- Dr. Joseph White, Author and Speaker
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Happy Feast Day of St. Therese!
The Art of Accompaniment in Faith Formation
Helping Children Understand the Mystery and Meaning of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
Experiencing Lent at Every Age: A Developmental Guide to Lenten Practices
Helping Learners Embrace the Fullness of Catholic Social Teaching


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Happy Feast Day of St. Therese!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, lived in France from 1873 to 1897. Her short life was marked by suffering, first in the loss of her mother at age four, then separation from her older sisters, who joined the convent before Thérèse was old enough to follow, and later by her own slow death of tuberculosis. Despite all the hardships of her 24 years, Thérèse was, by all accounts, a joyful, peaceful soul .

Thérèse wrote her memoirs at the command of her sister, who was her mother superior at the time. She scoffed at the idea that anyone would actually be interested in reading about her life, but her writings quickly circulated around the world. Here was a very ordinary person who had found an extraordinary spirituality in everyday life. Hers was a spirituality of offering even the most mundane tasks to God, and performing them as if working for Christ himself. This was not a new idea, as St. Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.” Still, Thérèse’s straightforward way of applying this principle to her own life served as an inspiration for countless faithful, including the likes of St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, St. Josemaria Escriva, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and even evangelical Protestant Pastor Rick Warren.

I have found St. Thérèse to be a powerful prayer warrior and a faithful friend. When she was dying, she promised she would spend her Heaven "doing good on earth." She has been true to that promise. I invite you to get to know St. Thérèse, if you haven't already, and discover the woman Pope St. John Paul II called the "greatest saint of modern times."

The Art of Accompaniment in Faith Formation

The following is the text of my talk at the NCCL breakfast on June 1, 2018.

Good Morning. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says, and I quote:
The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other. The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.
In the ministry of faith formation, this “art of accompaniment” is essential. If we want to accompany others along the road of faith, we must resist the temptation to call out to them, saying, “Hey what are you doing way over there. Get over here with us.” It is far more effective to go to the other, meet them where they are on the journey and say, “May I walk beside you?”
To do this takes humility. We must understand that God has the same love for each and every one of us. God loves each of us with a full, passionate and unselfish love. In fact, Pope Francis says, God’s love for us is the only bond that unites all of humanity – the one thing each of us has in common with the other.
Accompaniment requires listening with empathy and reflection. In today’s hectic and noisy world, too often we fail to take time with one another, to listen without worrying about what we will say next. Accompaniment means sitting with the other, listening to the words they speak and reflecting on the feelings behind the words. It means recognizing what a gift we are being given when others trust us with their stories.
To accompany others, we must get in touch with the joy and good humor that comes from openness to God’s grace. Pope Francis cautions us against “a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’.” The word he uses in Spanish is “caras de vinaigre” or “vinegar faces.” I think that image says it all. Pope Francis begins every day by praying St. Thomas More’s “Prayer for Good Humor.” It goes like this:
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.

Finally, accompaniment takes courage. The courage to step outside of ourselves. The courage to encounter and accept differences. Pope Francis says that differences are uncomfortable for us because differences make us grow. We will experience some growing pains when we embrace the art of accompaniment. But unless we are willing to grow, we will never become the people God made us to be – the Church God calls us to be.

Helping Children Understand the Mystery and Meaning of Jesus' Death and Resurrection

The mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our faith, and as Catholics, we experience it at every age. Children grow in their ability to understand the Easter story. When children are young, it's best to avoid too much blood and violence in images or videos depicting the Crucifixion. Too many details about Jesus’ passion can be overwhelming and scary for children this age, and we don’t want them to become overly-focused on the more morbid details. Rather, we want them to know Jesus as a loving, and powerful friend who is also God. When discussing Jesus’ suffering and death with children this age, we can say, “Even though Jesus was very kind and good, there were some people who didn’t like him. They were mean and hurt Jesus, and he died. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Because Jesus was God’s Son, he could even beat death. He came back and saw his friends again before going to his father in heaven.” Young children can experience a simplified version of the Stations of the Cross, as long as they have some developmentally appropriate way to experience this devotion — for example, a child’s guide­book. It’s important to keep the Resurrection in mind and fore­shadow this, even as we are talking with kids about Jesus’ death, to continually reassure them that this story had a happy ending.
As children grow, older kids and teens can handle a little more information about the Good Friday story, because they are better able to understand the context. A more traditional version of the Stations of the Cross and similar depictions of Jesus’ suffering are appropriate for this age group, particularly if we can relate Jesus’ own suffering back to our everyday lives. It’s important that children know that doing good sometimes involves sacrifice and suffering. But God is with us and understands suffering because he became a human being who suffered also. And the Resurrection teaches us that, with God, there is an Easter Sunday for every Good Friday.

