Catholicism

Why Catholics are More Enlightened Than You Think

The Church is more scientific, universal, intellectual, and merciful than you may have been led to believe. Here’s how.

We believe in social justice.

The Catholic Church has the utmost respect for human life. That’s all human life, at all stages, with all kinds of needs:

  • We support a living wage because denying people the ability to provide for themselves and their families puts money above the wellbeing of our neighbors.
  • We support immigration and the responsible, generous, and charitable protection of people who are asking for help to improve their lives and escape danger.
  • We serve the poor and vulnerable because socioeconomic status does not devalue the inherent worth of our brothers and sisters. It is our duty and our privilege to affirm this worth.
  • We reject racism and any other attempt to make one person appear less valuable or worthy of life and liberty than the rest, because we are all made in God’s image.
  • We oppose the death penalty because cruel and unusual punishment violates the dignity of the human person.
  • We respect the earth and serve as thoughtful and responsible stewards of the environment and all of its inhabitants, because Creation is among God’s most beautiful and generous gifts.
  • We defend the most vulnerable among us—including the disabled, homeless, sick, dying, and unborn—from abuse or undignified and violent death, because no one’s impulses or preferences outweigh the gravity of life itself.

Examples of these virtues are abundant in the saints, and such generous and beloved souls as Pier Giorgio Frassati, Oscar Romero, and Frances Xavier Cabrini.

We believe in the dignity of every person.

A defining characteristic of the Catholic Church is her universality. The Church welcomes people of all backgrounds, races, and life stages. Each of us has a unique place in the Body of Christ, is made in God’s image, and is gifted with the ability to make this world a better place.

The diversity of saints is an excellent reflection of this truth. Our faith community has been blessed by wonderful people across many ethnic, social, racial, and cultural backgrounds, some of whom are now canonized. Read about some of these examples of Christian unity here and here.

Additionally, the Church upholds the valuable contributions of each of her members in the daily operations and success of our communities around the world. Vowed religious individuals and devoted laypeople, as well as priests, are at work running our churches, schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, and other networks every day. We are all called to serve, because all of us are worthy of being served and all of us are capable of having an impact that cannot be duplicated by anyone else.

We believe in the beauty of the human body.

Despite popular thought, the Church upholds the perfect beauty of both sexes. Men and women have unique roles in our faith, as well as in our domestic families and in roles of public ministry. Though the priesthood is a vocation specialized for men, women play an extraordinarily important role in the life of the Church.

After Jesus—who is, of course, the truly perfect incarnation of God as well as man, and the only human we worship—the human most beloved by Catholics is Mary. As the mother of God, Mary represents an ideal of not just womanhood, but humanity. She was obedient to God, as we all must be. She persevered in the face of adversity, persecution, and danger. And she was strong, intelligent, and devoted enough to raise her child into an educated, worldly, and loving man who would change the history of the world.

And after watching him die a criminal’s death, she went on to support his friends and help grow the community he built like only a woman could.

Additionally, also in defiance of popular accusations, the Church is passionate about the goodness of the human body and the beauty of human sexuality. In fact, Church teaching asserts the divine nature of sexuality and insists everyone who participates in it puts their partner’s joy above their own—demanding a mutual respect that has simply disappeared from popular discourse around sex.

We aren’t influenced by groupthink.

The Catholic Church is a 2,000-year-old institution. Many accuse her of being outdated and slow to adapt to modernity.

And maybe, in some ways, they’re right. But these things are not inherently bad.

The Church has withstood the test of time, despite the atrocities that have afflicted humanity and the shame some members and leaders of the Church earned for themselves along the way. Jesus promises the disciples in Matthew that evil will never prevail against the Church. Ours is a ship that is truly unsinkable—despite the deeply imperfect people at the helm.

So our faith is one of slow evolution and cautious change. We do not allow the latest controversies or fad philosophies to dictate Truth, and we do not give in to current whims at the risk of damaging the faith and salvation of millions. Scripture and tradition guide us, as they should. Theology is a place of healthy discourse and respectful debate. Teachings are not altered lightly. And dogma can never be contradicted.

We resist peer pressure, reject negative influences, and are true to ourselves—always.

We are artists, architects, scientists, scholars, servants, and teachers.

Catholics have served in virtually every role of society. Some of the most beautiful masterpieces originated with our love for God. A majority of the world’s non-governmental healthcare is provided by our love for our neighbors. Many of our greatest intellectual traditions have roots in the Church. A host of extraordinary scientific advancements can be attributed to great Catholics throughout history.

For more, start by Googling any of these Catholics and their contributions to society:

  • Teresa of Calcutta
  • Dolores Hope
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • Gregor Mendel
  • Georges Lemaitre
  • Dorothy Day
  • Fredrick McGhee
  • Mary Kenneth Keller
  • Thomas More

You may be surprised by how deeply this faith has influence literature, the arts, mathematics, life sciences, physics, and more. There is no curiosity and intellectual insight quite like that which is inspired by a devotion to the Maker who designed it all.

We know our weakness.

The Church is clear on many things when it comes to right and wrong. Catholics live by a moral code and a formed conscience, and sometimes we are made unpopular by the worldly things we reject (looking at you, HBC).

We also know that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. In many ways, humility is a hallmark of our faith. We know our limits.

Thankfully, our limitations aren’t the end for us. We have an incredible wealth of history, tradition, and theology to help us overcome personal barriers. An abundance of grace has brought forth many bright Catholic minds, who have assembled lasting resources to benefit the faithful around the world.

These minds compiled the Bible. They established sacred Tradition, which passes down the teachings of the apostles from generation to generation. They have helped establish the forms of our liturgy, inspired many devotions and prayers, and taught us about the beauty of the sacraments. I could go on and on.

But, in her wisdom, the Church also leaves a lot of choices to the discernment of individuals and families. A massive theological library, many papal documents (of varying subjects and authority), and insights from saints aid in that discernment. But ultimately, on issues of vocation, hobby, work, family size or routines, and more, we Catholics have the benefit of a clear moral structure that helps us recognize right from wrong—and then pursue the life we were made for, the life we love.

We are guided by love.

Above all, Catholicism is a faith defined by love: love for God and, thereby, love for neighbor. We actively seek to see and resolve our neighbors’ suffering, because we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father—and we are here for each other.

As Pope Francis has said, “Today more than ever, there needs to be a revolution of tenderness. This will save us.”

