Tuesday, August 30, 2016

3 Steps to Save Your Children's Minds

We all want to help our children go to Heaven. In seeking this, we all know that our children need to learn the basics of the Catholic faith. Therefore, we teach them; at home, in Sunday School, etc. It does not take a genius to figure out these details. Yet, if we all know the importance of a religious education, why is it that so many children still fade away from the Church? Yes, many of them come back eventually, but that does not make it acceptable to fall away in the first place. Just because people survive plane crashes, does not make me want to be in one.

I would like to present the idea that the child's mind is not a neutral object that we can "pour" catholic doctrine into, and expect them to behave rightly as a result. Taking them to weekly Mass and a religious education class are good, but not the sum total of the parent's responsibility. We need to "fertilize the soil" of the child's mind in order for the seeds of God's truth to survive in that soil and take root. Parents need to be working actively to help their children's minds be spiritually healthy, or all the Sunday School classes on the planet will not be enough to keep them in the faith.

Here are three simple steps to help save your children's minds:
  1. Reduce their time in front of a video screen (in some cases, drastically reduce it); generally, the more video they see, the less they will be interested in the truth of God.
  2. Give them activities that strengthen and stimulate the mind (rather than those that turn it to mush); if you reduce their video time but do not stimulate them with something good in return, their minds will stagnate. The mind is like a muscle; it needs to exercise.
  3. Assert your loving authority as a parent (so that they understand you really want what is best for them); if you are wimpy in your leadership, the children will not take you seriously.
In the ideal world, parents should begin doing all this before their children turn three years old. I know for many of you reading this, however, your children are already older than three. That does not mean that the work is useless, or that success is impossible, it merely means that you have to put more effort into accomplishing this. Depending on the children's age, you will need to explain to them the need for some changes in their lives (i.e. point three above), and do so in a manner in which they genuinely understand that you are not doing this merely to maintain control over their lives, but to save them from a lifetime of pain.

I know that these three steps run counter to much of what parents are being told today. Someone said to me recently that "unless you entertain children, they won't listen to you in religious education classes". She then proceeded to ask "what can we do that will entertain them better, because they still are not listening". That is the wrong question. The assumption that we have to respond to these children's problems (an obsessive need for entertainment) by making concessions to them (and giving them more entertainment), is wrong from beginning to end. All we are doing with this response is enabling them to avoid overcoming their problems. We cripple their minds, and do not help them to learn how to think.

We need to ask "how can we help them to reject the self-absorbed demand for entertainment?" What would that look like if we actually carried it out? Maybe some parents would take away their children's cell phones (!). Maybe some parents would throw their television sets in the trash. I certainly am not advocating a radical and sudden change in the home that will only alienate the children. What I am advocating, however, is that parents (especially fathers) need to disciple their children and teach them what it means to "love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and body". They need to educate them, and get them to the point where the children see the need for change. This is not done overnight, but it must start sooner rather than later.

I found it difficult to answer the earlier question about "better entertainment" in the religious education class because my children do not need to be entertained in order for them to pay attention. In fact, they appreciate learning about God without any desire for "a new and entertaining methodology" to keep their attention. No, they are not perfect; we have just avoided letting them become obsessed with having a constant barrage of entertainment.

Yes, there will be children who resist this. In my experience, however, I have found that the children will generally follow through with changes for the better if the parents explain things all along the way, and make it clear that they are doing this for the good of the family (and also show that they themselves are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the children). In general, it is the parents who resist the changes far more than it is the children. Parents will say, "that's too hard", or "they won't listen to me", or "they'll never let me do that". We are not talking about choosing a different brand of socks, we are talking about their eternal souls; we cannot afford to find excuses.

In a mindless culture, children need to learn how to use their minds, and this goes beyond a class in logic (though, please be aware, that logic is incredibly useful). It means that we need to work, intentionally and purposefully, to help our children to think like Christians. We cannot merely throw a couple Bible stories at them and hope that they will make the right choices when they grow up. Parents have done this, and it fails every time. This is treating the child more like a puppy than like a human. They have minds, and those minds can be cultivated and made fertile ground for the truth of God. Parents, begin the work today.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Snow in Summer

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool. Proverbs 26:1
I recall a science fiction story years ago about a planet where the laws of physics were reversed in many ways. Things fell up, and liquids "froze" in high temperatures instead of low ones. It sounds silly, yes, but that is why they call it "fiction". Some things just do not go together in our minds or in the real world. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon points out to us how this is true in many ways, and his illustrations are often a powerful testimony to this fact. One of my favorites is the one I quoted above: "like snow in summer".