Experiencing Lent at Every Age: A Developmental Guide to Lenten Practices

If you would like to download a reproducible pdf-version of this article, click here.

In the Catholic Church, Lent is a very special season of “getting ready.” We are called during this time to make ourselves ready to celebrate the greatest mystery of our faith – the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because this mystery is so central to our faith, it’s important that this special time of year be accessible to Catholics of all ages.
Lent is also a time when we are called to stop and allow the Christian mystery to touch our daily lives once again. It’s easy for us to get into our everyday routines and forget that Christianity is not just about what we do on Sunday mornings, but how we live each moment. Nowhere is this more important than at home with our family- the domestic Church.
A proper experience of Lent in the home depends upon the ages and developmental levels of each family member, but centers around three basic Christian practices – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The following is an age-by-age guide to celebrating Lent at home:
Preschool-age children (0-5):
Prayer: This is a good time to renew our commitment to daily family prayer. We know that we should prayer together regularly as a family, but we often let our hectic schedules get in the way of regular family prayer. For preschool-age children, short and simple prayers are best. Because prayer is conversation with God, we want children to understand what they are praying and mean what they pray. The sign of the cross and other short simple prayers are a good start for children this age. We also want to assist them in praying in their own words.  Creating a simple family altar with a few sacred items such as a crucifix (nothing too gory for children this age), a candle and a few other sacred objects can provide a focal point for family prayer where children can visit each day and say, “I love you, Jesus.”
Fasting: Preschool-age children are not required to fast, but they might benefit from the experience of the transition between scaled-down family meals and celebrations during Lent and the more festive season of Easter. Use Lent as a time to plan more simple meals and family activities – for example, a soup and salad dinner and family game night, versus dinner at a restaurant and a family outing.
Almsgiving: Because children this age are very concrete and need to experience something to understand it well, the meaning of giving money can sometimes be lost on them (and besides, they can’t do much to earn money anyway). For this reason, simple acts of service like visiting a home-bound family member or drawing pictures for a teacher or family friend can help the preschooler have some experience of giving to others.
Elementary School age children (6-12): 
Prayer: A mealtime prayer or Scripture can help children this age experience this aspect of Lent. Allowing children a turn to lead the family in prayer can be a good way to engage children. Many parishes and dioceses distribute Lenten prayers for before and after meals, and others are available online. 
Fasting: While fasting is not a requirement for children this age, it is good for them to begin to experience “giving something up” for the good of someone else. For example, a child who usually gets candy or s treat when shopping or going out to eat can be encouraged to forego that special treat and donate the money to the poor (or put it in a Lenten offering box). 
Almsgiving: Parents may wish to consider offering children this age odd jobs they can use to earn extra money to donate tot he poor. Or better yet, children could use their earnings to purchase canned goods to donate to local food pantries, many of which experience decreased donations during this season of the year.
Teens (13-18):
Prayer: Encourage teens to keep a prayer journal during Lent, either in written form, or online (e.g., a Facebook entry with one thing they are thankful for each day of Lent). Parents might also wish to encourage teens to take a leadership role in preparing prayer experiences for the family. Also, consider attending Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent.
Teens ages 14 and up have reached the age in which they are asked to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent. Those 18 and older are also asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition to these disciplines,  encourage your teen to think creatively, and to give up something that truly is a sacrifice, and also to make a commitment they can uphold. Self-sacrifice is sometimes frowned upon in contemporary popular culture, but the self-discipline that is gained by practicing delay of gratification is a valuable asset in achieving most anything worthwhile.
Almsgiving: Encourage your teen to put aside a portion of his or her allowance (or earnings for a part-time job) to a charity or cause about which he or she feels passionate. Teens are also sometimes able to volunteer their time and talents to assist others. Depending on your teen’s interests and abilities, a gift of service would be another way to experience this season.
No matter what our age, Lent is an important time to re-focus, to prepare to grow in new ways as we experience the message and meaning of our Faith. May God bless you and your family as you keep this important season in the life of our Church.