Drawing Inspiration from JPII on Reconciling Suffering in Our World

Pain is a reality for us all. It is the sad truth of our world that perfection is out of reach.

(Far out of reach, actually. Most of us can’t agree on what perfection even is.)

And there are many kinds of pain: the sorrow of loss, the sting of hate, the ache of loneliness, the distress of being unwanted. Some of these things I have felt. Some I’m privileged not to have experienced for myself. But each of us has a story to tell, and every one of those stories features pain.

Whatever your experience, all suffering is a tragedy. And all of it has shaped us—for better or worse—into the people we are now.

Sometimes we shroud our pain with silence, feeling averse to vulnerability. Too often, we feel like our pain is weakness—as if we should be able to “let go and let God” or “rise above” or “focus on gratitude.” And to some extent, that mind-over-matter attitude is important.

But it can also negate the redemptive promise of our suffering.

Did Christ not suffer for us, more deeply than anyone? Was he not shamed, whipped, mocked, tortured, and nailed to a cross to pay for the sins of others? Did he not weep? Did he not die?

Suffering is not worthless. Pain is not weakness. No one is stronger than Jesus, and it is by Christ’s trials that we are redeemed. So, by our own trials, we can feel him and the depth of his love for us. And that is powerful.

But Why?

I, as I’m sure you do, sometimes catch myself in abject disbelief in the face of pain. Why does a loving God let a neighbor hate his neighbor? Why does the Divine Physician let a pandemic run rampant?

Why did the Father deliver his Son into the hands of murderers?

The answer is not simple. And, put simply, God does not send any evil or ill wishes upon any of us. Our world is broken by our own free will and the imperfections of reality on this earth. Imperfect people just cannot expect to live in a perfect world.

I recently read a book of essays from Saint John Paul II—recently published, though written before he became pope—called Teachings for an Unbelieving World: Newly Discovered Reflections on Paul’s Sermon at the Areopagus. In it, the great JPII discusses the nature of belief in God in a culture of unbelief.

John Paul II explains how God made us in His likeness: “God creates the human being both rational and free, wanting above all to express his image and likeness in the human person. Even at the cost of abusing the great gift of freedom” (page 31).

We are free to do as our rational thought compels us. God wants this freedom for us—because, without it, how can we truly, deeply experience love? Love never arises by force.

That freedom, though, comes with responsibility. It means that God can’t dictate every development in our journeys or the world around us. It means pain is a part of this life.

What to Do?

Central to a handful of JPII’s teachings in this book is the notion that suffering does not separate us from God—indeed, it actually unifies us to Him in a bond that reflects the two-fold nature of Christ, who is both God and man.

God is the creator of both the ultimate justice and the ultimate love—and sometimes, these concepts are difficult for us to reconcile. Isn’t judgment inherently hurtful? Isn’t love inherently joyful?

But this is not so—not at the heart of what these virtues entail. As John Paul II outlines in this book:

God himself is the “reconciliation” of justice with love. … All that Jesus “did” and “taught” testifies to the “reconciliation” of justice with love in the dimension of God himself, just as the Cross and the Resurrection constitute its supreme witness. (51-52)

Take, for example, the sacrament of Confession. Just as God holds us to high standards when it comes to doing what is right, He is delighted by the prospect of wiping our slates clean again and again—no matter how many times we fall—and drawing us into His embrace.

Likewise, God can work joy into our lives through the pain we endure. The way He created us might have allowed for suffering to enter the world, but it also allows for more authentic love between us and Him, and us and each other.

After all, without death, we would have no need for Christ. And oh, what we would be missing if Christ had not come for us.

In the miracle of Christ’s humanity and divinity, comingled in one truly perfect person, we are given a glimpse of what it means to be human and what it means to know God. In his suffering, we can see how justice and love are, in fact, quite easily reconciled—even if the depth of that reconciliation is beyond our understanding. JPII explains:

During his prayers in Gethsemane, “Christ united himself to the Father in a special way, and in a special way drew near to him, entering into the eternal dimension of the redemption of the world. However, it must also be emphasized that in this prayer Christ also drew near to humankind in a special way. The words: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” testify to his participation in the suffering of all people from the beginning to the end of the world. Christ united to the father—“Yet, not my will but yours be done”—is at the same time united to every human being, and is in “solidarity” with the destiny of humanity on earth. In this prayer, Christ opens, so to speak, a special space in which every person can find himself in the most difficult and crucial moments. The prayer in the garden of olives remains the specific paradigm of the “universalism” of Christ in the history of humankind. (104)

I love this. I love how, with faith, we can see suffering not as pointless pain in an empty world, but as an opportunity to grow—into better versions of ourselves, into more principled people, into closer relationships with Jesus, and into gratitude for the salvation that will ultimately deliver us from every kind of pain.

Suffering Quote

St. Paul touches on this in Romans 8:15-18: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (emphasis mine).

May we all endure suffering with our eyes toward Christ, do what we can to lessen the suffering of our neighbors, and offer up our pain for the salvation of the world. It is a heavy cross to bear, living in these times. But great rewards await us. Justice—and love—shall prevail.

Clarity and Confession: Reflections on Penance

You can’t pick a favorite sacrament. You just can’t. Each has its own beauty and wonder and draw. But there is something uniquely moving about Penance.

That’s not something I pictured myself saying back when I was preparing for my first confession. Or in the almost-decade I spent avoiding another one. Or even the first few times I returned to the confessional after that. But it’s a sentiment that’s dawned on me over the last couple of years.

I bet nearly all of us cradle Catholics have vivid memories of anxiety and embarrassment leading up to our first reconciliation. What adolescent, after all, looks forward to announcing their sins to another person—let alone a priest? There’s so much pressure to deny what is “bad” about us at that age, when we want so badly to be liked and loved and trusted.

And for adult converts, faith formation is a process of incredibly personal self-discovery. It isn’t easy to lay bare the ways we fall short to another person.

So it’s no surprise that I have come across some misunderstandings of the purpose of this sacrament, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To be clear:

  • Confession is not an opportunity to impose guilt.
  • Confession is not a mechanism by which the Church holds control over your relationship with God.
  • Confession is not a conspiracy to dig up dirt in order to keep you “on the hook.”
  • Confession is not an exercise in self-defense, in which we try and shore up our value despite our sins.
  • Confession is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, given to or by someone merely for intoning formulaic words like a magic spell.

