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I found a copy of Saint Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life on my parents’ bookshelf back in university. It floored me then and has rarely left my bedside since, which is highly amusing since it was written some four hundred years ago. It is uncanny how relevant his writing has been to my life, how specifically he writes about my particular struggles, how helpful his centuries-old advice has been. How could someone from the 16th century have had such a clear window to my modern soul?

Here is a section from chapter VIII, called Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger:

I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.
– Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales

That particular bit of advice has (I’m sure) saved my children from being thrown out the window countless times. Lose temper. Yell. Pray. Calm down. Say sorry. Humbly ask for a hug. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m currently praying to cut out steps 1 and 2 (the losing temper and yelling part). The book isn’t particularly directed towards parents, but the road to becoming a better person is the same road to becoming a better parent.

Which is to say: I highly recommend this book. So do all sorts of other people, it seems. I can imagine that the 400-year old writing style might be a bit much for some people, but do give it a try if you’ve never read it before. I found a neat site where you can read the full book online, for free.

My husband and I were so tired. We were lying in bed early one night, seriously considering calling it a day and starting again in the morning.

“We should say our prayers.”
“That’s right. In the name of the Father…”
“Why do kneel for prayers when we’re with the kids but sometimes we get to lie down for prayers when we’re alone?” Thoughtful pause.
“Let’s kneel.”

We lifted ourselves up to a kneeling position by our bed and I noticed that my tired knees were being supported by a soft but rather large puddle of clothes.

“How come the kids have to put their clothes away but I have a puddle of clothes by my bed?”

How come indeed. I have to remember that my personal struggle to grow in virtue can’t take a backseat to my efforts in raising virtuous children. Actually, my personal struggle to grow in virtue is probably the most important part of raising virtuous children. Thankfully, God is kind and merciful sends many gentle reminders. Which in turn should remind me to be kind and merciful and use gentle reminders.

Now to work on that rather large puddle of clothes…

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” – Matthew 25:35-26

Without a bit of gentle redirection, we tend to focus mostly on our own needs and concerns. Growing in generosity, like any other virtue, takes daily practice – small steps. As parents, we can help our children recognize real suffering, like sickness or loneliness, in the people God puts in their sphere (sometimes, right in their homes!). We can help them realize that it is within their capacities to give great joy and comfort, even when they are still very small. Here are some suggestions on small things that can help little kids discover those in need around them, and what they can do to help. (And hey, adults can do these things, too.)

Write letters to people who live far-away. Left to their own devices, some of my kids will colour, cut, glue or “write” for the entire day. This creative energy can be channeled by pointing out that Grandma or Auntie Sue would love to receive an envelope of their work. Who doesn’t love receiving mail?

Make birthday cards. It’s good for a little person to think about birthdays that are not their own. This also helps them appreciate everyone’s efforts when their birthday rolls around.

Pray for the sick. At bedtime prayers (or at any other time), a simple “God bless Great Grandma who’s really not feeling well” brings a little person closer, not only to God, but to Great Grandma as well.

Pray for random intentions. “Daddy’s dressed all fancy because he has an interview today, so don’t forget to God bless Daddy today sometime” or “Karen (the bus driver) works really hard driving you each day, and sometimes the kids on the bus act like crazy monkeys, let’s ask God to bless Karen.”

Start with low-effort sharing. Asking a child to share a not-so-beloved teddy bear is easier than asking them to share their Super Favourite Bestest Friend in the Whole World teddy bear. Every once in a while, help your child choose one or two toys for boys and girls who don’t have any. “Arranging” small success in sharing builds generosity slowly and works better than demanding heroic sacrifice right from the start.

Keep someone company. Before disappearing into the recesses of the toy room, a little person can spend a few minutes sitting with the baby on the living room rug, building towers meant for enthusiastic demolition, or with Grandpa, telling him all about how school went. It takes a bit of coaxing, but I find that they ultimately see how little effort it takes to make someone a bit happier.