Helping Learners Embrace the Fullness of Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic social teaching transcends the boundaries of politics and secular ideologies. In today's very politically-polarized environment, how can we form children and teens to proclaim and live the beauty of our Catholic faith, from caring for all Creation to defending the life and dignity of the human person? In the video below, I address these questions with 5 practical ways to form learners who live the faith. If you would like an outline for the video, click here:

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Helping Kids and Teens Embrace the Fullness of Catholic Social Teaching
A workshop for catechists and teachers on forming kids and teens in the 7 principles of Catholic Social teaching articulated by the U.S. Bishops in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

For DREs: A Fresh Start in Faith Formation

As the culture around us focuses on resolutions for the New Year, let us pause to consider ways we can make a mid-year “fresh start” in our catechetical ministry. The work of a catechetical leader is never done. (In fact, I’ve heard some people joke that DRE stands for “directly responsible for everything!) Starting new initiatives are difficult in the fall when catechetical leaders are busy with so many beginning of the year details. Consider doing something different, beginning in January. Here are a few suggestions:
1.     Engage your parish staff in a weekly prayer meeting or a study series. This might be a good time to plan for a staff study of a book during the weeks of Lent. Or perhaps you could agree to meet at 3 pm every Friday to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
2.     Plan a new gathering for families in the coming calendar year. Perhaps this could be a one-time event around your parish patron saint’s feast day or on another occasion in the Church calendar. Or perhaps you could host a potluck of religious education families.
3.     Reflect on one way you could “dive deeper” in your own faith life. We cannot share with others what we do not have. How can you grow in this new year in your own faith life – perhaps through reading a good book, taking a theology class, or spending more time in prayer?
Don’t try to tackle everything at once, but use this new year to do just one thing that’s different. A fresh start can give us new results and a renewed spirit! 

A Catholic Insider's Guide to Paris

The City of Lights is a delight for many, but especially for Catholics. Here are my tips to seeing the sights:

A word about the Metro – Take the Metro. It’s fast and efficient, and taxis will cost
you a fortune in Paris. All you need to know is that when you get on, the direction is
named by the final stop in that direction, so for example, you are either taking the
line 4 in the direction of Place de Clingancourt (north) or in the (south) direction of
Mairie de Montrouge. If you find that you got on going the wrong direction, simply
get off and cross to the other side and you’ll be going the right way. So to find
something on the Metro, just look first at the stop you want to get to, and then the last stop in the direction you need to go. Go to the side of the Metro station that is labeled with that last stop in the direction you need to go. When you see the lines cross on the map, that’s where you can transfer to another line.

Also, French people aren’t really rude or snooty. It’s just that Americans don’t know
the basics of French manners. When going to a shop, you always greet the
shopkeeper when you enter (“Bonjour”) and say goodbye when you leave (“Au
Revoir” – that’s pronounced like “Oh Ruh-VWAH”). You would never just ask them
where something is without saying hello first. Otherwise you haven’t acknowledged
their personhood (That’s a Catholic value for sure.)

Most people speak some English, but will act like they don’t sometimes if you
assume. Be a little apologetic (It’s THEIR country after all.) And if you can start with
a Bonjour, that will go a long way. Say, Excuse me (“Pardonnez Moi” pronounced like
“ParDUNnay mwah”) and then ask if they speak English – bonus points if you can ask
that in French: “Parlez-vous Anglais?” pronounced like, “Parlay vu ongLAY.”

