Friday, March 6, 2020

How Can I Pray With My Kids?

"BIBLE TIME!" my kids holler at the end of each day, as we gather in their bedroom.

We call it "Bible Time," but we don't always read the Bible. Sometimes we read a devotional book. Sometimes we pray Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Sometimes we pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or a Rosary

Sometimes I'm so tired that I just lay on the bedroom floor next to our dog and ask my 10-year-old to read the Bible story for us. 



Sometimes we talk about how a Bible character reminds us of someone from school or church or our neighborhood. We marvel how God loves every person, even mean people. We brainstorm how to deal with bullies or impatient bus drivers or teachers who don't seem to like us. 

Sometimes I have to apologize to my kids because the Bible story makes me feel guilty about something from earlier in the day. My kids love hearing me apologize. It always breaks down walls and ends in hugs. And it teaches them how to apologize to each other.

Sometimes I tell my kids all the unique traits that I love about them, and we wonder how God might use them and their special gifts.

"You're so creative! Your art shows me the world in a new way."

"You have extraordinary intuition. Did you know -- you are Jesus' hands and feet when you see others in need and help them?"

"You're great at reaching out to include everyone. Maybe God will call you to be a priest!" 

"You make us laugh." "You give great hugs." "You notice all the details." "You are so organized." "You listen well to your friends." ...

Sometimes there's a scripture verse that none of us understand. "I don't know." "That's a good question." "Why don't you ask your RE teacher this week?" "Maybe we can look it up tomorrow."

Sometimes we read Old Testament stories and gape at the violence. Sometimes we read New Testament letters and reflect on the hope. Sometimes we read Psalms and muse through the poetry. We pause in silence and think about what we read.

Sometimes "Bible Time" lasts 3 minutes. Sometimes "Bible Time" lasts 45 minutes. 

Sometimes the conversation turns serious, about corruption in the Church, secular politics, or war. 

Sometimes the conversation turns silly, about eyeballs or farts or if heaven has video games.

Sometimes we talk about doctrine, hermeneutics, literary techniques, or apologetics, at whatever level they can handle. Mostly, we talk about life.

Sometimes my husband leads Bible Time. Sometimes I lead Bible Time. Sometimes we both lead Bible Time. Sometimes our kids lead Bible Time. 

We end in prayer: "Thank you, Lord, for our day." "Please forgive me for..." "Please give me wisdom for..." "Please take care of my friend... my family member... my teacher..." "Help me have good dreams tonight." "I love you."

Then each child receives a blessing, inspired by Fr Bob Lewandowski from the UNT Catholic Campus Center 20 years ago: "May Jesus Christ bless you, keep you happy, healthy, and holy. Amen!"

Whatever happens in Bible Time -- whether serious or silly, 3 minutes or 45 minutes -- the biggest goal is simply that my kids know, without a doubt, at the end of each day:

They are loved. By God and by me.



Photo by David Beale via Freely, CCO Public Domain.



*Also published March 2020 at CatholicMom and Sacred Heart Blog.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Our Choice: A Reign of Death or To Reign in Life

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, March 1, 2020, via our parish blog

We made an impromptu date night of it -- put the kids to bed early, enjoyed a quiet dinner at the kitchen table, and read through this Sunday's scriptures. Here's what we came up with:

As Lent begins, our readings this week present a choice. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes two options -- a reign of death or a reign in life:
"For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17, emphasis added)
In our reading from the book of Genesis, we see a reign of death begin as Satan tempts the first humans in the Garden of Eden: seeing "the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom," Eve ate the fruit and gave some to her husband, Adam, who was with her (Genesis 3:6).

How can we tell if we're living under a reign of death?


1. We're more easily tempted away from God's best for us; like Adam and Eve, we are easily sidetracked by things that appear filling, beautiful, or powerful.

2. We're more likely to bring others down with us, as Eve did with Adam, offering him the fruit after she ate it.

3. We're more likely to have poor moral support around us, as Adam was for Eve as he stood by, silent and inactive, during Satan's attempt to pull them away from God.