“The Human Heart is Heavy and Hardened”

Make no mistake: Sin is a heavy burden. We are obliged to live in accordance with what is morally good not for the sake of following rules, but because it is in our nature to want and to be what is morally good.

This is why our conscience speaks loudly when our courage fails to do so. It’s why we like to say that an act of kindness “restores our faith in humanity.” It’s why giving feels good. It’s why love is the pinnacle of human connection.

Catholic or not, most of us believe that someone who is kind and genuinely devoted to doing the right thing is a healthy and well-ordered person.

When we don’t live according to this inclination toward goodness, it weighs on us. We feel depressed. We feel ashamed. We feel lost, or helpless, or unworthy. And that feeling spirals, doesn’t it?

It is painfully easy to look back at the laundry list of things we’ve done wrong and think, “Well, too late now.” We build bad habits and “fall off the wagon” again and again, and eventually, it seems like the only path forward is one big, ugly circle back to where we started. There is temptation, maybe subconscious: “What’s the point in trying to do better? I fail every time anyway.”

Sometimes, we choose to cope with this via mental gymnastics that attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance by convincing us (and others) that our vices aren’t so bad after all. But, when our conscience is well-formed, this self-indulgence rarely keeps us happy for long.

And then there are the burdens that settle on our hearts through no fault of our own. Burdens that weigh heavy on us, interrupting our spiritual practices and our perspectives on ourselves, the world, or God Himself.

In 2020, as a multitude of global and social crises overwhelm us with sorrow and frustration, we know how tumultuous simply living in this world can be. It is backbreaking work, and none of us can do it alone. Deep in our stormy thoughts, it is so difficult not to simply lean into that despair and lose sight of what is still good and true all around us.

“God Must Give Man a New Heart”

How can any of us hold up the weight of the world alone—especially while dragging our own hopelessness along, too, like boulders fettered to our ankles?

The answer is, of course, that we can’t. We’re never meant to carry the whole world alone. But we are woefully incapable of lifting even our own little share in it effectively when we are restricted by sin and the suffering that plagues us when we turn away from the Lord and his boundless love.

If you have a toddler, you know what it’s like to watch someone attempt the same task in the exact wrong way, over and over, while not just refusing your help, but completely snubbing your suggestions for how to get themselves sorted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gently explained to my son that the easiest way to remove a shoe is to push it down his heel first, only to watch him fruitlessly tug on his toes whilst screeching his frustration right back at me.

Think how God must feel when we refuse His guidiance.

As Catholics, the sacrament of confession is our opportunity to turn our ears toward God. He wipes our slate clean, yes—and it’s a delightful relief every time that gift is given—but He also speaks to us in and around the confessional. Through the priest who ministers to us, or the quiet moments of prayerful penance afterward, or the newly opened curtains that let His light shine on rooms in our hearts that had been darkened by sin—He speaks to us.

The grace bestowed through Penance is one that restores our hearts to what they were designed to be. We become white as snow, receptive as Mary was in the moment of her Fiat, unwavering as John the Baptist as he taught bystanders that he must decrease as the Son of God must increase.

Sisters and brothers, I beg you: As soon as you are able, flee to the Lord in this generous sacrament. I promise you won’t be sorry.

Do Not Be Discouraged: Domesticity and Virtue

Note: This article was originally written for and published by Chaste Love. It was an honor to be invited to write for such a wonderful resource, and I’m very happy to share my article again here. 

Growing up, I always felt called to marriage as my vocation in life. I believed that God had a romantic path in mind for me: true love, a happy home, a wholesome family. I never really considered religious life. I just never felt drawn to it.

That is, not until I experienced just how hard family life can be.

Cloistered religious life, specifically, never seemed attractive to me until the noisy, hectic unpredictability of raising toddlers took over my daily experience.

I think we sometimes fail to see the beauty in other vocations until we deeply know the difficulties of our own. But while I may, here and there, yearn for the solitude and quiet devotion of a religious sister, I know in my heart that God made me to be a wife and mother.

Still, the struggles of this life have surprised me. I didn’t realize motherhood could be so lonely. And I failed to anticipate how the devil might trick me into thinking all my domestic labors are empty, circuitous, and invisible to the rest of the world.

Labor of Love

I can’t tell you how deeply I feel like my days are filled with little more than cleaning up messes and watching them be made again.

The work of raising a family is full of monotony and seemingly petty demands. Though the blisses of your wedding day and your children’s first smiles or laughs are enough to make these labors worthwhile, the responsibility of it all remains a heavy burden to bear. It’s difficult not to feel completely spent by the end of every day.

Then, when you’re feeling exhausted and frustrated, it’s so easy to let your spiritual growth fall to the wayside. Tapped out of energy and patience, the silence that fills your home after the kids are finally asleep seems like an invitation to nothing but your own bed. And attending Mass? It’s more about wrangling the children than it is about encountering the Divine.

Before you know it, weeks go by before you realize you can’t remember the last time you uttered a sincere prayer. And suddenly the guilt of neglecting your Father is added to the guilt you feel over your impatience with your children, the tasks you’ve left undone, and the mistakes you’ve made along the way.

Your Work is a Prayer

Know this: These negative thoughts are how Satan exploits your vulnerabilities. The real truth is simple: If you’re living according to God’s law and raising your children to love Him, your every effort is a prayer.

Our world is a busy and self-interested one, and it’s easy to feel like your contributions are miniscule and obsolete compared to the goings-on of the culture around you. But God sees your labors and He loves you for them. He sees your contributions to His kingdom—and there is no greater work than that.

So long as you’re living as His daughter or son, doing your best to fulfill His will and glorify His love with devotion to your family, your life is a prayer and He knows the needs and good intentions of your heart.

But don’t take my word for it. The Church and the saints have much to say on this subject.

Find Assurance in the Faith

In fact, Church history is chock-full of praise for the family. As the domestic church, the family is the most foundational microcosm of what the Church herself should be: a community of devoted brothers and sisters who put one another’s needs before their own, and place God’s will at the center of their life together.

Pope John Paul II, who had many wonderful things to say about the beautiful work of building a family, expressed this so well:

Catholic parents must learn to form their family as a “domestic church,” a church in the home as it were, where God is honored, His law is respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example, and everyone shares the hopes, the problems, and sufferings of everyone else. All this is not to advocate a return to some outdated style of living: It is to return to the roots of human development and human happiness!

There are also plenty of examples in the catechism—a comprehensive catalog of the central beliefs of our faith.

Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household” (cf. Acts 18:8) (CCC, 1655).

The home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life (CCC, 1657).

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC, 2207).

As for the difficulties of this life? As we Catholics know better than most, suffering can be sanctifying—especially when it is endured for the sake of others. I can’t think of a better way to validate the sacrifices we make for our spouses and our children in this life.

So, rather than descend into complaint or self-pity over these struggles, we can endure them with patience and selflessness and thus transform them into a very special kind of prayer. Lifting up our pain—physical and emotional, petty or profound—to God is a boon to our growth as well as the growth of our families.

What’s more, bearing our trials with humility breeds the kind of virtue this world so desperately needs. “Do everything without grumbling or questioning,” Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world” (Philippians 2: 14-15).

Finally, in our efforts to see the holiness and virtue-building goodness of this repetitious and often frustrating domestic life, we can pull inspiration from the saints. Their insight on the love of God and the righteousness of submitting to our families’ needs is enough to motivate all of us to greater selflessness:

Know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans. – St. Teresa of Avila

I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues. – St. Therese of Lisieux

They who, by a generous effort, make up their minds to obey, acquire great merit; for obedience by its sacrifices resembles martyrdom. – St. Ignatius of Loyola

7 Reads Every Catholic Mom Needs on Her Bookshelf

I love learning about the rich traditions, history, and teachings of the Church. But let’s be real: it’s difficult to find formal educational opportunities when your schedule is mandated by two rambunctious toddlers and a full-time job. (And even when I have the hours available in a day, my inner introvert rarely has the energy for more than an occasional retreat.)

Still, I don’t want that learning to go undone “until I have more free time.” So, a few years ago, I decided to devote part of the time I spend on my favorite self-care activity—reading—to my faith.

Committing to more spiritual reading has been incredibly fruitful for me. Along the way, each of these titles has had a profound effect on me as a Catholic woman and mother.

#1: Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

The constant sleeplessness of the newborn phase or the piercing, repeat tantrums of a toddler—worse, the pain of seeing your child in pain—can sometimes dim the light of hope in your day-to-day.

When you haven’t had time to invest in devotions or prayer, that burden can sometimes make Christ and his sacrifice for you feel like a distant dream.

These are the moments I turn to Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich’s God-given insights into the profound love Christ has for each one of us are uplifting and life-changing. Julian’s humble, joyful words make me feel closer to Christ and more attuned to the many ways he is present and loving me each and every day.

#2: The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn

Marriage is the foundation of the family—a little community so important we call it the “domestic church.” But the significance of marriage doesn’t end there.

In this book, Scott Hahn uses his well-learned yet down-to-earth style to illustrate the many ways in which marriage has been an underpinning of civilization as we know it. I particularly enjoyed the way he describes how the sacrament’s graces enable us to live well not just within our families, but among our neighbors.

In the busy routines of life, it can be dreadfully easy for a husband and wife to forget to invest in one another. This book reminded me just how important that investment is.

#3: A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

On stressful days filled with noise, I sometimes long for the quiet of single life. Plagued by guilt in those moments, I don’t doubt my vocation—but I do doubt whether I’m fulfilling it as well as I’d hoped.

Flannery O’Connor is an icon in literature, and for good reason. Her writing broke norms and pushed readers to contemplate important subjects that were rather controversial in her time.

She was also a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual woman. Reading her prayer journal gave me insight into how she lived her faith in the context of her vocation—and how even the most admirable, successful women are plagued by moments of self-doubt and “what if” thinking.

#4: One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler

A well-known personality in Catholic media, Jennifer Fulwiler is funny, insightful, and relatable.

Adding to her very honest online presence, Jennifer shares, in One Beautiful Dream, the story of how she grew into her writing and speaking career not in spite of her vocation as a wife and mother, but in cooperation with it. Like all of us, she faced disappointments, but by engaging with her passions and serving (and being served by) her family, she found harmony for the many “categories” of her life.

Jennifer’s story taught me that the seemingly incompatible interests of person (myself) and place (my role in the family I’ve built) don’t have to conflict at all. When we stop pitting them against each other, we learn to see how complementary they can be.

#5: Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar

I’ve spoken on this one before (specifically here and here), but I can’t emphasize enough how lovely this little book is for any Christian—especially mothers.

Covering scripture, theology, and tradition, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about what Christ meant when he urged us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3). His insights are powerful reflections on the beauty of childhood, the gifts and wholesomeness of divine grace, and the nature of faith.

The lessons I’ve learned from this book have given me an even greater appreciation for the devotion and innocence of my children, and inspire me to emulate them in my conversations with the Father.

#6: Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri

Also appearing in a previous post, this book by Edward Sri is a primer for Catholics who find themselves needing to defend their beliefs, their lifestyle choices, and their stance on the issues of the day.

So, basically all of us.

Edward Sri is an inspired mind of our time, and his insights on why the most prevalent nomenclature in today’s typical debate—for example: “That’s not the choice I’d make, but why would I limit someone else’s choices?”—are eye-opening. If you’ve ever felt backed into a corner by someone who insisted your moral framework just can’t be universal, this is the book for you.

#7: The Assembler of Parts by Raoul Wientzen

Full disclosure: this book is a doozy and should come with trigger warnings on loss and childhood illness.

That said, The Assembler of Parts made me cry incredibly cleansing tears. Though some of its philosophical nuances must be taken with a grain of salt (it is, after all, the only novel on this list), the story is profound and moving in ways that are important for humans in general, and mothers in particular.

The overarching themes I pulled from this novel echo the cardinal virtues that are so critical for every vocation: faith, hope, and love. Add in a good dose of trust in the divine will of God and steadfastness in the face of adversity (two qualities I have an especially tough time emulating), and it’s difficult to tug at my heart strings any harder.

 

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? And please let me know what must-reads that I’ve missed, either in the comments or on Facebook!

Am I Doing This Right? Thoughts on Prayer (Part 2)

Prayer is a skill with which we are all born, because each of us is naturally inclined to seek God. But, as with all things, practicing will help us engage in prayer more effectively—and help us better see the fruits of our prayer in our daily lives.

Think of developing your prayer life like learning a language—not a secondary language, but your very first one.

A child spends the first few years of her life absorbing the spoken word of those around her. She takes this in like a sponge, learning the sounds of the words, what they mean, and what changes they affect when uttered aloud. Then, as she gains confidence and the physical ability to do so, she begins testing the words out herself.

