A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘family

Whether the battle is large or small, we need to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to face it. We need to carry the right gear and know how to use it.

I’m not talking about an armed conflict but rather about the struggles we face every day: our efforts to keep our children safe, protect our marriage, defend our beliefs, or stand up for others’ rights.

King David knew that he needed God’s help to face the conflicts in his life, such as King Saul’s efforts to capture and kill him or the attempts of his sons to take the throne:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war,

and my fingers for battle;

my mercy and my fortress,

my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield and he in whom I take refuge (…).

~ Psalm 144:1-2*

We can turn to God for comfort, for a safe place to cry out in pain or anger, for forgiveness when we act and react in the wrong ways. But he can also prepare us to do battle when necessary:

  • to put an end to the bullying or cyberbullying of our children
  • to secure the health care or educational assistance our children need
  • to help our spouse deal with an addiction or another health issue
  • to stand up for our right to practise our faith
  • to speak out on behalf of those who are persecuted or in need

God can give us the tools we need, such as the wisdom to know when to speak or listen, the words to say, empathy to help us see another person’s perspective, courage to make the right choice and take the necessary step or steps forward, and perseverance to resolve the situation.

When we find ourselves needing to do battle, may we remember “The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

With a bit of chaos in my life right now, I find it can be hard to see other people’s problems since I’m feeling overwhelmed.

As Christians, we’re called to do exactly that—to see others’ needs and help meet them, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15*).

We may find we see and try to minister to the needs in our community and beyond but fail to see the needs in our own family.

Shen Yun

Working hard at trying new activities and attending different events with my son.

We have to remember that, when we get married or become parents, our focus has to shift from me to us. No longer do we get to think only of our preferences about where we live and work, how we balance our home and work lives, or how we’d like to spend our free time; instead, we have to think about how these choices will affect our spouse and children.

Today, we focus so much on ourselves as individuals that we struggle with this shift as a society:

  • Parents work long hours to advance their careers or pursue hobbies with the same intensity they did when they were single, and they miss out on time with their children.
  • Many children do extracurricular activities five nights a week, meaning family meals may be rushed or everyone eats at different times.
  • Some of us are so caught up in community or parish activities that we’re too busy for family time.

That’s not to say that using our talents in our jobs, relaxing through hobbies, or taking part in the life of our parish are bad things. Far from it. But do we think too much about the me (what I want to do, what my goals are, what would make me happy) and not enough about the us (how our family is affected by our choices)?

As summer gets closer and we push the pause button on school and extracurricular activities and, just maybe, work slows down a little, the time is right to look not only at where we’re headed as individuals but at where we’re headed as a married or an engaged couple or as a family—and to ask God’s guidance in seeing where we need to make changes and in transforming our lives as a result.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

Remember the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology? As a punishment for his lying and trickery, he was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down—over and over again for eternity.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re pushing that boulder, trying to deal with a huge problem that we don’t think we’ll conquer before we run out of steam—our children’s acting-out behaviour, the struggle to find a good job, relationship problems, or even a bad habit that we just can’t break.

We can start to feel discouraged, defeated, even broken.

We won’t find our strength in other people, although we may welcome their active listening and support. We won’t find it in hobbies or physical activity, although they may help us relax. And we won’t find it in comfort food or cigarettes or caffeine or alcohol or compulsive rituals.

But as followers of Christ, we have a faithful source of strength to draw on to help us keep going, as we read in Isaiah 40:28-29*:

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary,

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

When my son was a little boy, he was full of energy and ready to push boundaries and test rules. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and so I was learning as I went along—and I was tired. Often, at the end of the day, I would ask God to give me strength and help me be a good parent. As I look back, I can see that God has never failed to strengthen me to take on the next day’s parenting challenges.

Whatever obstacles we may be facing in our lives, we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord:

  • When Sarah doubted she would be able to have a child, the Lord asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) And in their old age, Sarah and Abraham had a son (see Genesis 21:1-7).
  • When Jeremiah wondered how he could be sure that the people of Israel would return from exile, God asked him, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) And Israel returned from exile, as we read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • When those who heard it would be difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God wondered who could be saved, Jesus told them, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

May we always remember that no challenge is too great for God to walk through with us and that he will hold us up when we are weak.