We live in a day and age when fools are often honored, and this is because of the extreme nature of the confusion that pervades so much of our society. We have slowly, but steadily, turned away from the truth of God, and thus chosen to accept the lies of the Devil. The rejection of the things of God has increased exponentially in the recent years; even to the point of it being widely considered "insane" for a Catholic to hold the Church's traditional dogmas. I cannot count how many times I have had people look at me as though I had two heads when I affirmed, "yes, I do believe the Church's teaching on such and such".

A while back someone saw that I had five children and used that old line: "we know what causes that now--did you not get the memo?" When I respond to this type of comment by saying that I am happy with five children, and would be happy with five more if God chose to give them to us, I get all kinds of stares. Sometimes it is just the blank look that says, "I'm trying to figure out if you're joking or not". Other times, it is that look that says, "you're one of them". The worst, though, is the look that is the most common. That is when people have the expression that says "you poor idiot; I bet you also believe the earth is flat".

They are attacking the wisdom of God, and allowing the secular media and the high priests of science to control their beliefs. Back in logic classes I recall spending a good deal of time discussing the type of fallacy that attacks a position by merely ridiculing it. This is where someone does not actually have a reason to resist a position, so they resort to making fun of it and insulting it. Unfortunately this will convince many today; especially those people who prefer not to think for themselves.

Why does society honor people with foolish ideas, and scoff at those with wise ideas? Largely because society has itself become foolish. No I do not mean that people in society have become foolish (that is nothing new), I mean that society itself has chosen the path of foolishness. There has been a collective decision to head in this direction, and few have resisted. What else can you call it when someone can run for vice president of the United States claiming to be a "traditional Catholic" while denying numerous vital Catholic dogmas?

This widespread societal indulgence in foolishness was made clear to me recently when I had one of those moments of shock where I could not believe a story I had read in the news. The details of the story are not crucial (and there are thousands of others like it), because it would take any of us only a few minutes to find similar stories that would have sounded like ridiculous fiction merely thirty years ago. Examples of foolhardy behavior abound, and many think of it as no more than "the way things are today".

So here we are watching society willingly and knowingly choose that which is foolish. There is hope for the future, but that means that we have to work on wisdom. We have to work on it for our clergy, for parents, as well as for children. We all need an increase in wisdom, and God promises to give us that if we will but ask for it. Foolishness can only be promoted for so long before it crashes. After that crash, people will be looking for a better path, but will not know how to find it because they have indulged in foolishness for so long. That is where the Church comes in; that is where you can come in.

Be wise. Learn the wisdom of the Lord. Do not be like "snow in summer" but rather be like the life giving power of the sun. Shedding light on the truth so that a lost world can mend its ways is an essential duty for every one of us today. They may not listen to us much now, but when the time comes and they need guidance, we need to be there and be ready to lead.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Merciful Precepts

It is still the Year of Mercy and with only a few more months to go, it would be good for each of us to consider where we are at in our spiritual commitment to being "merciful as God is merciful". Here at St. George Catholic Church, we have been talking in our weeknight study time about the precepts of the Church. No, there is not a precept to "be merciful", but I want us to ask ourselves the pertinent question about how mercy relates to the precepts. After all, the precepts are pretty clear requirements, and most people do not think of it as a merciful thing when you are told what to do.

So then, I will ask the question: are the precepts (in themselves) merciful? The answer to that will depend largely on how you view mercy. Does mercy mean always giving in to someone else's desires and letting them have what they want? Does mercy mean ignoring someone's sin and never confronting them about their bad behavior? Or rather, does mercy mean helping someone to move away from his sin, and guiding them to find the mercy of God in eternity? How can we call it "mercy" if the final result of our actions is a person's suffering and misery? We have to think beyond the present moment and consider the eternal in everything we do (this is especially important for parents to think about in how they discipline their children!). Ignoring sin, is never merciful.

Take note, you cannot dismiss the precepts (or any requirements that the Church puts upon us) merely by contrasting "mercy" with "canon law" (as though canon law is always and automatically a heartless venture). This type of reasoning (though common today) is actually the habit of those who do not understand mercy (or canon law). Martin Luther tried to make a contrast between law and grace (as though the two could never meet), and we all know where that led him; heresy, divisiveness and excommunication.