At first, only her parents may understand her unique combination of slurred syllables and physical gesturing. But, as time goes on, her language becomes clearer to others—she joins in the conversations of her community.

Prayer is much the same.

At first, we must immerse ourselves in the language: attend Mass, read the Scriptures, study the saints. We listen closely to what prayers and insights are uttered there, and watch for the effects and insights they have not just on us, but on the world around us.

Participating in the sacraments and this type of spiritual study is a prayer in itself. But as we learn more and feel our passion inflamed by these encounters, we begin to utter our own prayers. They may be messy, highly specific, disorganized—they may sound like “gibberish” to another student. But God understands them easily.

Finally, by engaging deeply and keeping our lines of communication with God always open, we can fully participate in the community of the Church. We can recite the prayers during Mass and truly mean them, because we’ve come to better understand their weight. We can receive the Eucharist and be more closely joined in fellowship with our neighbors, because we better grasp what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas on Righteous Prayer

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, all prayer should have five qualities: it must be confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble. (Check out a brief look at deeper insights from St. Thomas here.)

In short, this means our prayers must:

  • Be said with sureness that God will deliver us, that Christ will advocate for us, and that the Holy Spirit will bring us grace. We know that God hears us, even if we don’t understand or even recognize the ways in which He answers our prayers.
  • Include only petitions that are good for us. When we ask God for something, we should genuinely believe that this thing will help us to grow physically, emotionally, or spiritually, in a way that will ultimately make us more holy sons and daughters of God.
  • Express moral and upright desires. In prayer, as in life, we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice” (Matthew 6:33).
  • Display genuine, heartfelt piety. As devoted members of the Church, our prayers to God must acknowledge His glory and arise from our love for Him above all else.
  • Acknowledge our weakness and our need for God’s mercy. We are imperfect people, and when we pray, we should understand our lowliness and thank God for His desire to be united to us in spite of it.

Insights from the Catechism

So: confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble. Great, but what do we say (or not say)?

Let’s look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can read some of what is has to say about prayer online here (and use the arrows at the bottom of the page to thumb through the broader section on prayer, if you’re interested—it’s great reading), but the short of it is that there are five main forms of prayer for the faithful:

  1. Blessings and Adoration. Blessings are “an encounter between God and man.” It is time spent in the presence of God, in which His grace descends upon us and our acknowledgement and reception of that gift ascend to him. Adoration, meanwhile, is our recognition that we are a creation of God—our exalting of His greatness and expression of our love for Him.
  2. Prayer of petition. These are any prayers in which we ask God directly for something—whether that’s meeting a physical need we have, seeking His forgiveness, or praying for His kingdom on earth and our cooperation in its coming.
  3. Prayer of intercession. This is how we participate in the communion of saints. Prayers for intercession are made on behalf of others, including not just our friends and neighbors, but strangers, enemies, and those who reject the Faith.
  4. Prayer of thanksgiving. Not limited to thanking God for good fortune, prayers of thanksgiving help us show gratitude for all of the ways God works in our life. According to the catechism, “every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving.”
  5. Prayer of praise. Finally, a genuine prayer of praise “lauds God for His own sake and gives Him glory, quite beyond what He does, but simply because HE IS.” In these prayers, we express our wonder at the marvels of Christ, the power of God, and the actions of the Holy Spirit.

The Wrong Way to Pray

Though we all pray differently, using our unique voices, it’s important to know one thing: there is a wrong way to pray.

The catechism states that “humility is the foundation of prayer.” It goes on: “Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ (Romans 8:26), are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (CCC ¶ 2559).

This is what I meant when I said in a previous post that prayer is a mystery. But while we may not know the perfect way to pray, we can certainly recognize the wrong way to pray: selfishly.

Prayer is not like writing a letter to Santa and asking for our favorite things. We know this because Jesus himself taught us the ideal form of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Here we acknowledge the personhood of God, our relationship with Him, and His holiness.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Next, we submit ourselves and our world to God’s will for us, because we know it is what’s right.

Give us this day our daily bread.

We ask for the necessities of life—the things that will make us healthier people, which will help us do His will.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Then, we ask for His mercy—it is what saves us. We also vow to have mercy on others, as an expression of our love for His children and our desire to follow Christ’s commandment.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Finally, we seek His grace to follow a righteous path in life, to fulfill our vocation without backsliding into sin, and to keep us safe on this journey.

These are very high-level analyses, but the different components of the Our Father reveal profound insights on what prayer should be.

Above all, prayer cannot be selfish. To seek only our own gain in prayer is to not pray at all.

How do you keep your prayers focused on God and His glory? What tricks do you have for developing your prayer life and praying without ceasing? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook—I’d love to learn from you!

Am I Doing This Right? Thoughts on Prayer (Part 1)

My son recently broke his leg—what they call a “toddler fracture.”

As we shuttled him back and forth from doctors’ offices and the ER, we were trying to explain to his big sister why he needed so much help.

We like to be accurate with our kids when we can, rather than dumbing down facts for them. So we told her: “Sweetie, your brother fell in a bad way and broke a bone in his leg. We have to take him to the doctor so they can give him the bandages he needs to keep it steady and help it heal. That way, after a while, it won’t hurt anymore.”

A three-year-old doesn’t understand that beneath our skin are layers of fat and muscle, and beneath those is a bone that makes our limb sturdy but can be broken under certain circumstances. She looked at her brother’s leg and, like the rest of us, saw no bruising or swelling or blood. This was not like any “owie” she had seen before.

But toddlers are smart, and they can be excellent with context clues. She heard “hurt,” “broken,” “doctor,” and “heal” and knew what those things meant. She could see that his leg was causing him pain despite having no visible wound.

She looked at me, nodded gravely, and said “My brother’s gonna be okay, right?”

I assured her he would.

Then she promptly ran to the kitchen to get him a frozen toy—something she knew helped with hurting teeth, which likewise could not be seen but were painful nonetheless—and brought it over to him to put on his leg. In his frustration he slapped it away and she, undeterred, rubbed his back and said, “It’s gonna be okay, Byron. I’m sorry it hurts.”

And that was all she needed to know. Though she could not understand the science of his injury, she could see that he was hurting and that he needed tending. That was that.

When I think about the concept of prayer, I think about how my daughter must feel in confusing moments like this. When it comes to prayer, I’m the child—I’m the one trying to grasp a topic too deep to understand.

