Why Kids Like Sports Better than Religious Ed

I used to be one of those catechists with no patience for kids’ sports.  I believed in the value of athletics, I really did, but disapproved of the modern sports industry’s drain on society.  People who organized their lives around their kids’ games and practices were wrong-headed, period.

Then I had a kid who begged for three years straight to please be allowed to try a team sport — any sport at all, she just really, really wanted to be on a team.  That gateway drug of athletics, free summer practice, fell in our laps.  We committed to two months and no more.  And now I can explain to you why you are wrong-headed when you pit Church vs. Athletics.

Kids Want to Do Hard Things

Do you know another thing my junior athlete did? She co-founded a parish ministry.  At the end of fifth grade she sat on the church playground talking a mom of younger children in the parish, coming up with an idea for having parish families meet once a week for faith formation, academics, Adoration, Mass, and social time, faithfully Catholic but open to all-comers.

If the parents had to work the bureaucracy, it was the elementary schoolers who gave shape to the nuts and bolts of the ministry.

And for this they had to fight.  Over and over and over again my daughter saw how adults at every level of the church administration wanted to shut down a ministry that was operating under the complete supervision of the pastor, was explicitly open to every member of the parish (and got some great inter-generational participation as a result), and was in no way undermining any other parish or diocesan ministry.

Year after year my daughter tried different avenues for getting involved in parish life doing hard things.  Year after year, roadblocks came up.  Eventually she got the message: Kids who are serious about the faith aren’t welcome in the Catholic Church.

In contrast, over in the sports world, hard work and dedication was consistently welcomed and rewarded.  So that’s where she wants to be.

Kids Want to Be Themselves

When pastors and parish staff grumble about “sports,” something they overlook is that “sports” isn’t one single thing.  There are sports for every interest, body type, and personality, and leagues at every level of competitiveness.  You can be an elite ballerina or a rec bowler, and it’s all generic “sports” to the naysayers if it gets in the way of their plans for you.

Year after year my kids have listened to adults in authority tell them how beneficial it will be for them to commit two hours a week to sitting in classes they could literally teach themselves — as one honest catechist used to say with admiration to a child of mine.  These adults do not sit in the classes they so merrily foist on children whose names they can’t keep straight.  Staff time is valuable.  Children’s time is not.

The kids aren’t lazy.  They are choosing to spend their time on activities that are intellectually and physically demanding, often having to skip a friend’s birthday party or go without luxuries other kids enjoy because the family budget will only allow so much.  Trust me: If the only sport on offer was 2nd grade kickball, very few kids would be sacrificing for it.  Kids sacrifice for sports because athletics are one of the few venues where kids can take control of their formation and push themselves to make the most of their own personal talents and abilities and gifts.

Kids Want Competence

Coaches aren’t getting rich in children’s athletics.  Most are volunteers, and even those at higher levels who are getting a stipend have to support themselves with a full-time day job.  The question athletes ask isn’t, “What kind of degrees do you have in this field?” They just want proof you are a good coach.

When a team has a lousy coach, players vote with their feet.  A lousy club or league doesn’t hold onto athletes.

This is exactly like catechesis.  The difference is that because Church culture opposes personal growth and initiative (witness the resistance my daughter faced when she tried to meet with her friends to study the faith outside of the mandated religious-ed program), there aren’t “other teams” to turn to if a given program or instructor doesn’t work out for you.

Sadly, the monopoly of the local parish program’s age-mandated classing system creates incompetence.  It does this because no one teacher can be the best at meeting every child’s needs.  Just like some coaches are better at preparing future Olympic gymnasts and others are better at getting a pile of nervous t-baller’s to look at the ball, every catechist has strengths and weaknesses.  If you were told you had to meet the spiritual needs of every child in your neighborhood who was born in a certain 12-month span, you’d fail too.  It’s an impossible job.

Children Have Bodies

Do you know who is jealous of the human body?  Satan.

Humans use our bodies to express our souls.  We are unlike any other creature, having both a rational immortal soul and a physical body that will be resurrected and endure for all eternity in its glorified form.   What we do with our bodies matters, so learning to use our bodies well is important.  To hate the body is to hate the person.

This doesn’t mean the body is more important than the soul.  It isn’t.  Parishes need to up their game significantly when it comes to caring for children’s souls.  But sports isn’t competition.  We live in a society which offers few options for helping children develop physically.  The era when children grew in strength and endurance and agility by helping out with farm chores or physically-demanding skilled manual labor has largely passed.

