Thursday, November 15, 2012

On losing

Mary receiving her nightly blessing.

Well, in spite of my glowing last-minute election day Romney endorsement, Obama beat him in the end.

A group of us got together last Tuesday night for pizza, drinks, and what we hoped would be some sort of celebration.  The kids colored festive Mitt Romney coloring pages and decorated cookies with an "R" on them.  We adults huddled around the TV, checking our cell phones and laptops, poking fun at the news commentators, and cursing Jay-Z.

Of course the victory went to President Obama--in fact I'm pretty sure that every.single.thing. I voted for/against ended up going the other way.  Apparently I'm contrary like that.

And while I may wish the outcome were different, our nation has spoken.  So while pundits point fingers and say that Republicans should have done this or that, I busy myself with the small tasks of motherhood--with a renewed conviction to instill an authentically Catholic worldview in my children. 

Maybe this is a strange takeaway from a night of commiserating with friends over aggravating electoral vote counts, but it's true.  Political theorizing is all fine and well, but what this election's outcome highlighted for me was simply a clashing of visions.  A meeting of disparate worldviews.  Not so much between Republicans and Democrats (there is the potential for quite a bit of common ground between people, regardless of their party affiliation), but between differing ideals of what the common good looks like.

We live, clearly, in a post-religious culture.  (Sort-of.  Because everyone more or less has a moral code they live by, so in that sense everyone adheres to some sort of religion.  But on the other hand, society has long-since shed any sort of dogmatic values-based ethic.  For better or for worse.)

My family on the other hand is--and I say this with no reservations whatsoever--religious.  Not primarily "spiritual" (though we are that too), but dogma-following, Nicene Creed-reciting, Jesus-loving, organized-Christian religious.  We believe in the Trinitarian God, in Heaven and Hell and Purgatory, and in a visible Church on earth established by Jesus Himself.  We believe in the teachings of the Apostles and in the Sacred Scriptures.  And in attempting to base our lives on this faith, we also attempt to pass it on to our children. 

Who receive a very different message from mainstream society.

That message diminishes virtue and celebrates relativism, obscures the issues and feeds on emotion.  It is a message that is ever-present, and inconsistent with the message of our religion--which says that God is goodness itself, and infinitely holy, and ultimately love.  Yet it's not enough to say "avoid this" or "they're wrong about that"--on the contrary, our children must know how to think and how to live.

I'm not ashamed to say that I want my kids to reach adulthood having been immersed in a historically Christian worldview.  Because, trust me--every child will have adopted a worldview by the time they leave home.  The only thing up for grabs is which worldview it will be.

So, in light of all the political and moral and, well, heated discussions over the past week, here are a few things I've been thinking about in regards to shaping my childrens' worldview:

1.)  Reading and knowing God's Word. 

The Bible is God's written revelation to humankind.  It is ancient and timeless and supernaturally inspired.  The Sacred Scriptures are read at each and every Mass and comprise much of the liturgy.  It is where we learn about the human condition, about where things went wrong, and about Jesus setting them right.  We see the birth of Christ's Church, the apostles in action, the Blessed Mother's love and the weaving of a beautiful story of brokenness and redemption.  We regularly read and discuss the Bible in our home, and I think it is vital.

2.)  Going to Mass as a family. 

I was really surprised to learn that many Catholics don't take their children to Mass.  Maybe it's my Protestant background coming into play here, but church has always seemed like a family affair to me--not something relegated to adult life and hidden from a child's view.  Yes it can be hard to pay attention to the priest when I'm hissing at my kids and working up a sweat wrestling them into the pew, but guess what?  I'm called to serve Jesus through my vocation, and that vocation is marriage and motherhood.  Not the cloistered and silent religious life.  So, yes, I attend weekly Mass with my husband and seven children ages eight and under.  The kids may not all fully understand what is going on, and yes it is occasionally difficult, but I love that they're there.  They know when they see the host lifted up and hear the bells that Jesus is present.  They know to genuflect when entering and leaving the pew.  They know to pray.  They know when they look around and see our many dear friends that they are not on this faith journey alone.  And, surely they receive graces from merely being in the presence of the Holy Sacrament. (I will also say that I've found that most children over the age of four are capable of being somewhat quiet and respectful during the Mass--and of sitting, standing, and kneeling at the appropriate times.  It takes work, but generally speaking, it can be done.)