Prayer is Beyond Us

I heard something at a recent retreat that, intellectually, was incredibly dense: “Prayer is a conversation with God, in which we get to know Him, He gets to know us, and we get to know ourselves.”

How can prayer be like talking with God when I’m doing all the actual, verbal talking? How can I get to know Him when He doesn’t literally answer my questions or tell me about Himself? How can I get to know myself by trying to grasp what He has to say to me?

Instead of becoming discouraged by my unknowing, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to be like my toddler: to pick apart what concepts were familiar to me and try and pull some understanding from how they all worked together in that statement. I wanted this lesson to make me better at prayer.

The truth is that, like many components of the Faith, prayer is a mystery. We aren’t able to fully understand it because we only see one small piece of the puzzle: what we experience as the Church Militant. Someday, we’ll know it deeply when we really can talk to God face-to-face and ask Him. But until then, we need to accept the unknown.

That doesn’t mean we must languish, though. There is so much fruit to be born from even the limited knowledge God has blessed us with in this life.

Try This as You Pray

During the retreat, Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin went on to talk about how the nature of prayer frightens us. It could be easy to simply ask God for the things we want, but to go further than that—to use prayer as an opportunity to examine our faith and ourselves—can be intimidating.

We don’t like to admit to, let alone study, our flaws. But, Father Sternberg said, prayer is the safest and most fruitful place to do that.

What do you pray for most often? Which seemingly unanswered prayers most disappoint you? Do you pray mostly for yourself? For your family? For strangers?

How much of your prayer life is dominated by thanksgiving? What about praise? Is prayer time your self-care, or is it a time in which you can glorify and adore your Father—or is it both?

Which saints do you invoke in prayer? What unbidden thoughts tend to come to you while you’re reciting a rosary or chaplet? What topics do you shy away from when speaking to God, and where do you think your shame comes from?

These are all beautiful questions—but they are challenging. They’re challenging to keep in mind during your prayer routines, and the answers to them may challenge your perspective on yourself.

If you have a prayer journal, write down whichever of these questions speak to you—and whichever others you come up with on your own—and revisit them immediately after concluding a prayerful moment each day. Record your answers and give yourself the grace to recognize their meaning. Uncover what’s beautiful about you. Uncover what needs work.

Then, go right back to praying and ask God for His grace to help you do that work.

Check out part two of this series for further reflections on prayer and how we can do it better!

Is Dwelling on My Sins a Sin?

I find Lent to be a difficult season, both practically and spiritually. I know it’s supposed to be challenging—it’s supposed to push us closer to Christ and his sacrificial love for us. But my appetite for fasting is weak and my endurance for “going the extra mile” is a little bit pathetic, if I’m being honest.

Aside from the (admittedly immature) struggle of selecting a sacrifice and sticking to it for 40 days, I also find Lent to be a time of unique temptation. That temptation is toward scrupulosity, and it’s sometimes enough to distract and discourage me from the healing, strength-building journey Lent is meant to be.

What is Scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity is an obsession with sin, real or imagined. A scrupulous person suffers excessive anxiety over the thought of their own sinfulness: they may be convinced they’ve committed a sin when they have not, confuse venial sins for mortal sins, or be unconvinced of God’s forgiveness for their transgressions.

Naturally, this is an exhausting and depressing affliction. A healthy sense of Catholic guilt is one thing, but scrupulosity goes beyond a well-formed conscience. It convinces us we’re doomed, or unworthy of God’s love, or failing at following Christ.

It’s a minor thing, in some ways—I’m not hurting anyone else by being scrupulous. But it is major in a significant way: scrupulosity is, at its heart, a pride-fueled rejection of God’s grace.

How is that? How can it be that a condition of borderline (or over-the-line) self-loathing is actually a condition of pride?

The truth is that scrupulosity is the Enemy’s way of convincing us that our opinion of ourselves is more powerful than God’s opinion of us. To be excessively scrupulous is to tell oneself that God’s promises of love and salvation simply aren’t strong enough to apply to the likes of us.

But that’s impossible. We are children of God, made in His image. There’s no such thing as a soul that is “not good enough.” God would never make it so. God’s love for us is far and away more powerful than our own shame—whether we let ourselves feel His grace or not.

Lent Doesn’t Lead to Our Perfection

So, how does scrupulosity come into play during Lent? For me, it goes something like this:

Step 1: Set a lofty goal of sacrifice and growth for Lent with the intention of achieving spiritual awakening and/or profound holiness.

Step 2: Promptly fail at performing the necessary steps to achieve that goal. (“Oops, I just ate meat!” or “Ugh, I forgot to say my rosary.”)

Step 3: Mentally flagellate oneself for said failure by running over the memory of that bacon and how much I enjoyed it at least 77 times.

Step 4: Ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be better from now on.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3.

Step 6: Do slightly better at performing the necessary steps to achieve the goal.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 2-5, with the addition of an extra layer of guilt that sounds something like this: “For goodness sake, I was doing so well! I just had to go and screw it up again, didn’t I?”

Step 8: Repeat Step 7 with slowly declining frequency for the next 35 days.

Step 9: Make it to Easter. Praise God and congratulate oneself for sort of hitting the right targets. Feel “spiritually grown,” if not “spiritually awoken,” and vow that next year will be better. Be inordinately relieved that my chosen sacrifices are no longer mandated as Easter is celebrated.

Step 10: Forget to ever go back to those sacrifices once Easter feasting is over.

And then repeat it all next year.

If this sounds familiar, I feel your pain as you’re going through it all again this year. I really do.

One thing I realized last year during Lent was that, by focusing on my trip-ups more than my growth, I was making Lent about me and not about Christ. I can’t honor him, meditate on his sacrifice, or give him more of my love if I’m too busy nitpicking my every behavior. To obsessively police myself on the pretense of loving him makes little sense.

The prayers I utter at every failure are less sincere if I’m busy berating myself for needing to utter them. And even in the moments I successfully resist temptation, I shouldn’t be more relieved or proud than I am thankful for the opportunity to turn my eyes to God.

The fact is, God doesn’t want our perfection—He knows us well enough to know that we simply can’t give it in our fallen state. What He does want is our attention, our sacrifice, and our generosity (that is, generosity of spirit as well as material goods).

Lent is focused on three spiritual habits: fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. All of these are expressions of sacrifice. All of them are meant to take our attention away from ourselves and put it onto our neighbors and our God.