As a teacher, I beg my restless students to go out for a sport every season, just so they can get the hours of running-around time they need so they are calm enough to sit still in class.  Kids (and adults) need physical activity in order to function well because we are made for it.

Kids Have Souls

What is the proper response of the Church to “competition” from sports?  The Church needs to do her own job.  Kids and parents don’t take faith formation seriously because parishes don’t take it seriously.

Unfortunately, at every level the credibility of church leaders has been lost.  After enough years of being told they should want to live on a diet of spiritual pablum, children quit believing their pastors.

Teenagers accuse “You don’t trust me!” and parents rightly observe that trust is earned.  Pastors must hold themselves to the same standard.  If your parish has only offered twaddle, kids and parents aren’t going to jump every time you announce a hot new thing is going to be great.  The American youth sports edifice wasn’t born in six months, and the rebuilding of evangelization won’t happen instantly either.

As good as sports are, we should be gravely concerned when parents and children neglect their souls in favor of their bodies.  It is a profound and shameful problem.

But the solution isn’t for parish staff to take children’s bodies less seriously.  The solution is to take children’s souls more seriously.

Related: Are Sports Sabotaging or Strengthening Your Family’s Faith?

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Manliness and a Perfect Funeral

Hathaway’s funeral was perfect.  Chanted Extraordinary Form Requiem Mass at the old but not old-old St. Mary’s church in Aiken, then procession to the graveside for a Melkite burial.  Nothing says “four last things” like a Dies Irae in the hands of a good cantor.

As our line of cars, lights on, hazards flashing, police escort, ambled down US 1 towards the cemetery, traffic of course made way.  But this is a land where funerals are still taken seriously, and even on the four-lane highway where there was no practical need to do so, most vehicles coming the other direction pulled to the side, stopped, and put on their lights, paying their respects.  You have no idea of it, I thought as I passed driver after driver putting life on hold for two minutes of stillness in honor of a complete stranger, but you are witness to the funeral of one of the world’s great men.

***

John’s daughter asked (shortly after his death) if I could speak at the funeral meal.  After the perfection of the funeral homily and the solemnity of the mass and burial, what I had prepared seemed woefully inadequate.  It also was not very gentle, but fortunately there was a line-up of nice friendly people to follow, including a dear friend with the gift for coming across as a big, chummy teddy bear while he reminded the audience of the value of redemptive suffering and the need for masses and holy hours of reparation.

I’m sure most people did not like what I had to say, but the one person it was written for thanked me for saying it.  Below is the text, with most of the typos removed.

***

When we try to explain the difference between men and women, we tend to resort to stereotypes.  We know that men possess, on average, more physical strength than women, so we use examples of large, muscular men performing heavy manual labor.  We know that men have an inborn, undeniable vocation as providers and protectors, so we reach for clear examples of those.  When we think of providers, we might give the example of a successful business owner, or an accomplished professional; or we might think of an ordinary workman or farmer putting in long hours at physically grueling labor in order to provide a simple but decent living for even a very large family.  We know that men are created to be protectors of the family and community, and thus we look to the sacrificial life of men who have careers in the military or as law enforcement officers.  These are not bad examples.  But they don’t get to the heart of what it means to be a man.

John Hathaway had the rare and excruciating vocation of showing the world what it means to be a man.

You could not look at John and think “typical big strong muscular man.”  (Though at times he astonished me at how strong he was.)  But what is a man’s strength for?  It is for serving God and serving his family.  John Hathaway used every ounce of his physical strength in fulfilling his vocation as husband, father, and Christian.  I remember him telling me the story of literally crawling to Holy Communion one time, so determined he was to receive Our Lord despite whatever parish he was visiting not noticing he needed the sacrament brought to him in the pew.  John was a wealth of medical knowledge – if I had a difficult medical question, he was on the short list of people I’d go to with such questions – because he was utterly focused on husbanding his strength, as the expression goes, so that he would be as strong as he possibly could be in order to serve his wife, his children, and God.

As a provider, John fell in the terrible predicament of those who are extremely talented but not in financially lucrative ways.  He was an English professor in a nation where adjunct professors sometimes literally live out of their cars because they cannot afford rent.   Many men find themselves in this position, willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their families, but thrust into overwhelming circumstances beyond their control.  The despair this can cause men is at times deadly.