(T)hey who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

~ Isaiah 40:31

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

 

 

 

Like Isaac, we may be born into one. Like Ruth, we may join one through marriage. Like David and Jonathan, we may find one in our close friends. A family is something we all long for—a circle of people where we belong.

Recently I read this quote from Blessed Adolph Kolping:

The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which he holds out his hand, and the most precious that he possess, even if he does not realize it, is family life.

~ quoted in “Celebrate February 2014,” Catholic Digest, January/February 2014

Growing up with a father in the military, I didn’t always live near my extended family. My husband and I spent over a decade living several hours’ drive from my parents, and we still live a long plane ride away from his. I know that, these days, many of us live far from our families. And many have left family in one country to pursue opportunities in another, just as our immigrant ancestors did.

For those of us able to maintain a sense of family (maybe with the help of e-mail, Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, or long-distance calling plans), we may be able to bless those who aren’t so fortunate:

  • By fostering or adopting a child through the Children’s Aid Society or volunteering with the CAS to bless the children in care.
  • By volunteering with an organization like the Catholic Immigration Centre of Ottawa to bless newcomers who need help adjusting to a new country, a new culture and maybe even a new language.
  • By serving as a friendly visitor at a retirement residence such as St. Patrick’s Home to bless those whose families seldom visit.
  • By helping at a facility such as Ronald McDonald House to provide a home-cooked meal, blessing those away from home while their child receives hospital care.
  • By organizing a meal during a holiday weekend (when campus services may be unavailable) to bless international students, or even by hosting a student for the school year.
  • By helping with chores such as snow shovelling or lawn care or just regular check-ins to bless an elderly neighbour with no family close by.

I pray that our lives would reflect the sentiments of this prayer: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, like you we are members of the Father’s family. We pray that our family love may reflect his love on its openness to all people” (“Celebrate February 2014”).

Count your blessings while you may

The big or small, whichever comes your way

“Count Your Blessings” by Richard Morgan and Edith Temple

Last fall, I took a course on creating and maintaining a blog. After I shared my Thanksgiving dinner story with the other students, they encouraged me to use it for a post. Since we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I’d like to share some of that story here.

My parents were joining us for Thanksgiving dinner, and so I cooked a turkey raised by Dad. That turkey was Goliath: he tipped the scales at 24.5 lb.

The microwave was too cramped for Goliath and he went right into the roasting pan. Sort of. Goliath lay on his side in the pan, covered in tin foil so his skin wouldn’t crisp up too quickly.

Trying to turn Goliath was a Herculean task. I wished I had roasting forks as I heaved Goliath onto his other side while my husband gripped the pan to keep it from shooting onto the floor. After six hours, Goliath finally fit in the pan. After I’d snapped off one wing and tossed it into the drippings, that is.

At long last, the turkey was ready. I heaved Goliath onto the platter to serve…three people, since my father had the flu and my parents stayed home.

That was one big turkey. We were thankful for our dinner and for the many containers of leftovers we put in the freezer that night.

Thankful and grateful and are words we don’t hear often these days. But I think we could be inspired by Henry Smith’s praise song “Give Thanks” to have a more thankful attitude:

Give thanks with a grateful heart,

give thanks to the Holy One;

give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his
 Son.

We can be thankful that we know about God’s love. That we have food, clothing and shelter. That we can spend Thanksgiving with our loved ones. And we can express our thanks by supporting our parish, donating to the food bank and outreach programs that help care for people in need, and welcoming extended family and friends into our homes for Thanksgiving dinner.

From the large (such as the ones I’ve mentioned) to the small (such as the fact that my husband fractured rather than broke his finger during his taekwon-do test), I pray that we would be grateful for the blessings in our lives and take time to count them and thank God for them.

Saint Joseph . . . You presided over the events of [Jesus’] infancy, and your labors provided food and shelter for the Creator of the universe. You offered him and Mary love and unselfish devotion. . . . [T]he Church, with good reason, cries out, “Go to Joseph!”

– From “Prayer to Saint Joseph: Patron of Workers” in the Holy Family Prayer Book

When my son was a toddler, one of his many loud toys with push buttons featured these two sayings: “Daddy loves you” and “Let’s sing with Mommy.”

True, kids need to hear that their father loves them, but they also need to see that he does. And they need their father to model for them what a good father and husband looks like.