Lenten fasting isn’t simply about saying “no” to food. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your relationship with Me more important than your physical comfort?”

Lenten abstinence isn’t about saying “no” to luxury. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your ability to resist temptation in My name stronger than your desire for worldly indulgence?”

Lenten almsgiving—all almsgiving, really—isn’t about saying “no” to hoarding our wealth or possessions. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your love for My family more significant than your love for material goods?”

Love God, Love the Church, Love Yourself

The Gospel is so full of evidence that Christ wants us to love ourselves as deeply as he loves us. We are told to “love others as you love yourself.” We are reminded of the many ways in which we can—and should—make a gift of ourselves to others. We are referred to as brothers and sisters, and told stories of forgiveness and salvation.

All of this implies that we are deeply, inherently good. That’s what God made us to be. And this life is about working to remain true to that goodness, so that we may live it out more fully in the next life.

So be obedient to God’s commandments, be true to your promises, and be good to yourself.

If you’ve stumbled during this Lenten season, confess, pray, and move forward. You can draw closer to Christ, but not on your own—and not if you’re constantly wounding yourself in your attempts to grow. Accept your imperfection and offer it up. God wants all of you, and He will help you do all the things you were meant to do.

“Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything for you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.” – St Philip Neri

Have You Seen God’s Face?

Did you know that “face” and “presence” share the same word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament? A priest—Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin—shared this fact with some young moms on a recent retreat I attended. In speaking to us about prayer and seeking the Lord, he emphasized that, to meet God, we must approach Him face to face.

That happens in prayer, but, truly and physically, we are given an earth-shattering encounter with Christ in the Eucharist during every Mass and hour of Adoration we attend.

The Eucharist is not iconographic of Christ—it is Christ. His face looks out at us from the hands of the priest at the consecration during each liturgy. Do you see it?

Real talk: sometimes I don’t. And it’s my own fault.

The Mass and My Mess of Distractions

It’s not that I don’t believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Although this truth is the deepest of mysteries, I have faith that it is the truth nonetheless. I believe it with all my heart. How could I not, when our Savior told us this explicitly?

But sometimes, I forget.

I forget that Jesus is standing before me, showing me all his love all over again, week after week during Mass.

How is that possible?

Turns out it’s easier than I ever realized.

My children are beautiful. They are perfect blessings and I’m thankful for them every day. But if toddlers can be considered specialists at anything, it’s attracting all of the attention in a room to themselves. They are tiny, sticky attention magnets.

We moms are good at multitasking. We’re good at wrangling the two-year-old before he destroys a hymnal while whisper-screaming at the three-year-old who keeps trying to leave the pew. We’re good at opening a desperately needed snack for the kids (with minimal crinkling noises) while picking up the coats they’ve knocked to the floor. We’re good at managing distractions before they become too bothersome to the people around us.

This is a noble and holy effort—this shepherding of tiny humans so that they can be part of the Communion of the Church. This is something parents are made to do, difficult as it may be.

That said, work is work. It is a cross that we bear in our vocation—yet another way we give less to ourselves so that we can give more to our children and their participation in the world.

It is not easy to be a parent of small children at Mass. And yet our work doesn’t end with the distractions while we’re there, does it? We are called to be present despite them.

Am I Seeking God’s Presence?

This is not to say that our struggle to draw spiritual nourishment each week is something we can simply set aside. It is most certainly not easy to fully participate in Mass—it’s not easy for anyone. Everyone carries their cross to the liturgy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: Christ asks us to lay down our crosses at the altar and rest in Him.

But we aren’t so good at that. We resent our crosses and, as we carry them begrudgingly to church on Sundays, we are tempted to let them distract us. It’s all too easy to feel pestered by my children during Mass and let my mind focus on that inconvenience instead of what’s happening right in front of me.

Jesus told us that his “yoke would be easy and his burden light,” in part, not because it really is easy to live as a Christian in a fallen world, but because it becomes a lot easier if we truly believe he carries the load with us. When we focus too deeply on what’s difficult, we fall into the trap of lamenting that difficulty. We turn our faces downward to focus on our own effort and away from God.

And it isn’t just the kids, right? Given a structured hour each week to spend in quiet, following ancient rituals over which we have no control and deprived of our chosen distractions (our smart phones, a book, whatever), our unchosen distractions become louder.

Left unchecked, our minds fill with complaints (“Why isn’t my husband holding this kid right now?”), questions (“What is on my calendar for tomorrow?”), and random thoughts (“I hope I switched the laundry before we left this morning…”) and suddenly, that hour is over. Jesus is back in the tabernacle, the motions have been gone through, and we return to “normal” life.

But that’s not was Mass should be. We all know that, in our heart of hearts. It just takes discipline to keep our faces turned to God throughout that encounter—to seek His face and show Him ours in return.

When we do look up at Him—to give thanks for His love, to give glory to His might, and yes, to ask for His aid—the load really does become lighter.

Give It Up

Okay, you might be thinking, this is all well and good. I feel sufficiently guilty for not seeing Christ’s face in every second of the Mass each Sunday. But what am I supposed to do about it?

The first thing is, don’t feel guilty—we all do it. God knows it. He loves us anyway.

The second has to do with a phrase that is, admittedly, infuriatingly vague: we have to “offer it up.”

What does that even mean?

To be honest, I’m not sure if it means the same thing for me as it would for you. But here’s where I’ve landed with it.

Suffering—even small, seemingly petty suffering, as torture by toddler may sometimes feel—is not inherently bad. It is painful, yes. It is frustrating. It can be infuriating and heartbreaking. But it invites us to grow—to see beyond ourselves and our own pain and understand, on some infinitesimal level, the pain the Christ endured to save our souls and bring us home to the Father’s house.

Each moment of distraction during Mass or pain in daily life is an opportunity.

It is an opportunity we can use to our detriment, by focusing on our own hurt and drawing our attention downward to the harsh reality of this life.

It is also an opportunity we can use to our benefit, by checking our negative feelings and pausing to recognize that, yes, those feelings are valid—but Christ endured worse at no fault of his own. He humbled himself exclusively to suffer the greatest pain, just so he could bring us joy and fulfillment in the Kingdom.