John Hathaway deployed extraordinary determination and perseverance and ingenuity in figuring out, day after day, year after year, how to provide for his family.  And he did provide.  He absolutely embodied what it means for a husband and father to be a provider.

As a protector I want to talk about John’s role in defending his children’s very lives.

We live in a time when it is legally and politically and socially acceptable to say that John and Allie and Gianna and Josef and Clara should simply be killed.  They should never have been allowed to be conceived, for fear they not measure up to some ideal standard of human health.   Allie, the same Allie who has been a pillar of strength and a fount of practical help to Mary over this past harrowing week; the same Allie who is delightfully talented and devoted to sharing her talents with the community . . . is someone that even Christians will sometimes say, “it would have been better if she’d never been born.”

I would say John’s life work was one steady, undying protest against that evil.  He tirelessly spoke and wrote and worked to persuade the world that his children deserve to live.

This vocation of his was painful.  It was physically and spiritually exhausting. He deployed every spiritual and physical weapon at his disposal against the constant and at times overpowering despair and darkness that descended on his life.

I can recall at times literally thanking John for still being alive.  I thanked him for the depths of the agony he endured by dint of continuing to pursue medical care in order that he might, for as long as possible, be present in this life to his family.  I thanked him selfishly: I knew that death would be easier and more pleasant for him, and I knew that when that time came I would feel his absence profoundly.  John was a delightful person to know and to talk to and to be with.

In closing I want to commend Mary for her choice of a husband.  She has faithfully withstood no end of criticism for marrying a man who lacked the superficial traits that are idolized by our society.  But she has known what others don’t see: That she married a man who truly embodied manliness to its fullness.  He cherished her, he sacrificed daily for her and the children, and gave his life and every ounce of his strength to providing for and protecting his family.  He made his own and by extension their relationship with Jesus Christ his number one priority.  He was everything any man could ever aspire to be.

File:Iglesia de La Compañía, Quito, Ecuador, 2015-07-22, DD 149-151 HDR.JPG

The pale and fleeting beauty of the Shadowlands, as seen in the Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.

Nature Builds on Grace

So imagine for a moment that in the space of two weeks you learn that your kid has a potentially life-threatening (but otherwise probably benign) tumor in her heart, and then you travel out of town to get it removed via open-heart surgery, and then you come home after and basically you’re done.*  In two weeks.

That’s crazy.  Far too crazy to be eligible for fiction, what with no foreshadowing, no crises, and a shocking denouement in which you get home and have to forbid your kid to clean her room, until you finally break down after a couple hours and let her clean her room.

Also it can’t be fiction because everyone was fine.  A little edgy, sure, definitely some adrenaline happened.  Garden-variety hospital snafus happened (ex: The Night of the Beeping Monitors). There was sunburn during the lead-up to the climax, and also my sister sitting alone on the beach nobly guarding my phone, which was actually with me in the beach parking lot talking to the insurance people. But mostly everything was fine.

Truth: While we were busy with our dramatic medical incident, many friends were enduring much worse suffering.  That is, if by “worse” you mean people-actually-died ‘n stuff.

Since there can therefore be no riveting memoir, here’s my how-to quick guide on How to Throw a Successful Medical Crisis in Just Two Weeks!

 

1.  Try to recruit about a thousand people to pray for you.  If you do this, then your most anxiety-prone child of the bunch can be the one who needs to have her sternum cracked and her heart sliced open, and it’ll be fine.  By “a thousand” what I mean is: The actual, literal number 1,000.  That’s my ballpark estimate of how many seriously praying people were on this job.  Do that.  You want these people.  What they do matters.

2. Happen to invite the exact right relatives to come stay with you.  Try to get them to arrive for vacation the day before you go in to receive the shocking diagnosis.  Whom to invite?  The ones who keep the house clean, provide competent medical advice, have a couple cousins of just the right ages and personalities to provide 24/7 emotional support for the kids, and who are restless enough to keep everyone busy with activities so you don’t have much time to sit around dreading things.

2a.  Dessert.  The children insist you want to invite the relatives who firmly believe in running out to the store to buy three boxes of brownie mix, because there weren’t any brownies in the house.  I say if you do the dishes, vacuum, and wash the sheets before you leave . . . you make all the brownies you want, I can be healthy again after you go home.