This Sunday's Responsorial Psalm 51 mourns our choices that lead to death; we pray with the scripture, committing ourselves to God's grace: Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Then, in our Gospel reading from the book of Matthew, we see Satan tempt Jesus in a similar way that he deceived Adam and Eve. Will hunger, a beautiful view, and an invitation to immediate power distract Jesus, as it did the first humans? On the contrary, Jesus recalls God's Word and uses it to dismiss Satan's manipulation of Scripture; Jesus' choices lead to a reign in life.

How can we tell if we're reigning in life with Jesus?


1. We hold onto God's Word; if someone tries to twist God's words, as the serpent did with Adam and Eve --

"Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees…?" (Genesis 3:1, emphasis added)
-- we can respond like Jesus, with the accurate words of God, and command him to leave:  
"Get away, Satan!" (Matthew 4:10) 
2. We hold onto God's goodness; we believe that God desires the best for us, and we won't be distracted by Satan's suggestions that anything is more filling, more beautiful, or more powerful than God.

3. We hold onto God; our ultimate Source and Summit, the One who created us and desires good for us, will care for us with tender compassion in times of temptation and distress, just as in Jesus' weakness, angels came to minister to him. (Matthew 4:11)

How can I use this Lenten season to help me better hold onto God's Word, hold onto God's goodness, and hold onto God? How can God's "abundance of grace and gift of justification" help me reign in life with Jesus?


Photo by Daniel Leeves (2016) via Freely, CCO Public Domain.

*Also published 2/23/20 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Was St. Josemaria Escriva a Feminist?

An excerpt from my post at FemCatholic, responding to a reader's question whether Opus Dei and feminism are compatible:

I’ll stop short of declaring St. Josemaría's inevitable endorsement of Catholic feminism out of respect for his repeated refusal to connect Opus Dei to any social or political movement to avoid detraction from his one central focus, Jesus Christ:
“For more than thirty years I have said and written in thousands of different ways that Opus Dei does not seek any worldly or political aims, that it only and exclusively seeks to foster — among all races, all social conditions, all countries — the knowledge and practice of the saving teachings of Christ. … But there will always be a partisan minority who are ignorant of what I and so many of us love. They would like us to explain Opus Dei in their terms, which are exclusively political, foreign to supernatural realities, attuned only to power plays and pressure groups.” (Josemaría Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By 70)
From this uncompromising conviction, Josemaría protected Opus Dei’s primary mission — “the saving teachings of Christ” — by refusing to entangle his organization in any political alliance, liberal or conservative, even when those politics claimed Catholic foundations. 

When Monsignor Giovanni Benelli, a high-ranking Vatican official, attempted to create a Catholic political party in Spain, Escrivá firmly refused any support from Opus Dei. He condemned what he called the “pseudo-spiritual one-party mentality,” insisting that “Opus Dei can never be, in the political life of a country, a kind of political party: there is and always will be room within Opus Dei for all outlooks and approaches allowed by a Christian conscience” (John Allen, Opus Dei 105).

For more perspective on Opus Dei & women, and for my take on this, um, special quote from St. Josemaria --

“Women are responsible for eighty percent of the infidelities of their husbands because they do not know how to win them each day and take loving and considerate care of them.” (Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer, number 107)
-- read the rest at FemCatholic!


Monday, February 17, 2020

St. Josemaria, A Train, & Motherhood

Often, the moment-by-moment intensity of parenting young kids so overwhelms me that I accidentally block God's presence from the everyday ruckus in my life.

Oh, I ask Him to bookend each day -- morning prayer (before the kids get up), examination of conscience as I fall asleep -- but all that mayhem in the middle? There just doesn't seem to be space for Him.

Surely God has more important places to be than in my kitchen in Conroe, Texas, convincing my 3-year-old to wear pants.

Surely He would prefer a quiet church to my loud house...

Or a safe tabernacle to my rough-and-tumble crew...

Or a cloistered convent where everyone's capable of praying without kicking the person next to them!

And yet, St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest and founder of Opus Dei, is helping me realize that God's favorite place to be is simply... wherever we are. In a homily on October 8, 1967, Josemaria counseled:

"There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it… We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things." - St. Josemaria Escriva

We might say, with a little envy, "Well, what would he know? He's just another solitudinous priest who could never comprehend the decibel level of daily life in my household!"