Imagine with me, for a moment, that you are eating a meal with someone and you happen to notice that there is ground glass in his food. Now you have a choice: tell him, or not. If you tell him, he may take it wrong--he could think it is a joke; he could assume that you are trying to steal his food; he may even think that you put it there. On the other hand, you could avoid telling him--after all, it is his favorite food, and it would be so sad for him to have to give it up. Which would be the merciful thing to do? The common trend of choosing the path of least resistance will likely lead to his death--how could we call that merciful?

The precepts are given for the sake of telling us about those things that will harm us (like in the illustration above). They are given so that we can know what is good for our souls, and what the "bare minimum" is in our spirituality. That is not a cruel or demanding thing in any way at all. It is, rather, a merciful and loving act of the Church to tell us what is necessary for our spiritual good. Therefore, it is necessary for us to see the precepts as the merciful guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church for the good of the members of the Church. Any other perspective is selfish and, we would have to say, spiritually deadly.

Let us, then, give thanks to God for the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church to give us such wonderful directives as the five precepts. Let us appreciate that we can know just what things are for our spiritual good, and also where the "minimum" is in our participation of these things. Then, once we can see the precepts as the blessings that they are, let us, together, seek to move beyond the minimum, and become, instead, "two mile" Catholics, instead of those who are only willing to go "one mile".

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Necessary Minimum

So, it has been a long time since I posted anything. I guess it would be appropriate (given the title of this blog) to say that I had a few "dragons" to tame. Is that not what the Christian life is all about--taming our dragons? No, these dragons were not very big by comparison with what they could be. My recent "dragons" were dealing with an unexpected change in my assignment as a priest. I am still serving as the pastoral administrator for St. George community here in Republic, Missouri (for which I thank God daily), but I have also been reassigned in the Diocese of Springfield/Cape Girardeau as the administrator for two other parishes: St. Susanne in Mount Vernon, and St. Patrick in Greenfield.

This means that Bishop Edward Rice called and asked if I would be willing to change my assignment from assisting a few other priests as their associate pastor, to being the full time administrator for these other two parishes who were in need (not being a part of this local diocese, I can only technically be an "administrator" for the parishes, rather than an actual "pastor"). This was not a "dragon" in the sense of severe trial or temptation, but it did need a bit of "taming" per se, because I now have the responsibility of caring for three parishes.

Although it was unexpected, I am glad to be able to help out this diocese. It is a sign of the communal and fraternal nature of the Catholic Church (and I must admit, I love it!). This brings me back to the subject of the precepts of the Church that we were discussing before. We are still learning about it on our weeknight study time (which I had to juggle from Wednesday to Tuesday with the recent additions to my schedule). You may ask, "what do the precepts have to do with the change in your assignment?" Although it may not appear like much, they have a lot to do with it.

When things happen to us unexpectedly, it is the precepts that help to keep us on track. They are given (as I said before) as a "minimum" of faithfulness. This means, that we can use them as "bare minimums" or we can use them as reminders; reminders of the five things that make up our spiritual disciplines. If we use them as merely "bare minimums" then we will say "oh, I did the minimum so I'm okay". If we use them as reminders, however, we will say "I've got extra on my plate right now, so I need extra devotion to God to help me get through these things".

God does tell us that when we are asked to go "one mile", He wants us to go "two". Therefore, when given a "necessary minimum" we will not be satisfied with the least possible; we will look for how to do more for our Lord. For example, faithfulness means that we will not say "I fulfilled my Sunday obligation," (i.e. precept number one) "so I don't need any more"; instead we will say "with more burden on me, I need to go beyond the minimum and attend mass more than once a week". Taking precept number four, we would not say "I've already observed the proper fast days, I'm good"; rather when life is harder we should say "I should abstain from something else so that I can increase my spiritual health."

So then, where do you put your effort when more responsibility comes on you? Do you let your spiritual disciplines slip and then assume you can get by with the "minimum"? Do you forget about spirituality all together? Either one of these responses is to let the "dragon" come into your heart and settle down. My brothers and sisters, do not let this happen. When our bodies get sick, we look for medicine, but in order to stay healthy in the first place, we try to exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep and take some extra vitamins; what are you doing for your soul that will help to keep you strong when challenges arise? What are you doing that is more than the minimum?