3.  Go to the beach.  Oh, you just want to sit around googling statistics about rare surgical procedures?  That’s why you arranged for your sister to show up: Because she is going to take you to the beach, and once you’ve viewed one excision of a right ventricular mass you’ve viewed them all.  Go to the beach. Your kid is gonna have a very boring and painful summer once surgery happens.  For goodness sake go to the beach.

Backlit tree with egrets at sunset.
Sunset at the rental house on John’s Island. It’s hard to be stressed here.

4. Comparative Advantage for the win.  So you are going to ask all your friends with relevant experience for their advice, and then you will take it.  One of the things you’ll learn is that there are different types of work for different people at different times.

  • The aunt who is perfectly capable of watching your healthy kids is the person who needs the power of attorney so she can do her thing and not need to call you at just the wrong time.
  • The ICU nurse who has gotten your kid stable post-op, and she is not tired, and she is one-on-one with your kid, is the person who should stay up all night after surgery watching your kid while you go to the hotel and get as much sleep as you can.
  • The spouse who does better on disrupted sleep should take night shift in the step-down unit.
  • The spouse who does better at asking hard questions and won’t be intimidated by the platoon of physicians descending on your room during rounds should do day shift.
  • The people who cook astonishingly good food available at local restaurants should feed you during shift change.
Dinner at Fuel. Tourist tip if you’re ever in Charleston: King Street is for people who like normal food. MUSC neighborhood is for people who feel cheated if the taco is just a regular taco with no purple cabbage on it.

5.  A sane parent is a priceless treasure. There is no substitute for a parent who is willing to do whatever it takes to support a child in a medical crisis.  Thus more sides to the shape of parental-sanity:

(A) If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to do the whatever it takes when the need arises.

(B) Whatever it takes includes doing some hard things, but not all the hard things.  If you don’t have to be there doing a thing, go do something that makes you better able to do the things only you can do.

So yeah: I totally made a teenager deliver me my good cruiser so I could go on a bike ride when it was my turn to get out and get some fresh air.  Yes, the spouse and I got out for couple-time during shift change, so we could see daylight, talk to each other without interruptions, eat something good and be ready to go back in for more.

 

Lawn by the ER at MUSC
If your kid kicks you out of her room because she doesn’t want to smell your heated-up frozen dinner, then go lie down in green pastures on the lawn by the ER. It’s okay to take pleasure in good things even when your kid just had major-major surgery.

6.  You can just be real about the situation.  Back to that whole 1,000-person prayer team:  Yes, the SuperHusband and I, and everyone else, were worried and scared.  Left to my own devices, not only could I worry about this child’s impending doom, I could also conjure up scenarios in which other children met tragic fates while we were all distracted by the one having the official crisis.  Drowning? Fatal car accident?  Nobody’s safe!  Ever!

Nobody is ever safe.  Our kid came through surgery just fine, and other people were receiving bad news.  Our days were getting better and better while other people’s lives were getting worse and worse.  It’s a fallen world.  You don’t have to pick a single All-Purpose Mood that somehow perfectly matches the gravity of the situation, because the truth is that the situation is complicated, and some really good things are happening and so are some bad things.  So just whatever.  Don’t feel beholden to the Feelings Police.

7.  Eternity is for real.  The thought of my kid dying is unbearable.  Also: It could happen on my watch.  Indeed, the expected death rate for my children is 100%, so unless we all die in the same train wreck, some of us get to be bereaved.

This is awful.  Believing in God doesn’t take away the intense grief that comes with losing someone you love.

But here’s what it does do: It means you aren’t hanging all your faith on doctors.  You can be sensible and do practical things to try to ensure the best odds possible on your kid’s survival, but the weight of Everything Forever And Ever Amen doesn’t hang on your shoulders, and it doesn’t hang on the doctors’ shoulders.  When you know that God has everything under control, you don’t have to be in a non-stop panic, frantically trying to save your kid from eternal nothingness.

You ask God to spare you the suffering, and hopefully He spares you the suffering.  But you also know that the separation of death is temporary, and no matter how bad things get in this life, no matter how black your grief, no matter how much your life sinks into the abyss of loss if the worst should happen, it isn’t the end of the story.

And then if your kid’s not dead and actually she’s recovering pretty well, you can leave her to the spouse who has day shift and get out for fresh air and sanity.