Mother Teresa says, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

I found a very cool examination of conscience online a couple of days ago and I’m excited to share it with you. It was in an essay written by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. entitled Examination of Conscience (scroll down about half way). The essay itself is old and seems to be all over the internet so I may be (again) the last Catholic to have come across it. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on what exactly is so cool about it. I’ve just never seen one that was organized by the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Love) instead of by the Ten Commandments. I think they’ll go hand in hand quite well.

Faith

  1. Do I make an honest effort to grow in the virtue of faith by daily mental prayer on the mysteries of the faith as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ?
  2. Do I make at least a short act of faith every day?
  3. Do I pray daily for an increase of faith?
  4. Do I ever tempt God by relying on my own strength to cope with the trials in my life?
  5. Do I unnecessarily read or listen to those who oppose or belittle what I know are truths of my Catholic faith?
  6. What have I done today to externally profess my faith?
  7. Have I allowed human respect to keep me from giving expression to my faith?
  8. Do I make a serious effort to resolve difficulties that may arise about my faith?
  9. Do I ever defend my faith, prudently and charitably, when someone says something contrary to what I know is to be believed?
  10. Have I helped someone overcome a difficulty against the faith?

Hope

  1. Do I immediately say a short prayer when I find myself getting discouraged?
  2. Do I daily say a short act of hope?
  3. Do I dwell on my worries instead of dismissing them from my mind?
  4. Do I fail in the virtue of hope by my attachment to the things of this world?
  5. Do I try to see God’s providence in everything that “happens” in my life?
  6. Do I try to see everything from the viewpoint of eternity?
  7. Am I confident that, with God’s grace, I will be saved?
  8. Do I allow myself to worry about my past life and thus weaken my hope in God’s mercy?
  9. Do I try to combine every fully deliberate action with at least a momentary prayer for divine help?
  10. How often today have I complained, even internally?

Charity

  1. Have I told God today that I love Him?
  2. Do I tell Jesus that I love Him with my whole heart?
  3. Do I take the occasion to tell God that I love Him whenever I experience something I naturally dislike?
  4. Have I capitalized on the difficulties today to tell God that I love Him just because He sent me the trial or misunderstanding?
  5. Do I see God’s love for me in allowing me to prove my love for Him in the crosses He sent me today?
  6. Have I seen God’s grace to prove my love for Him in every person whom I met today?
  7. Have I failed in charity by speaking unkindly about others?
  8. Have I dwelt on what I considered someone’s unkindness toward me today?
  9. Is there someone that I consciously avoid because I dislike the person?
  10. Did I try to carry on a conversation today with someone who is difficult to talk to?
  11. Have I been stubborn in asserting my own will?
  12. How thoughtful have I been today in doing some small favor for someone?
  13. Have I allowed my mood to prevent me from being thoughtful of others today?
  14. Am I given to dwelling on other people’s weaknesses or faults?
  15. Have I been cheerful today in my dealings with others?
  16. Do I control my uncharitable thoughts as soon as they arise in my mind?
  17. Did I pray for others today?
  18. Have I written any letters today?
  19. Have I controlled my emotions when someone irritated me?
  20. Have I performed any sacrifice today for someone?

UPDATE:

One of our readers just sent in this Examination of Conscience and I wanted to share it with you. I will update this with its author and origins as soon as I find out.

Examination of Conscience

R: Come, Lord Jesus!