Two things about restaurants – First, sodas are VERY expensive (up to 7 or 8 euros,
and that’s closer to 8 or 9 dollars)! That’s because the French don’t think sodas go
with meals – except at the fast food places like McDonalds or Quik. I recommend
water or wine – both will be cheaper. Second, the French consider it rude to bring
you the check too soon. It’s like they are rushing you out – and the French come to
restaurants to relax and talk. That’s why it seems like the service it poor, they never
bring you the check, etc. You have to ask. Just flag them down and say, “L’addition si
vous plait!"

Now the sights:

Eiffel Tower: There is a Metro stop called Bir-Hakim/Tour Eiffel that is near the
Eiffel Tower. You will be tempted to go to that stop to see the tower, but DON’T. The
best approach to the Eiffel Tower is from the Trocadero stop, because this stop
overlooks the river and the tower from a balcony (very popular view at sunset). As
you approach the tower from there, it’s spectacular, because of the reflecting pool
and the constant view of the tower. Watch your wallet – always keep it in your
front pocket. Be especially careful on the Eiffel tower elevator when people are in
close quarters.

Notre Dame: Notre Dame is on an island in the middle of the city (called “Ile de la
Cite”). It’s easily accessible on the Metro (take the Cite stop). It’s worth going up in
the tower if you can brave the line. Go early if you want to do that. But the best time
to go to Notre Dame is for their sung Vespers. It’s amazing, with beautiful singing
and incense – the whole works. Also, it’s good to see Notre Dame at
night when it’s lit up. It’s spectacular. Nearby on a side street you will find the
entrance to the Latin Quarter – lots of little restaurants and cafes that really come to
life at night.

Sacre Coeur: This is the Basilica on the hill – without a doubt my favorite site in
Paris. This church has had the longest running perpetual adoration in history – since
the 1800s. If you are there on a Sunday, go to the Sunday evening Mass. It’s
amazing and easily the best Mass in Paris. Lots of people and lots of energy! Also, it’s
amazing to see the giant monstrance lowered from the ceiling over the altar just
after Mass for the continuation of Perpetual adoration. Be sure to stay for that!. The
balcony outside Sacre Coeur is the best place to see and photograph the whole city.
It has an amazing view. Take the Funiculaire (a train that goes up a hill, sort of like a
skyride on the ground) up to the balcony (If you get a 5 or 7-day City Pass tourist
Metro ticket, it will work for that also.) The Abbesses stop is the one to take for this.
At the bottom of the hill, watch out for young men who have some kind of
string trick they want you to see. This may be a pickpocket ruse. They are
harmless, but don’t give them any attention. Just say, “No, Merci” and walk around

Chapel of the Miraculous Medal and the body of St. Vincent de Paul: You will
definitely want to see where Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure and asked for
the Miraculous Medal to be struck. The chair Mary appeared in is to the right of the
Altar in the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal (near the Vanneau Metro stop –
Sevres/Babylone is also not too far. The street is Rue de Bac, but the Rue de Bac stop
is a long walk from the two chapels). Also at the Miraculous Medal chapel is the
body of St. Catherine Laboure under glass – pretty amazing! Right around the corner
(nearer to the Vanneau stop) is the Vincentian house, where in their chapel you can
see the body of St. Vincent de Paul – looks like a wax statue, but that’s really him just
over the altar. ) Approach the altar on the left side and you can walk up some steps
behind the altar and see St. Vincent up close. Again, pretty amazing! There’s a
Pauline Bookstore near both of these things where you can get French versions of
Catholic Holy Cards, etc. The Miraculous Medal chapel gift shop also has great stuff.
One of the sisters there will bless the religious articles for you if you ask.

Church of the Madeleine: Take the Metro to the Madeleine stop to see the Church
of the Madeleine (that’s Magdalene in French). This is the oldest church in Paris and
is pretty darn amazing, but what’s even better (and completely unknown to most
tourists) is that the thigh bone of St. Mary Magdalene is behind glass up high to the
right of the altar. If you can’t find it, ask someone. This is the place where they are
most likely to have an English-speaking priest. The priest who showed us was from
Dallas. To the right as you face the church is a side street. About a block or so away
is a dessert café called Fauchon. YOU MUST TRY SOMETHING AT FAUCHON OR YOU
sunset, you will notice that sitting on the steps of the Church of the Madeleine at
sunset is a popular activity, because the lights of the city twinkle in a wonderful way,
and you can see forever.