Green sea grass with sailboats on the water in the distance.
View of the marsh and estuary from the Lockwood Drive greenway.
Concrete walk along The Battery, Charleston, SC, with house and palmetto trees.
The Battery, where cars are as slow as the bicycles that pull over to let faster traffic pass.

 

*It’s not done until Pathology says it’s done . . . but we’re not going there right now.

Pro-Parenting Tips: Doubly-Virtuous Children

Something I like about our parish school is that every week the students bring home a folder of all their graded work, so we parents can see how they are doing.  We sign off on the papers and send them back to school, so the teachers know we’re in the loop.  Here’s my 6th grader’s latest religion test, on the theological and cardinal virtues:

You’ll notice the teacher marked #8 incorrect.  The instructions are to match the cardinal virtue to the statement, and #8 is “The virtue that enables people to give respect and obedience to their parents.”  The cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice, temperance (self-control), and fortitude.

Obeying your parents is exactly the kind of thing thrown out as a classic example of the virtue of justice.  I use it myself all the time.  If I were taking the test, that’s the virtue I would have picked from the list.  So the teacher isn’t exactly wrong here in saying “justice” is the correct answer.

The difficulty is that this is my child’s test.  And I assure you, my kid is absolutely right.  If I had to put up with me, I’d need fortitude for sure.

Raising Catholic Teens, Rough Cut Version

So I have this artist who lives at my house and makes Bible verse paintings.

 

The one she hung in the bathroom is . . . topical:

So that’s all good.  We’re keeping Hobby Lobby in business with our canvas-buying habits, even more so since I just gave her a new commission: I need John 20:22-23 on the wall, stat.

What happened is my 13-year-old came home yesterday and told me about an apologetics argument she’d gotten into with a grown-up who wasn’t too keen on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  She gave it her best, but she’s not a hardened veteran like her older brother is, and plus she was one-on-one.  We talked about some different ways to charitably approach the topic, and then I went to the living room and moved the dog bed and the cedar chest and pushed back the couch until I could fish out our New Catholic Answer Biblewhich we don’t ordinarily store under the couch, but I had seen it there when I was laying on the living room rug and I’d forgotten to rescue it then, so it was ready and waiting.  I left the sock and the plastic Easter egg for another time.

I couldn’t give her the actual citation, I just knew the verse was at the end of one of the Gospels since the moment occurred post-resurrection, so I sent her to check all the ends of the Gospels, but then I needed to go do carpool so I quick looked up the verse on Bible Gateway via keyword so that I didn’t leave her hanging.  I also handed her over my Precise Parallel New Testament, and explained that it was important to look up the verse in several translations so you don’t get blindsided if the person you are arguing with has another translation that phrases things differently.

“When in doubt,” I told her, “most Protestants will accept the KJV, so always check that.”

She did check the KJV, and noticed the use of the word ye.  I explained that meant Jesus was speaking to the group of apostles, not just one person, because ye is plural.  “The KJV is great for apologetics, actually, because you can point out the thou whenever Jesus is only speaking to one apostle.”

“Like ‘upon this rock I will build my Church,'” she said.  Yep, that’s my kid.  And that verse will be commission #2.

So this morning in the car on the way to school I quizzed her on what Bible passage shows Jesus giving the apostles the power to forgive sins, and she nailed it.  Probably I’m the only one who needs the art on the walls.  Also, she observed it must have been pretty weird for Peter getting a new name like Rock.  “Think about going around and everyone’s calling you ‘Rock’,” she said.

Yep.

So I’m proud of that kid, but here’s the thing: Just because you are growing up in a house with Bible verses on the walls doesn’t mean everything is swell in your little Catholic bubble.  And that’s why, when my eldest daughter came home the other night and was talking about her frustration with the Church, I decided I needed to write about it.

The things she had to say are things I hear from a lot of adults, too.  What she has to say are things that some people like to dismiss, but I showed my daughter the number shares we’ve already gotten, and that tells me and her that she’s not alone.   There are a lot of people out there like my daughter, people who want to be Catholic, but it’s not going so well. You can read about it at the Register: “What Good Catholic Teens Want from the Church”

Why We Homeschooled So Long

At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues.  Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me.  Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms.  It looked ideal.  It practically called her name.  There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light.  For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.

And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child.  Maybe I should send her to school.

Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom.  By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you.  Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read.  All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five.  They were physically unable.  Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.

Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that.  Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world.  This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to.  You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store.  You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature.  Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out.  Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.

***

(If you want to understand the great Maria Montessori vs. Charlotte Mason wrestling match, the missing piece is this: Charlotte Mason’s audience had access to the real world; Maria Montessori’s students were kids who would otherwise have spent their day alone in a tiny working-class flat while their parents put in 14-hour shifts at the local factory.  Much of Montessori is about providing Mason when Mason can’t be had.  At The Register I’ve got up a piece that is an example of that kind of adaptation, in this case for teens.)

***

I’m still a big believer in homeschooling.  I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education.  For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school.  As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table.  I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning.  When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.

So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?

The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need.  When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences.  Homeschooling let us do that.  Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.

Anyhow, all this to say: Let your kids play.

 

Related: On the Forming of Young Christians

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Not my children, but mine play this game too.  Photo by Abi Blu, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

Snowpersons for Life

What do you when the interstate becomes impassable on your route to the March for Life?  Pull over and make Phyllis, the snowperson.  Why yes, the pro-life movement is young — and happy to be alive.

FYI if you didn’t see it over at the Register, this is what happened at our state March for Life, when a non-denominational Christian tried to talk my son and his friends out of being Catholic.

When You Need Christmas Carols

This afternoon we’re going caroling with our friends (and you can too)!  The way I buy out of the obligation to bring something good for the potluck is to bring the music instead.

The booklets I put together back in 1998 for our first caroling party are starting to get a bit ragged.  This is our year to refresh, and I suspected CCWatershed could help, since they were my source for Advent music a few weeks ago for the dread homeschool music-minutes.*  For those who were in on the Advent Music brainstorming session on Facebook, the answer is that I went with “Creator of the Stars of Night.”  Some people I live with were skeptical that young children could be counted on to quickly learn such a thing, but my class of monkeys had the hang of it by the third verse.  So I maintain that one is a great choice for kids who can read words — simple tune, easy range, repeat repeat repeat.

But for the neighbors, we need Christmas Carols.  CCWatershed did not disappoint.  I searched around and found their link to ACollectionofChristmasCarols.com.  If you go to that site you can choose the format that works best for you.  If you’re going out caroling on short notice, what you want to do is download the free PDF and print out just the pages you plan to sing from to make your booklets.  If you want the whole shebang, you are way better off to purchase the book version from whichever of the several options best meets your needs.

So You Want to Go Caroling, You Said?

Let me give you a couple tips on how to organize your music.

When you ring on someone’s doorbell, you don’t want to make them stand there forever.  You also want them to have a vague idea of what it is you are singing, so your ragtag bunch needs to choose wisely.  Here’s the formula:

(1) Pick out six or seven carols that everyone and their brother is likely to know, and which are easy to sing. If your neighborhood has many people who do not celebrate Christmas, include some generic winter-season festive music in your line-up.  You do not win hearts to the Gospel by irritating and offending people.

(2) Choose two or three verses to sing for each song or carol.  For slow songs like “Silent Night,” make it two verses. For quick, peppy songs you can do three.  Decide ahead of time and make a note.

DO NOT TRY TO SING MORE THAN ONE VERSE OF “THE FIRST NOEL.”  Why yes, I am shouting at you.  Trust me: Nobody in your group knows how to match the words to the melody in the subsequent verses.  It will be a disaster.  Don’t do this.  “The First Noel” is a great song to not ever ever ever sing with your friendly neighborhood carolers.  Just never.  Leave that one at home.

For “We Three Kings,” sing the first and last verse.  You may sing all five verses at home with your friends.  The police will be right to issue you a citation if you pressure your neighbors into standing there listening to the entire saga king by king.  First and last and no one’s gonna hunt you down and egg your house.

(3) Make yourself sets of three-song combinations.  #3 is always “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  #1 will be something lively, and #2 is where you can put “Silent Night” or any song that drags out a little.  As you go from house to house, rotate through the combinations.    If someone asks you for more than three songs, you can always throw in another one.

(4) Use common sense when assessing whether to ring the doorbell and what to sing.  If lights are off, don’t ring.  If there are Christmas decorations up, it’s reasonable to assume the residents celebrate Christmas.  FYI,  the full lyrics of “Let it Snow” plus one verse and refrain of “Jingle Bells” is about the right amount for your non-Christmas houses.  And my apologies gentle reader, I live in the Bible Belt, I don’t have a second secular-set to propose, because we don’t usually need even the first set.  I’m sure your kid’s school Winter Concert playlist includes some suggestions.