For the times that I forget that I need a Savior, and arrogantly conceive of myself as sufficient to myself, R:

For the times that I do not believe Jesus and instead give in to the lie of perceiving God the Father as being indifferent or hostile to my well-being, R:

For the times that I trust my self-pitying accusations more than the Father’s love, R:

For the times that I desecrate the presence of Christ by making my own opinions, my own criteria, or my own likes and dislikes the measure for measuring circumstances of life and other people, R:

For the times I have shunned the presence of Christ, whether it be his sacramental presence or his presence through the people he puts in my life, R:

For the times I have blasphemed the presence of Christ through using other human beings as things that I can manipulate or use for my own selfish ends, R:

For the times I have disregarded the will of Christ through abuse of those things he has given to me for the building up of his kingdom, R:

For the times that I justify my sinfulness and thus treat God’s mercy with disdain, R:

I find it very difficult to say sorry to my kids. Yes, there are those ambiguous times when I’m not quite sure if I’ve crossed the line between appropriate firm parenting and being a Grump Monster Big Meanie. But usually, it’s pretty clear to me when I’ve lost my temper and am taking it out on an unfortunate little person. I have to stop somewhere quiet, take a deep breath, pray to the Holy Spirit to please tell me what to say before I can gather up the courage to go face up to the task. When I do manage to do it, I ask for a cuddle and a kiss after I apologize. I know that it’s good for my children to see that their parents struggle and try again, but this doesn’t make it any easier. Definitely incentive to do better next time.

I found a document online that seems too good to skip. Not that it’s an exciting page-turner or anything, but it’s the most comprehensive document I’ve found about what our Church has to offer regarding life and love. The document is particularly for young parents who are wondering how to go about the sexual education of their children. It’s called The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family and was prepared by the Pontifical Council for the Family (so, straight from the horse’s mouth).

In the introduction, it says, Boy, are YOU ever in for it. Ok, I’m paraphrasing. They actually say:

Among the many difficulties parents encounter today, despite different social contexts, one certainly stands out: giving children an adequate preparation for adult life, particularly with regard to education in the true meaning of sexuality. There are many reasons for this difficulty and not all of them are new.

No matter how “delicate and arduous” the task will be, they urge us to not be discouraged. We were made for the job:

On the other hand, having given and welcomed life in an atmosphere of love, parents are rich in an educative potential which no one else possesses. In a unique way they know their own children; they know them in their unrepeatable identity and by experience they possess the secrets and the resources of true love.

I’m pretty excited about diving into the rest of it in more detail and sharing the gems with you. We’ll do it in a series of bite-sized installments. Hopefully, we’ll get through it before my oldest goes to the prom.

Our daughter was miserable one evening, coming home from Grandma’s house. I found out that she had inadvertently spent more time chatting with one of her aunts, and not as much time playing downstairs in the basement. Now it was time to go home!

“I’m sure she was so happy to get to talk to you,” I said.
“But I wanted to play more!” she whimpered.
“That’s ok. You know what that’s called?” I asked.
“What?”
“What you did. It was a sacrifice. A gift.”
“What?”
“You wanted to play downstairs, but instead, you spent time talking with your aunt. You made a sacrifice.”
“Ok.”
“When you’re playing with a toy, and your little sister wants it… giving it to her is a sacrifice.”

Her mood was already changing with this new idea crunching around in her head when my husband pipes up from down the hall.

“Do you know who made the biggest sacrifice EVER?”
“Who?”
“Jesus.”
“Oh…”

These days, my two older kids are completely taken with this idea. This morning, our second was disappointed that we were having leftovers (again!) for lunch. After taking a small break to calm down, she at herself down at the table with us and ate her portion. Then she announced, “Mama? I ate my lunch even if I didn’t like it at all. That’s a sacrifice.”

bread

Baked by Daddy and his helpers

It took me a while to wrap my mind around this one: allowing my children to help me with household chores is an act of generosity.

My husband is usually the one in the kitchen with two little kids, perched on chairs and soaking wet, “doing the dishes”. Or with a child covered in flour “making bread”. I struggle with giving them a chance to be involved.

“Can I pour myself water?”
“No, I’ll do it.”

“Can I mix the tuna salad for you?”
“No, it’ll make a mess.”

“Can I help you clean the toilet?”
“NO! I mean, no. No, thank you. Not the toilet.”