So when I struggle to lift myself out of the noisy, irritating messiness of managing young children at Mass, I am going to try very hard to physically turn my face toward God. If only for a fleeting second before I have to reach out and grab one or both children, I am going to gaze at the face of Our Lord and say thank you before I turn back to the work of this world. Because in truth, I know that this work, especially, will be so fruitful. I am going to catch myself turning down toward distraction and negativity, and shift the direction of those thoughts upward—to prayer, to opening my ears to the homily in whatever snippets I can catch it, to resting in the silence of a beautiful moment in God’s house.

I am raising future saints. And, for at least an hour out of every week, I get to do that in the presence of Jesus himself. What better help is there than that? Even if I hardly hear the homily and stumble through the Gloria because I’m expending most of my brain power monitoring two toddlers, I am seeing God’s face and He is seeing mine. I am bringing Christ under my roof and he is holding me tight.

Treated respectfully and pondered thoughtfully, that’s more than enough fuel to last even the most exhausted mom a few days or a week, isn’t it?

3 Ways to Be a More Childlike Parent

Following my post on why parents should strive to be more childlike in their faith and in their families, let’s take it a step further: just how are we supposed to do it? In what ways should we really be more like our children?

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

(I’m still digging into Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar with this post. Please pick up a copy to explore if you want to go deeper.)

Emulating the Mind of a Child

Of course, I know on an intellectual level that there are many qualities to be admired in children. Their innocence, for one; their delight; their unquestioning devotion. And yet, it seems to me that so many of these qualities are either unattainable (I am a sinner beyond the age of reason; innocence is not my strong suit) or paired with not-so-desirable features (it’s easy to be delighted when the world revolves around you, but how can I savor the small things when there is so much else to worry about?).

Without doubt, there is something inexplicably beautiful about childhood. Children are a wonder to behold and their intellectual landscape is both fascinating and inspiring. But, having grown into adulthood and “[given] up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11), how could I have any hope of reclaiming that youthful wonder for my own sake?

Reading von Balthasar’s little book opened my eyes to the many ways in which our souls are made for that childlike nature. As it turns out, becoming like a child when it comes to faith is an even holier pursuit than I imagined.

Among much fruitful insight into what “Christian childlikeness” means, von Balthasar points out a few lovely examples of the youthful qualities all followers of Christ should pursue and embrace:

1. Practice easy, virtuous giving and receiving.

On page 22 of the book, von Balthasar says:

For the child it is natural to receive good gifts, and so docility, obedience, trust, and sweet surrender are not for him virtues to be expressly achieved, but the most unreflectedly natural things in the world. This is so to such an extent that the child adopts the mother’s giving attitude unquestioningly as the right one, and he gives spontaneously when he has something to give. He shows his little treasures without hiding any of them; he wants to share because he has experienced sharing as a form of goodness.

All parents can spot this sweetness in their children. When your toddler finds something delightful or fascinating—a stone, a stick, a bug—isn’t her first instinct to share it with you? To show it to you? To give it to you (even if she expects you’ll immediately give it back)?

This is a beautiful statement on why Christians are called to be like children: we are surrounded by such profound Love that we should be in such a place, intellectually, that we can’t help but emulate it. We should always remember that “sharing is a form of goodness,” and that we can bring that goodness to the world so easily.

Of course, this also means being thankful for what we receive. Gratitude—in prayer, for others, to oneself—can be improved with maturity. We should give without pause like small children do, and give thanks without ceasing like the saints do.

2. Have unfailing trust in our Parent.

Throughout this work, von Balthasar uses examples from the Holy Family to talk about what it means to “become like this child.” In many cases, he highlights the familial relationship between Jesus and the Father as one we can, in some very important ways, recognize and emulate in our own families—and in ways we should emulate in our relationship with God.

For instance, from page 31: “In the Son, the Spirit keeps alive the unshakable trust that the Father’s every ordinance … will always be an ordinance of love, which the Son, now that he is a man, must reciprocate with human obedience.”

This is a message we hear from Christ throughout the New Testament. One of my favorite examples is Matthew 6:25-26, where Jesus says: “‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’”

For children raised in a happy home, as God designed it to be, there is simply no reason for them to doubt they will be kept safe, comfortable, and healthy under their parents’ care. They don’t fret over tomorrow or the next meal or the weather. They simply go about their day and, even in difficult or hungry or scary moments, they never hesitate to cling to their parents and wait for them to make things better—and they never, at this childlike stage, lose faith that things will be better.

How beautiful life would be if we could retain for ourselves that unshakable trust in our heavenly Father—that simple confidence that, no matter what, He will care for us and everything will be okay. If only we were as eager to please and as easy to comfort as the children we once were.

3. Adopt a playful, unworried sense of time.

One further example. In the fifth chapter of the book, von Balthasar says:

The child has time to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. … Play is possible only within time so conceived. … And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a ‘free moment’ or a ‘time of prayer’ that must constantly be rescheduled. … God defines himself as ‘I am who I am,’ which also means: ‘My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of being.’

I’m not sure what’s harder to achieve in my life today: that absolute trust in God’s will, or this utterly unstructured treatment of time.

Certainly it’s impossible to completely de-compartmentalize our time as adults. Anyone who works full time, goes to school, has household responsibilities, pursues personal hobbies, or otherwise goes about an independent life understands that. To some extent, we can’t regain that childlike abandon. Our schedules are a necessity of modern, grown-up living.

But how do you spend your moments? Do you find yourself becoming pulled constantly in different directions by distractions, or waiting for the next appointment on your schedule such that you don’t accomplish what you meant to right now, or dreading the end of your “free” time, or putzing around with your phone when you should be focused on the memories unfolding in front of you?

I know I do.

And do you always open yourself up to prayer throughout the day, no matter what persona you have to put on in a given moment, so that your conversations with God can be free-flowing and constant rather than confined to a Sunday morning and a bedtime routine?

Too often, I don’t.

A child is only ever himself in any given moment of any given day. He moves from experience to experience—sometimes easily, sometimes not—always with his full self invested in it. I want that authenticity and the rewards that come with it, too.

Go Home and Love Your Family

It’s not easy to follow Christ’s commands, and the call to become more childlike in a world that strips even our children of their youth far too soon is no exception.

But I think the important thing to remember is that it’s not about recapturing lost innocence or ignorance. It’s not about closing our eyes to the larger world and spending all our time at play. It’s about devotion, openness to growth, learning, and leaning. I think it’s pretty easy to see that, with the possible exception of their worst days, my children are much better than me at all of those things.

I want to grow with them just as they demand to grow with me.