And yet, do you know where St. Josemaria had one of his most profound visions of God? It was on a rush-hour train in Madrid, crowded with passengers.

Maybe Josemaria stood up without a seat, holding an overhead railing; maybe someone repeatedly bumped against him as the train jolted along the tracks; maybe someone on one side chattered nonstop about nothing while someone on the other side grumbled for them to be quiet. That sounds something like motherhood, right?!

Yet, somehow, within the cacophony of that crowded train, St. Josemaria unexpectedly encountered God: in a passing, transcendent moment, he understood God as Father in a way he never had before. Hours earlier, Josemaria had struggled to hear God's voice in the quiet atmosphere of his parish, and yet here on a train, surrounded by the clamorous city of Madrid, Josemaria could hear and understand God with complete clarity. He began to exclaim, "Abba! Father!"

People must have thought he was crazy. Or, I don't know, just another day on the train with weird commuters.

As moms, how many of us, while earnestly living our family vocations in the everyday world, have had others glance our way and wonder, "Is she a little crazy?" 


Every one of us! I have no doubt that every person who has ever taken a small child out in public has experienced the blessed humility of divine vocation crashing into public reality.

In my most hectic days, St. Josemaria's extraordinary encounter with God on a crowded train in Madrid is a comforting thought.

God desires to be fully present with every one of us, wherever we are -- driving in rush hour, praying in Adoration, printing copies at work, with kids at the store, even wiping someone else's pee off the toilet seat for the thousandth time in a week.

God's favorite place to be is… wherever we are.


Where will you discover, as St. Josemaria described, "something holy, something divine" in this hectic, ordinary day?



Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash

*Also published at CatholicMom.com in Feb 2020


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Their Tenderest Years

I tried to take 5 kids, ages 3-9, to Mass by myself last night. 

At one point, I self-consciously carried my 3-year-old, who was quacking intermittently at the rate of a smoke detector's low battery warning, to the back of the church. Not wanting to disrupt the homily with a rambling parade of children through the aisles, I left twin 5-year-olds and an 8-year-old alone in the pew.

"Wow, what a dumb call," every Catholic mother just said in unison.

Yes, yes, of course, it was undoubtedly the dumbest of dumb calls for a mother to make!

But all of us brilliant moms knowing that now sure doesn't help the poor woman last night as she hiked to the back with a quacking 3-year-old while abandoning three children in a pew with nothing but three MagnifiKid! magazines, one hardcover songbook, two precariously-bound missalettes, a burp cloth, a Bible, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and their own imaginations. 

Safely behind the last row of pews, my ducky preschooler began to crawl around a pillar, a minor infraction I could easily ignore -- until he shifted noisily into reverse: "Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep." Surely the homily would end any moment! Catholic liturgy is usually the perfect cover for errant duck quacks and truck horns; it all blends so easily into the joyful noise of collective prayers and singing. But this homily clearly was not ending anytime soon.

Summoning my inner Blessed Mother, I stepped directly into my son's bulldozing path, scooped him into my arms like the expert parent I am, and never once broke eye contact with my trio of well-behaved kids -- such cherubs! -- left alone in our third row pew. Or that's how I imagined it would happen one holy moment before stepping directly onto my baby's bulldozer fingers, instinctively scooping him high into my arms for comfort, and creating a truly statue-worthy "Madonna and Child" moment as his whimpering amplified into a tornado siren howl within the stone echo chamber of our parish nave.

I rushed for the nearest door, my youngest wailing fire engines, and could only hope the best for his three older brothers, now completely unsupervised, in the pew. Unfortunately, the nearest door was also a one-way secured exit to the parking lot.

Determined not to disrupt the [world's longest] homily and gifted with the problem-solving optimism of any Catholic mother at Mass, I wedged one foot in the gap of the closing fire door while deep lunging in a maxi skirt as far from the cracked door as possible to calm my bawling baby.


I don't know what happened next. Did I put him down intentionally? Did he squirm out of my arms? All I saw was his back, running away down the sidewalk. As luck would have it, after whisper-yelling my best threats to "GET BACK IN CHURCH THIS INSTANT," he listened and obeyed his Momma as cheerfully as any three-year-old might, which is to say, not a damn bit.