In his book, Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, David Isaacs describes a different kind of generosity: sacrificing efficiency and peace in order to let my children take risks, try things out, make a mess.

I’m getting better. Just today, I remembered to let my three-year-old perch herself on a chair to sort the clean cutlery into the drawer. I could hear her chanting to herself “…big spoon, big spoon, small spoon, knife, fork, fork…” The six-year-old was scraping food bits into the garbage and handing me plates to load into the dishwasher. They must have done this before because they weren’t that bad… probably with my husband.

Sunday night sock sorting

There’s nothing quite like secretly prompting the kids to do something nice for someone else. Giving daddy a kiss at the end of the day, giving a sibling a hug when they’re sad, finding a nice toy for a fussy baby, helping me find all the dark socks from a mountain of laundry… the day is full of nice things to do for someone else. It’s like I’m playing a computer game. I need to find all the potential acts of kindness that I can delegate to my little kids to score points. The more things I suggest, the more practice they get. The more practice they get…

One of my other favourite things about being a parent is witnessing spontaneaous, unprompted acts of generosity. Like watching our two-year old put unmatched socks together in a ball and then into a random dresser drawer. Better than cable, any day.

In the lull when no one in the family is between the age of one and three (i.e. about two years old), I forget just how exhausting it can be to be the Wall Against Which a Tireless Little Human Being Will Hurl Themselves Repeatedly, Figuratively and Literally. As it is, we now have someone who is decidely two years old. I have to remind myself that it’s good to be the Wall. Especially on those days when it seems like giving in to a tantrum or an unreasonable whim would preserve domestic peace. Not to mention my sanity.

And one day, when she’s twenty-six, she’ll take me out for coffee and thank me for standing firm. She’ll say, “Mama, I’m so glad that, despite the verbal and physical abuse I hurled at you in anger when I was two years old, you stood firm and helped me be the upstanding citizen I am today.” And then she’ll gently put her hand over my hand and say, “This coffee is on me.”

I should really call my mother…

Last Sunday, I spent a great deal of the Mass at the back with a noisy toddler. I was with the group of usual suspects in the foyer, trying to magic some reason into my almost-two-year-old. She looks at me with eyes that say, Mama, two year olds have no ability to reason. Ah, yes, there is that.

Once, a sweet lady once came up to us after Mass and enthusiastically told us that our children were so well behaved that day. My husband and I exchanged smiles. We didn’t tell her that we had basically spent almost the entire Mass in the foyer – which might be why she didn’t hear us that day.

I’m not exactly sure why the baby gets hungry at the same time that the toddler melts down, at the same time that the pre-schooler needs to go to the washroom. It’s uncanny. At the end of each humiliating episode, we just try to pack everyone up, genuflect and run to hide in the minivan.

Each time we have a particularly exhausting Sunday, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Yes, it’s good to help the children learn how to behave during Mass. But hopefully, the weekly family effort teaches a simpler and more important lesson: to be at Mass. It’s an exercise in faithfulness, a lesson in love.

We’re lucky that, at St. Clement’s, there are so many families each week who, not only help drown us out, but encourage us week after week. We’re also blessed with supportive parishoners who help us feel welcome, despite the din.

The struggle continues (for the sake of the sanity of those in the pews behind us). We dust ourselves off and try again next Sunday, armed with new hope, new strategies, and books from the foyer.

Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.
– line 2524, Catechism of the Catholic Church

…chastity lets us love with an upright and undivided heart;
– line 2520, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Ah, modesty. So far, it has taken the form of telling my daughters to be mindful and sit properly when they’re wearing skirts. Or my husband vetoing inappropriately mature-looking outfits. Or finding a nice dress for an underdressed Barbie. While the whys of modesty are a bit beyond our little kids now, my husband and I feel that we should continue to grow in our understanding of it. After all, we’re driving this crazy ship. We better know where we’re headed. My hope is that we will slowly help them see the beauty of being able to “love with an upright and undivided heart”.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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