3.)  Being the domestic church. 

This concept was new to me as a convert, and I love it.  Essentially, each of our families is a microcosm of the Church, and we can live that out every single day.  I found this quote online (in a catechism summary) and I think it's great:  The home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship.  We have started a tradition of praying a decade of the Rosary each night as a family, my children have learned the traditional Catholic prayers, my husband blesses each child individually at bedtime (including the little girl residing in my uterus), we regularly have discussions about God and the Church around the dinner table, and we try to make faith the primary constant in our home.  We have crucifixes on our walls and some beautiful religious art too.  We use Holy Water.  May we be a small and humble representation of His Church.

4.)  Studying the lives of saints.

Each and every morning, I read the kids a story about whichever saint is having a feast day.  My kids love learning about the saints--oftentimes the stories include martyrdom, persecution, and/or miracles.  They are also testimonies of everyday people living radical lives for Jesus, and so over time you start to get a picture of how God works through His people, and how counter-cultural faith really is.  I know for myself that reading these stories (intended for children!) has greatly strengthened my own faith and given me a better perspective on not counting the cost of following God.  And I do believe my kids are learning that sometimes standing up for Jesus won't be popular, and carries risk, but is always worth it.

5.)  Applying God's truth to current situations.

I am of the persuasion that faith means something.  And that if we truly believe, we must actually live that way.  So we try to use the kids' own experiences, certain political issues (with moral implications), and even our middle-ages-era history lessons as jumping off points for religious discussions.  We once for example organized a little debate at the dinnertable between our four oldest kids regarding the crusades--and were pretty amazed by the spiritual implications they were able to come up with.  I think it's important for children to see that following Jesus is part of the everyday, and that the decisions we make must be made in light of God's love and instruction, and in keeping with the teachings of the Church.  For our own good and the good of the world.

6.)  Embracing life.

Not only am I happy to identify as being pro-life, I am also determined to find ways to live those convictions.  Many years ago I saw Gary Haugen (of International Justice Mission) give a talk on freeing young children from the sex trade.  He posed the question, "Do we care about what Jesus cares about?"  And, it changed my life.  For real.  Because I'd never given much thought to that before.  And if you think I'm being overly dramatic, I'll tell you that his question would eventually result in our adopting four children (including two with Down syndrome), and also (indirectly) our being received into the Catholic Church a little over a year ago.  Jesus loves life, and it may be a daily battle to fully embrace all that comes with it in its various forms (noise and mess in the case of raising small children, derision and rejection in the case of standing and fighting for the unborn), but it is a must.  And it is something I desperately want to pass on to my children: caring for the "least of these", protecting the vulnerable, loving the orphan and widow, and loving one another.  I want their hearts to remain soft towards the forgotten and the lonely, and to break for the scourge of abortion.  I never want them to wonder why a couple capable of conceiving children might still choose to adopt, nor do I want them to internalize the popular notion that children are a distraction and detriment in a marriage.  And maybe if they see me in some small way working to embrace life--whether that's explaining to someone why I can't vote for a pro-abortion candidate, or praying for a young girl scheduled to have an abortion, or joyfully receiving a new baby--they will continue to embrace life too.

So, those are my belated election-day thoughts. Leaders will come and go, but I am ultimately responsible for doing my very best to raise children who love Jesus and want to follow Him. I honestly don't know what's in store for our Church in the days ahead, but I do know that Jesus will continue to be the foundation upon which we build our lives.

And that is certainly something that won't be changing every four years.


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