(5) If you are clever you’ll order your music packets so that the carols are in order and you can just keep cycling through the packet and inserting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” from memory.   (Stick it on the last page in case the Chinese exchange student shows up and needs the words. You can separate out your “Christmas” rotation from your “Secular” rotation as well.  A post-it note in the packet could help.)

(6) The We-Wish-You finale (or “Jingle Bells” for non-Christmasers) is important not just because it works well for signaling to the neighbors that their time of redemption is at hand, but also it means that your toddlers will always have something they can sing at each house.  Little kids do pretty well just dragging along and humming about Harold Angel, as long as they can belt out We-Wish-You with gusto for each song.   “Away in a Manger” is good for little ones who’ve been made to learn it at Sunday School, and “Angels We Have Heard on High” works well because the pre-literate crowd can join in on the In Excelsis Deo.

(7) Pack flashlights.

 

Enjoy!

 

Artwork Courtesy of acollectionofchristmascarols.com.

 

*Dreaded no longer.  That class is going great ever since we switched formats.  It turns out some of the wild monkeys are shockingly happy studying Tantum Ergo.  And speaking of CCWatershed: I noticed the Cathedral in Charleston is using the Saint Isaac Jogue Pew Lectionary and the Pope Francis Hymn Book.  Both of them look great.  Recommended.

 

The Advent Wars Escalate

We’ve reached a new low on the Battle for Advent: My house now sports an Ordinary Time Tree.

Christmas Lights on a fir tree, up close
Maternal Penance in Mixed Media, Detail

I told the children they ought to crown it for the feast of Christ the King, but they were too busy ignoring admonitions about liturgically-correct decorating schemes while they quick tied up all the cut limbs with red plaid bows.  In memory of the souls in purgatory, I’m sure.

***

Early last week my trusty Surface Pro (reliability rating: 7th Circle of IT Hell) spontaneously quit working, forever and ever amen, while I was using it.  I assume it was pre-punishment for my caving on the tree.  So I spent the week sharing one PC with a man who was home “on vacation” working all day at the one PC.

And that’s the story about how I became a Black Friday shopper.

Surreal part: No lines, no crowds, no traffic.  I gather that the “we’re closed on Thanksgiving (until 5pm)!” thing is causing all the crazy people to get their manic shopping needs taken care of on the vigil, leaving the daylight hours to those of us who don’t love the contact-sport side of holiday shopping.

Disturbing part: I purchased a laptop named after a deadly sin.

It was on sale, so it’s okay, right?

More disturbing part: It was not the right deadly sin.

If you told me I was blogging from a machine called wrath I’d consider it truth in advertising.  Sloth and gluttony come to mind as obvious runners-up. Were it a school chrome book, now the go-to way to avoid the hassle and expense of textbooks even though students don’t learn as well online, we could call it avarice.

But envy?  Nah.  It’s shiny, but not that shiny.  Envy is why we have the ordinary time tree.

 

Advent, Christmas, and Your Child’s Vocation

It’s time for the Advent Wars to flare up again here at the Fitz castle.  I think I’ve found my solution, and it’s related to my latest at the Register and a new book out by Suzan & Eric Sammons.

Let’s start over at NCR: 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest.  I’m pretty sure that post is now officially the most popular thing I’ve ever written.*  To clarify and provide related links, at the blorg I put together a compendium: Evangelization and Discipleship for the Boys & Girls Who Live At Your House. With that as a preface, here’s how my solution to the Advent Wars fits into my approach to fostering vocations in my kids.

There are 12 Days of Christmas, and They Don’t Start Until December 25th

The annual battle concerns when to put up the Christmas tree and how to decorate it.  The mother resides in the Advent Austerity camp.  The more closely we imitate the lodgings of St. John the Baptist the better, right?  The children, led by the Eldest Daughter, would be perfectly happy to have Rudolph on the Roof beginning November 1.  In years past children have literally sneaked the fake Christmas tree out of the attic while I was sleeping and set it up in the living room in total silence.  This might be the one thing they manage to accomplish without any bickering whatsoever, so I count my blessings and offer it up.

But this year things will be different.