Divine help arrived in the form of a teenage boy playing hooky from Mass. Realizing my plight -- one foot jammed in the secured exit door of the church while my delirious preschooler spun circles down the sidewalk -- this bemused teenager acted with all the compassion and kindness of Jesus as he chased down my runaway child and held the door open for us to rush, flustered, back into Mass.

From behind all the pews, I could see my pre-kindergarteners' identical bobbleheads as they shoved each other jovially in the third row. It seemed, having rolled up their children's Mass books, they were... sword fighting? My 8-year-old was nowhere in sight.

Panicked, I hustled intemperately down the aisle, toddler on hip, and arrived at our pew on child-abduction high alert only to find my 8-year-old laying on his stomach across four seats of the pew intensively reading his Bible. I'm embarrassed to admit that my annoyance with his posture -- "The pew is not a bed!" -- far outweighed my delight at his captive immersion in scripture.

If I'd waited a second longer before raining down justice, I'm pretty sure I would have glimpsed his guardian angel sitting casually on the kneeler beside him, wings to the homilist, pointing out something absolutely fascinating in whatever passage they were reading.

Instead, I huffily confiscated the 5-year-olds' book-swords, swept the feet of my 8-year-old to the floor, forcing him to a proper sitting position, and returned an armament of songbooks and missalettes to the back of the pew in front of us.

Pausing in a moment of humble realization at my own fault in leaving three young kids without direct supervision in a pew during what would later be confirmed the longest homily ever in the history of homilies, I determined -- with a resolve familiar to anyone who's ever taken an indoor cat on a leash to the parish's outdoor Blessing of Animals on the Feast of St. Francis -- to calm myself down.

The homily, unaffected, meandered on; my 3-year-old quacked; and I lost it.

What's the point of coming to Mass when my kids just can't sit calmly in a pew for an hour? Everyone here must think I'm a terrible parent. If my children can't behave nicely in public, then I just can't bring them to church. 


I gathered up our stuff and led my kids on the long parade of shame to the back of the church. Had my 9-year-old not been altar serving -- there's number five, for anyone counting kids through this story and continually coming up short -- I'm sure we would have left.

It's worth mentioning that I only sensed pity and compassion from those around us. No one shook their heads disapprovingly at my perceived failed parenting. No one nodded in agreement with my choice to give up. Excepting one woman, everyone in the congregation simply accepted with chagrin and a shrug that it was what it was: a futile attempt to bring young kids to Mass.

That one exceptional woman was a family friend sitting on the other side of the church. She sent her husband to meet us in the narthex on our way out and invited my 8-year-old and twin 5-year-olds to sit with them. This mother and her family just spent an entire eternal homily distracted by my family of crazy kids, and rather than smile contently down her row of EIGHT saintly children, she sent her husband to come collect my kids too.

I happily sent them.

For the rest of Mass, I sat in timeout in the narthex with my 3-year-old.


I thought about why "kids behaving nicely in public" seems so important to me at church. Why was I more concerned with my children's reputation than their reverence? And why is it fair to judge a young child's reverence solely by time impositions of posture and stillness?

If God wants us, as adults, to come to Mass in all our messy honesty, how much must He delight in the natural honest presence of our children? We're exhorted, as parents, to "associate [our children] from their tenderest years with the life of the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2225). Surely God is not surprised by the peculiar antics of our kids in their "tenderest years" at Mass!

If there's one consistent theme to my writing, it's the call, especially for Christians, to be genuine. And as a Catholic mom whose husband works nontraditional hours, showing up at Mass with five kids acting like … kids … is as genuine as it gets.


Some Sundays, my kids are impressively robotic in their liturgical presence: sit, stand, kneel, sing, stand, bow, kneel... Other Sundays, I've got sword-fighting five-year-olds, an 8-year-old who's two pillows short a reading nook, an altar-serving 9-year-old, and one foot wedged in the fire door while chasing down a toddler.

To God be the glory. He's always happy to see us.

What does it mean for your family to be genuinely present at Mass? Do you believe God is happy to see you?



Photo by Russell Ward (2015) via Freely.

*Also published January 2020 at CatholicMom.com