Musee d’Orsay: I recommend getting advance tickets for this. Yes, I know people
always think of the Louvre, but if you like French Impressionism (Van Gogh, Monet,
Cezanne, Degas), the Louvre is not your museum. Musee d’Orsay is your museum.
Easy to find on the Metro – just take the Musee d’Orsay stop! The street vendors
nearby sell very good sandwiches on fresh baguettes – another inexpensive option
for lunch.

Musee de l’Orangerie: If you like Water Lilies by Monet, the biggest one is here. It
will take your breath away. This museum is located in a nice little park called the
Jardin de Tuileries (look for the Tuileries stop).

Disneyland Paris: You can also take the Metro out to Disneyland, and if you have a
free day, I recommend it. Yes,if you live in the United States, you might be closer to the original, but this is not the original. Disneyland Paris is just outside the city and is
1/3 THE SIZE OF PARIS (yep, hard to believe, but true. This park is spectacular for
its gardens and the way they have really done up the rides and features, including a
castle you can go inside.)

Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees: You’ll want to see both of these, of course, and
luckily, they are next to each other. Take the Charles de Gaule/Etoile Metro stop. Be
sure to get a ticket and take the elevator to the top of the arch. That’s the best part
and a great view!

Finally, don’t get so caught up in doing the things on the list that you fail to take the
time to walk around, sit at a café or stand at a balcony and take it all in. Paris is an
amazing city. Have a great time!

My Talk from the Convocation of Catholic Leaders

This past week, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak as part of a breakout session at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. The breakout session was titled, "The Silent Voices: Reaching Out to the Victims of Violence, Abuse and Trafficking." Here is the full text of my remarks:

My name is Joseph White. I am a clinical psychologist specializing in work with children and families and a National Catechetical Consultant with Our Sunday Visitor.
I am passionate about this topic because of the number of children and families I have worked with affected by abuse and violence. I have seen the deep pain that abuse and violence brings in the lives of everyday families. Because I am known as a Catholic psychologist in my community, many of the families referred to me are Catholic. I see that abuse and violence affect families who are active in our parishes, as well as others in our community.  In addition, I have worked with survivors of human trafficking, both in the United States and in Southeast Asia. I have witnessed the deep and all-encompassing wounds that come from treating people as commodities. This is an issue that touches at the very core of our Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person.
Violence and abuse are widespread problems in society as a whole, and this touches many people in our parishes and communities as well. For example, estimates suggest that up to one out of every 3 to 4 females and one out of every 5 to 6 males are victims of sexual abuse.

There are psychological and spiritual correlates of abuse that are intertwined, such as feelings of hopelessness, doubts that God exists, and at times, doubts that the Christian community cares or is able to provide help or support. This is especially true when the violence and abuse we know is so widespread in our society is not openly discussed in our Catholic communities.

As Pope Francis states in The Joy of the Gospel (24), "the Church which 'goes forth' is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive."

What does it mean for us a Church to "take the first step," when it comes to survivors of abuse and violence? It means finding creative ways to meet two primary needs of these survivors -- the need for appropriate professional services and the need for a supportive social community. What systems are in place to refer survivors of abuse and violence to qualified trauma-informed professionals? It is important to keep in mind that trauma is a specialty, and professionals providing services to survivors should be well trained in the core trauma competencies identified by experts as necessary for effective treatment. “Trauma-informed interventions,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, are those that “are delivered in a way that is influenced by knowledge and understanding of how trauma impacts a survivor’s life and experiences long term.” Access to services for persons of diverse cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds should also be key considerations. In addition, there is a need for connecting people who have perpetrated abuse to appropriate services in order to help them find healing and break the cycle of abuse.