Here are some of the things my father modelled for my brother and me:

Dad and MinPins

My dad and two friends

The value of education. My father was the first in his family to attend university. He encouraged us to work hard in school, made me take classes in math and sciences when I no longer had to in high school so I’d “keep my options open,” and help put us through university.

The value of hard work. Now retired, Dad worked hard at his job but tried not to bring the stresses of the job home with him. Dad fixes things around the house when he can and calls repairmen when he can’t. He raises some livestock; grows a lot of fruit, vegetables, flowers and houseplants; and shares what he grows with us.

Patience. Dad worked with me until I could say “She sells seashells by the seashore” so I wouldn’t have a lisp when I started school. He explained geometry concepts to me over and over until I understood. And he started teaching me how to drive when I turned 16, although the first lesson just involved checking around the car, adjusting the seat and mirrors, and going to the bottom of the driveway and back up.

The importance of family. My parents used to have my mother’s much younger brother for a long visit each summer, even though he really tried Dad’s patience (faking asthma attacks, somehow cutting the lawnmower cord a foot from the plug, etc.). Dad checked in on his father several times a week, even though he was difficult to deal with. He regularly drove us to visit my mom’s mother, and he helped clean out her house so she could sell it. He calls his brothers on their birthdays and checks up on them when they’re ill.

Love. Dad is kind of reserved, but when I was a little girl, he’d tickle me until I couldn’t breathe and let us hang on his legs while he tried to walk down the hall. He got choked up when I sang at my uncle’s wedding and when he first met my son. And my dad usually finds a gift to hide on the Christmas tree for my mother, which he’s been doing for…oh, a few decades.

I am very thankful for my father and his example.

This Father’s Day, may we give thanks for and honour the fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, and other father figures who show their children how to be a loving husband and father and follower of Jesus.

Yesterday at Mass, a couple of rows ahead of me, I saw a little girl about three years old with her mother and baby brother. She kissed her brother on the leg over and over again. When her mother made her stop because the baby began to fuss, she started kissing her mother’s arm.

I’ve noticed children crying, having tantrums, and talking in a stage whisper during Mass. But showing affection to their siblings? Not usually.

Maybe it’s a concept I have trouble wrapping my mind around because my brother and I didn’t get along well as children. But that little girl reminded me of how important it is to treat our family members well.

First thing in the morning, it’s tough to be pleasant. (Not being a morning person, I can’t bring myself to use the word “cheery.”) And after a long day of work at home or the office, it’s not always easy to deal positively with whining or complaining or to make our children crack open the homework books or practise piano. Family members often see the grumpiness, sadness, bitterness or frustration we hide from the rest of the world—and not enough of the kindness, empathy and helpfulness we show others. But our families should be getting the best part of us.

The Catechism offers us some important reminders about family dynamics, including these:

my family

My family in 1973

  • “The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another” (s. 2206).
  • “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule” (s. 2223).

We want our homes to be havens and not battlegrounds, and we want to give our children an example of what healthy family relationships look like. So here are a few thoughts: Read the rest of this entry »

I know that sending less paper mail is good for the environment, but I admit that I enjoy receiving cards in the mail with handwritten messages, and I remember eagerly waiting for letters from my Australian pen pal to arrive.

I also enjoy making greeting cards and hope people enjoy receiving them because of the love and time I put into them. From mid-May to mid-June, there are lots of occasions to celebrate in my family: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, several anniversaries and half a dozen birthdays. And so I find myself sending out a lot of cards.

As I write messages of good wishes, I see that my handwriting is not as neat as it once was. I notice the same thing when I write cheques or sign forms. And my son and his classmates seem to print more than they use cursive writing. Handwriting is becoming a lost art.

But something I hope will not become a lost art is the handing down of our faith to the next generation.

I’m happy to say my parish often has baptisms, and we’ve had new people join through RCIA over the past couple of years (including me). There are plenty of children in church and many celebrated First Eucharist this year. And our Catholic Women’s League membership is growing. I know, though, that other parishes aren’t so fortunate and see their numbers dwindling.

With my parents’ generation and my own, church attendance has fallen. Is it the faster pace of life or a belief that we don’t need to have faith? Have people moved away from the Church because of scandals or the lure of spiritual movements? I could only guess.