This year, Suzan Sammons put into my hands a review copy of her new book The Jesse Tree: An Advent Devotion.  I like it.  There’s a chart that shows you how to get all your ornaments up during Advent, no matter how weird of a liturgical year we’re having.  The sample ornaments in the book are crazy simple.  The daily suggested reflection and prayer hits the spot without overwhelming.  It’s like this book was written by a couple Christian parents with a pile of kids.   I recommend this book.

The Jesse Tree

Also you longtime readers know me: I’m not doing no Jesse Tree.  Sheesh.  Who are we kidding?

But you know who can do a Jesse Tree?  My crafty Christmas-crazy kids, that’s who.  So the new deal is this:

  • IF children want to do the Jesse Tree . . .
  • AND the teenagers who now have drivers licenses agree to do all the craft supply shopping . . .
  • AND the teenager who tends to hog craft projects solemnly promises to let her little sisters have a fair share of the ornament-making work . . .
  • AND the 11-year-old who best succeeds at daily routines and pestering us all into responsible family behavior and who happens to be a great Junior Lector agrees to host the Jesse Tree prayer time each evening . . .

THEN parents will fund the ornament budget and let children put the tree up before Advent begins, FOR ADVENT ORNAMENTS ONLY.

That’s my solution.

How does this fit in with my vocations post at the Register?  I’m so glad you asked.

Kids need to own their faith.

There are a bazillion ways to be Catholic, and kids need to figure out for themselves which devotions and prayers and disciplines are made for the type of people that they are.  If God fills you with a passion for Pinterest projects, you should run with it.  My eldest daughter has long been certain she has a vocation to marriage, and I don’t disagree.  The homemaking side of holy day observances is part of such a vocation.  So why shouldn’t she practice it?

If I do everything for my kids, they’ll never learn how to do things themselves. That’s true of laundry, cooking, homework — and it’s true of their faith.  You have to give kids chances to practice being Catholic, all on their own.  Now that two of my kids can drive?  I totally let the kids go to whatever Sunday Mass they want, regardless of when the parents are attending.

It is really important that kids know down to their bones that the faith is something they do, not something they only do with their parents.  They have to practice showing up at church alone so that it feels normal and natural for them to wake up on a Sunday and get in the car and drive to Mass someplace.   I don’t mean you’re a bad parent if your whole family gets in the car and goes to Mass together every week.  I mean that we parents need to look for ways — and this Jesse Tree thing is an example — that happen to be good ways, given your own family life, for your kids to practice taking charge of their faith.

You’re still the parent.  They aren’t totally spun off on their own yet.  But if you see some good opportunity for a kid in your family to do a thing he or she naturally wants to do and that provides that chance to take the lead on the faith, let the kid have at it.

Related Links, Starting with Crafts:

  1. My friend Sandra pointed me towards Ginger Snap Crafts, where you can find instructions for wood slice ornaments and for snowflake ornaments among many others.  You could switch out the snowflakes for Jesse Tree symbols. The wood grain nativity set was what originally caught her eye – don’t use treated lumber if you want your preschooler to be able to build Bethlelem with it.
  2. You do know about Catholic Icing, right?

From Advents Past:

5 Ways to Give Your Family a Peaceful Advent

Well Hello, Advent.  We Meet Again.

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I don’t know why all the lists come in fives.

Two New Holiday Movies & a Grammar Lesson:

Dickens, Scrooge, and the Road to Redemption: A Review of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Reviewed by Tony Rossi

“The Star”: Hijinks and Holiness Make a Fun Christmas Story for the Family.  The handful of Catholic writers I’ve talked to who’ve seen the preview have loved it — and some of them are quite prickly about Hollywood getting hold of Bible stories.  So scout around for reviews if you’re not certain.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season Because you love America and Tiny Tim and don’t want a reindeer to have to die each time you abuse an apostrophe.

Who is that Eric Sammons Guy?

It turns out he writes good books.

And did you notice how beautifully edited those two books were? I did.  It was Suzan Sammons we have to thank for that, in case you’re ever looking for a good copy-editor.

And finish to the round up . . .

The Top Three Things I’m Most Glad I Added to My Holiday Season

These have stood the test of time.  They are my go-to holiday things.  Now you look around and find your holiday things.  Happy Advent Wars!

 

File:XRF 12days.jpg

Image by Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

*Correction: As of mid-morning, How to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic still had the lead in total shares.  Look at them both and vote with your sharing buttons!