Mental health researchers have identified social support as one of the most important factors in mental health and an essential part of resiliency for survivors of trauma. For example, a 2017 Centers for Disease Control Guide to Preventing Domestic Violence emphasizes the importance of social support and community resources in mitigating long-term negative health consequences for survivors of intimate partner violence. In The Joy of the Gospel (46-49), Pope Francis speaks of the Church as a "mother with an open heart." Do survivors of abuse and violence find in our parishes a welcoming and supportive community that is willing to accompany them? A community that affirms their dignity and allows them to discover and share their gifts as well as having their needs met? How might we strive to make our communities more welcoming of people with diverse, and often difficult past experiences? How can we welcome survivors of abuse and violence as fellow sojourners in need of healing and grace, as we all are? Pope Francis, echoing Pope John Paul's "spirituality of communion," speaks of accompaniment as the proper disposition of missionary disciples. Rather than talking a patronizing approach of simply "doing for" others, we are called to "walk with" others and share their experiences, their hopes and fears, their sufferings and their joys. In this way, we truly love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Prayer, Penance, Fasting, Almsgiving: A Family Guide to Lent

Lent is a season in which we pause to examine our lives in preparation for Holy Week, when we will join in Christ’s journey to the cross and share in the victory of his resurrection. It is also a good time for families as well to re-orient themselves and consider the priorities that sometimes get lost in the business of everyday life. Let's examine four traditional themes of Lent (prayer, penance, fasting and almsgiving) and offer some ways to share in these themes as a family:

Prayer: The forty days of Lent remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the desert, which he spent in prayer to God as he prepared for his public ministry (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 540). Lent is an excellent time to re-commit to family prayer. One possibility is to have a time each day in which the family gathers and each member says something to God, followed by a traditional prayer such as the Our Father. You might wish to consider the “forms of prayer” discussed in the Catechism (2644; blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise) as a starting point. For example, if you choose thanksgiving, everyone in the family would name something they wish to thank God for, and after each prayer, the family could respond, “Thank you, God.” If you choose “petition,” each member in the family could pray for a need, and the family could respond (as in the Mass), “Lord, hear our prayer.” If possible, choose a special area of your home for prayer, decorate it with some religious articles such as a crucifix, religious statues, etc., and light a candle when prayer time begins.

Penance: Lent is traditionally a time ofPenance and Reconciliation in the Church. If your parish has a communal Penance service, it might be good to attend as a family, even if your child is not quite old enough to celebrate the sacrament. For family members who have had their first confession, it’s a good opportunity to celebrate God’s gift of forgiveness once again, and recommit our lives to him. It makes a strong impression on children to see their parents and other adults go to confession, and this is one of the few times they can actually see it in action. Seeing mom and dad acknowledge their own shortcomings and God’s place in their life is a powerful sign that their really is a God and that all of us are called to follow him. It is also a great reminder that God loves us no matter what. Make this also a season to practice a spirit of reconciliation in the family. Are their wrongs that need to be discussed and forgiven? Model this for your children and encourage them to follow your example with siblings and others.

Fasting: Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday are not required for young children, but it’s good even for elementary school-age kids to have an opportunity to make a small sacrifice (“give up something”) at this time. Doing so can help the young child gain delay of gratification and self-control skills, which psychological research shows are closely related to success in work and relationships. In short, fasting builds our self-discipline. Encourage younger children to choose something they can do without for Lent. (It should be something they enjoy – no giving up broccoli if that’s not a favorite food!) Perhaps a particular TV program or toy would be appropriate. Explain that we choose to give up something we like during Lent so we can remember how Jesus gave his whole life for us, and also to help us grow in self-control.

Almsgiving: Lent is a timeto make a special effort to give our time, talent, and treasure. Food pantries that serve the poor are often sorely in need of restocking at this time, so perhaps the family can choose some canned goods and other non-perishables to give away (again, give some of the good stuff as well). Perhaps the children and teens in the family can set aside some money they would have used to buy candy or other non-essentials, and donate this to Catholic Relief Services or some other charity. Also, consider what the family may be able to do together to serve the parish or community. Volunteer to stuff the bulletins at your parish, or stay after Mass to help tidy up. Go on a “neighborhood cleanup,” taking a trash bag and collecting litter from the sidewalks, streets or local park.

