)


What a moment of respite for Jesus, to find a caring face among an angry crowd.


It's said that the soldiers jeered at Mary when she met Jesus in his suffering; they labeled her a failure as a mother. Why else would her son be executed by the state? 


I wonder if Mary and Jesus could hear each other amidst the noise of accusations, torture, and heckling. Even so, a momentary touch between them could communicate a lifetime of truth more loudly than any words: You are a good mother. You are a good son. I believe in you. I love you. I support you.


Positive physical touch is a powerful human connection: it can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress; it can calm and comfort a crying baby; it can express deep sentiment when words fall short; it can bring solidarity in suffering. 


This is the fourth post in a series on the seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Today, we consider our basic human desire to be touched as we reflect on the Fourth Sorrow, Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary.


Every person desires honest, positive touch. It's a manifestation of mutual love and affection in a relationship. Do you remember positive touch as a child? Hugs, high fives, snuggling, kisses, holding hands, gentle guidance through daily tasks… 


In the Gospel scriptures, Jesus constantly reaches out to others in affirming, gentle ways: for Peter's sick mother-in-law, "He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up" (Mark 1:31); for Jairus' dead child, He "took her by the hand, and the little girl arose" (Matthew 9:25); for two blind men, He "touched their eyes… and their eyes were opened" (Matthew 9:29-30); for the disciples, "he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash [their] feet" (John 13:5); for children, "he took [them] in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:16). 


In the sacraments, we still experience this physical interaction modeled by Jesus -- a gentle touch, sometimes with water or oil -- that reveals and communicates a spiritual reality. 


Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash


Touch is a healthy, normal part of our humanity that can be used to express love, affirmation, and even healing. However, touch can also be used in negative, harmful, or dissonant ways, for example, when Judas kissed Jesus, not as a reflection of their strong friendship, but as a signal of betrayal to the Roman soldiers (Mark 14:44). When we experience the harm of negative touch, healing is needed to restore our trust in good touch, to heal our hearts and minds. Professional counselors or therapists are an invaluable resource for help in this healing.


As we reflect on Mary's Fourth Sorrow, a brief encounter with her tortured Son shortly before his death, may the Lord help us reflect on our own desire to be touched in positive, affirming ways. As a parent, we might ask, how can I help my child experience healthy physical affirmation of my love?


Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash




Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Lives of Good Fruit: A Reflection on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, October 4, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

Do the everyday moments of my life create good fruit? And what does the Bible even mean comparing people to produce

Good fruit is described as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" in Galatians 5. How can I produce that kind of fruit in my life? 


We see that God works first, preparing the land, planting good vines, anticipating a good crop, in this Sunday's Old Testament reading:


"...he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press." (Isaiah 5)


And so, every life is an opportunity to produce something good. In the Responsorial Psalm, we picture ourselves as a vine, recognize our frailty, and ask the Lord's protection and restoration: 


"O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see, take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted… give us new life… restore us." (Psalms 80)


Jesus tells the parable of abusive caretakers in this Sunday's Gospel. They lease a vineyard while the owner is away on a journey, but rather than receive their due harvest and offer the rest to the One who prepared and planted the vineyard in the first place, the temporary tenants become proud, presumptuous, and greedy. They kill anyone who threatens their power ‒ even the vineyard owner's son. 


When I think of my own life's vineyard, the people and responsibilities entrusted to me, am I humble enough to realize that I'm caring for what is not my own? That someday, I will need to make an accounting to God for how I treat others and for the fruit I produce? 


Thankfully, we read in this Sunday's New Testament scriptures a guaranteed way to produce good fruit: 


"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4


St. Paul doesn't just promise us good fruit and peace of heart when we meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, or praise-worthy. St. Paul promises us the God of peace, God's very presence with us in our daily work to produce good fruit.


In my current circumstances, where do I need God's peace?


Lord, help me to see the opportunities you give me to produce good fruit today. God of peace, be with me.


*For this Sunday's Mass readings, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen (Mary's Third Sorrow)

 "Can you find me in this photo, Mom? Can you point to me?" 

It's a game easily ignored on any busier morning, but Providence and a rainy day made me unusually amenable, so I let myself get tugged from picture to picture around the house. My chirpy 4-year-old beamed as we treasure-hunted together, searching for his small image in our crowded family photos.


One of our basic human desires is to be chosen: for someone to see us, know us, like us, and desire a special relationship with us. Do you remember feeling chosen as a child? 


Maybe your parents told you they were happy you were born. Maybe someone took time to listen to your joke or story. Maybe they took you on a special trip or planned a day just for the two of you or wrote you a letter or called you just to chat. 


When we experience the joy of being chosen, it affirms great truth: I am unique, I have great worth, my life has purpose. When our desire to be chosen goes unmet, it can cause us to believe lies about ourselves: I'm not special, lovable, smart enough, attractive enough, nice enough, rich enough, professional enough, perfect enough… 


This is the third post in a series on the seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Today, let's consider our basic human desire to be chosen as we reflect on Mary's Third Sorrow, The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple


In Luke 2, we read Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover when he was 12 years old. On the return trip home, Mary and Joseph search for Jesus in their crowded caravan of friends and family for a full day only to realize they've left him behind in Jerusalem. It takes them another two days to find Jesus in the temple, conversing with an astonished and captivated group of religious leaders.


In Mary and Joseph's search for Jesus, we see the passion of a mother and father desperate to find a beloved child. They can't give up. They can't just bring home a different kid. They can't just have a baby and forget about pre-teen Jesus. This loss of their child isn't a void that can be filled by any other child. (Let's rest for a moment in the affirmation that God feels this same way about each of us. Each person is deeply special and unrepeatable to God.)


How affirming for Jesus to see the love of his parents when he was lost to them, to realize how unique and irreplaceably special He is to them. Upon finding Jesus with teachers in the temple, Mary exclaims, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48)


And then, a beautiful reciprocation happens: Jesus also chooses Mary and Joseph.


Despite his longing to be in the temple — a place Jesus feels close to God, his Father, a place He's welcomed and applauded and admired by the teachers, a place they'd surely invite him to stay longer — Jesus chooses instead to go home with Mary and Joseph:


"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51)


It must have been an overwhelmingly joyful experience for Mary and Joseph to be chosen by Jesus. Mary pondered this experience among all of the other holy mysteries she collected in her heart during Jesus' life.


Since the world often chooses those who are particularly spectacular — the most talented, charming, beautiful, well-spoken, useful, accomplished, decorated — we might think we need to be a particular kind of person for God to choose us. But in addition to Mary and Joseph, look at the people Jesus "chose" to be in a special relationship with: social pariahs, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, people angry with the government, people who worked for the government, people dissatisfied with the mainstream religious beliefs of their day… Do you believe God has chosen you also, that God desires a unique, affirming, loving relationship with just you? 


How is the basic human desire to be chosen fulfilled in your life? As a parent, how can you help your child feel chosen, sincerely known and irreplaceably loved by you for who they are? 





Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.