For my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ generations, faith and involvement in parish activities were part of life. Even though Nan was a shut-in, she still watched church services on her black-and-white TV. She would send me Christian greeting cards and write things like “God bless you” in her shaky handwriting. And Nanny was actively involved in her parish over the years, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir and helping with activities run by the ladies’ auxiliary.

a woman of faith

My great-grandmother, a woman of faith

While we do need to have our own faith since no one can have faith for us, it certainly helps to have good examples of how to live in the faith—family and friends who model how a Christian should live and who share their faith story with us. I think of the apostle Paul’s comment to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you” (Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition).

Trying to live out our faith doesn’t guarantee our families will share that faith. Many families these days include non-practising Christians, agnostics, and even some who claim to be atheists. In the Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Kings give us examples of children who didn’t follow in their fathers’ faithful footsteps. But these same books also give examples of children who came to faith in spite of the things their parents had done, and the book of Acts shows us that living in faith can help us lead others to Christ.

I pray that, by the way we live and the way we explain the reasons for our faith, we would draw our family members and others (back) to the Church.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29*)

Growing up, I was very blessed to have parents and teachers who told me I could succeed when I put forth my best effort and encouraged me to pursue my love of languages and writing. This encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to express myself creatively.

But I knew people who weren’t so lucky. Like those who were told they didn’t measure up to older siblings or who were cut off from their families because they pursued their own career choice rather than work at the family business.

Sometimes it seems as though people would rather tear others down than build them up.

As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we should “encourage one another and build one another up.” Paul knew the value of encouragement: when he came to join the disciples in Jerusalem, Barnabas told the disciples about Paul’s conversion and his preaching in Jesus’ name (see Acts 9:26-27). Barnabas later journeyed with Paul to bring the good news to the Gentiles.

So how can you encourage others with your words?

  • Businesses: Let others know when you love a product or business. Thank staff when they give you great advice or excellent customer service, and let managers know too. And tell your employees or colleagues when they do a great job.
  • Writers, artists and musicians: Let them know you enjoy their work and look forward to their next book, show or album. Too often people don’t express appreciation for someone’s work until it’s too late.
  • Teachers: Send your child’s teacher a card at the end of the school year to say thanks for the extra help he or she has given. Or express your thanks in person if you volunteer at your child’s school. The same goes for dance teachers, music teachers, or sports coaches—your child’s or your own.
  • Priests and ministry leaders: Let them know you enjoyed the homily, worship music, readings, altar decorations, and so on. Even if people are called to a certain ministry, they’ll enjoy knowing others appreciate their efforts.
  • Family members: Home is where we should be the most encouraging, but it’s too easy to let unfinished chores and hectic schedules get in the way. Thank your husband or wife for helping you fit in that music lesson or fitness class, for listening to you vent about work, or for picking up a special treat at the store. Encourage your spouse in pursuing career or fitness goals or growing in their faith. Catch your children in the act of being helpful or kind and let them know you appreciate it. Point out improvements in their music, athletic or academic skills. And let your spouse or children hear you say positive things about them to others.

If you’d like to read more about using your words to encourage others, I recommend The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman; The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, M.D.; The Power of a Positive Mom by Karol Ladd; and The Power of a Woman’s Words by Sharon Jaynes, to name just a few.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21 reminds us. I pray that we would use our words for building up.

(*Quotes from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition).

Though the power of Omnipotence had been his to wield at that moment, he had too much of its diviner property of Mercy in his breast, to have turned one feather’s weight of it against her.

– Charles Dickens, The Cricket on the Hearth

When children think of mercy, they might think of the game where one person tries to bend another’s wrists back until he or she cries, “Mercy!”

As adults, we know mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve but that God gives us out of love. The Catechism tells us in s. 270 that “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence…by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins.”

With the events of Holy Week still fresh in our minds, God’s love for and mercy toward us should be as plain as day. But as the Redemptorist priest speaking at my parish’s mission said, people may go to confession and receive absolution from a priest and yet find it hard to believe God could actually forgive them.

Since this will be the first Sunday after Easter, Catholics will mark Divine Mercy Sunday. If you are new to the Catholic Church, you can learn more by reading Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and visiting The Divine Mercy Message from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception website.

As the site tells us, the message “is that God loves us—all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others.”

We need to grasp that truth: our sins may be great, but God’s mercy is greater. We can place our trust in God, who has told us (see Exodus 34:6) and shown us that he is merciful. And we in turn can show that mercy to others.

Read the rest of this entry »


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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