Lent is a wonderful time to experience family renewal as we prepare to celebrate the great fifty of Easter. May God bless you and your family during this special season.

Nurturing Your Marriage as Parents

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

The United States Bishops recognize February 7-14, 2017 as National Marriage Week. For more information on that, click here. 

In recognition of this worthy focus on marriage, I am posting the following excerpt from my book, A Catholic Parent's Tool Box (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014):

Many couples, as they begin to have children, transition away from time as a couple to time as a family. The pressing demands of parenthood – the busiest job you’ll ever love – push “together time” between husbands and wives to the back burner. Many parents of young children feel guilty about spending time away from the kids – or even wanting to. And the increased mobility of today’s families often means that grandparents and other family members are farther away, making it a challenge for many parents to find reliable childcare.
Still, research tells us that the best parents are those who take time to nurture the marital relationship, even if it sometimes means occasionally sacrificing time with the kids. This makes sense for three reasons. First, you are your child’s example of how to have a healthy adult relationship. Kids learn by example, so if one of your dreams for your children is to find that special someone and live “happily ever after,” show them how it’s done. Second, children feel more secure when they know their parents’ relationship is solid. The day to day struggles of marriage and family mean that we will always have some conflicts, but kids get can get confused about how serious these are, and often have fears (even unspoken ones) that mom and dad may get divorced because they are arguing. More positive time together for husbands and wives is reassuring to them (and to you) that you still love each other no matter what. Third, parents who aren’t generally in close communication with one another find it much harder to set consistent limits for their children. Kids often learn to exploit this and can sometimes pit one parent against the other in an effort to get something they want. (It sounds a little devious, but almost all kids try it at one time or another. Perhaps you remember doing this yourself!) Parents will find that child discipline is a lot easier when they present a “united front,” working together to give the children what they need even when it means denying what they want.

So how do we do this in a world of real-life family demands? Here are a few tips:

1. Ask each other out on dates. Don’t find time, make time. Perhaps you could get together with another couple who have young children and agree to watch their kids so they can go out if they will do the same for you. Go somewhere you wouldn’t go with the kids – a romantic restaurant, a movie, or perhaps you may even wish to stay at home and have a quiet dinner and a little romance while the kids are out!

2. Do the unexpected. Surprise your spouse with something he or she really likes. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. (Flowers are the old cliché, but they still work, guys! They’re not that expensive if you deliver them personally.) Perhaps a favorite treat or a love note sent via U.S. Mail to your spouse’s work (or hidden in a briefcase or lunch bag). It can take just a few minutes to brighten up their day and spice up your relationship.

3. Bring back the good old days. Make a compilation of music the two of you listened to when you were dating. Did you have a song that was “your song?” If you are still in the same city, go to a place you used to frequent together. (If not, perhaps a place that reminds you of “back home.”)

4. “Steal” some quick moments together. Make a lunch date while the kids are at school or childcare. Be firm about bedtime, and spend try to spend at least an hour together after the kids go to bed. (Together enjoying one another, not paying bills and folding clothes.) Schedule this for two or more nights per week. Steal a moment or two in the morning while you are getting dressed for the day (Your bathroom door has a lock, right?)

5. Pray together. This is another place where time has to be made, not found. Hold hands and ask God to bless your marriage and your kids. Pray some traditional prayers together. Take turns reading the Psalms to one another. Tap into the Creator of marriage and family, the Source of the grace that strengthens us as husbands, wives, and parents.

6. Be affectionate in front of the kids. OK, don’t overdo it, but giving quick hugs and kisses is nice for you are reassuring to them. Even if they say “yuck,” they’re probably smiling on the inside.

7. Be patient with one another. If you’re not already doing these things, it takes a while to “get into the groove.” One of you may try something romantic when they other is not necessarily in the mood. Be open and patient as you work to get more in sync. Try again and again.
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