It’s a typical Sunday morning and my family awaits for Mass to start. We’re sitting in a pew with my two girls flanking my husband and me to prevent them from “causing problems.” The little one tries her best to squeeze behind us to touch (ahem—annoy) her sister. I sit back and squish her arm against the seat to stop her tiny arm from reaching its destination.
I give her a stern look and whisper, “No donut…”
“But I want a donut!”
“You won’t get one if you keep it up.”
She sits back, crosses her arms and pouts. Oh, she is cute when she pouts—especially with her chubby cheeks and big, kewpie-like, brown eyes. But that won’t break me… I will not give in. No donuts if the kids don’t behave. They will sit through Mass and listen to God’s message, darn it!
The music starts, we stand and the girls are at it. I’m singing my heart out since it’s the most prayer I’ll get in before Mass starts and I’m interrupted by:
“She’s getting too close!”
“Stop touching my book!”
“Hey that’s my paper!”
“Dangling the donut” doesn’t seem to be doing the job. I concede, hang my head, and think, “Why do I have to referee with donuts?” Then the priest finally says the words I was waiting for, “At this time I would like to invite the children ages four to twelve to hear the liturgy in words that would be more meaningful to them.” We quickly send the kids up, the priest briefs them about what they’re going to hear in the readings and a leader takes them away to another room. We are at peace and relieved. The truth is, my husband and I get more out of church when we don’t have to constantly keep the kids away from each other. And the kids understand more when a Bible story is taught at “their level.” However, no donut today. Bummer—I was really looking forward to that glazed old-fashioned.
My mother-in-law jokes that we attend the “Church of the Holy Donut.” If God meant for Sunday to be a day of rest, Mass surely isn’t restful when you have kids. Donut or not, my hope is that we setting an example to our kids on how it’s important to us to attend Mass.
I’m a cradle Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic school from K-8, I received all my Sacraments, attend Mass every week and know my prayers. When I married, I married a Catholic man… well, he hasn’t been a practicing Catholic his whole life but started to regularly attend Mass when he met me.
PRACTICE. That’s the key word here. “Yogis” practice yoga. Doctors are considered practitioners. Practice is what you do when you want to get better at something.
I’ll be the first to admit, I struggled with my faith. The problem is that I didn’t really understand it nor did I know what it meant to live my faith. All I knew was that I was a good person. I didn’t do bad things nor did I have too many enemies (perhaps, none at all). I was never “Bible-thumping” (I’m still not). I was a “robot Catholic” just going through the motions because it was what I knew. I would force my kids to go to church because “it’s just what you do when you’re Christian.” It wasn’t until a little over a year ago that my whole perspective on what it meant to be Christian turned around.
My husband and I went on separate spiritual retreats for Catholics (he went for a men’s weekend, I went with the women). I felt LOVED by a force higher than me — so different from what I knew growing up in the Catholic faith. After having some discussions at the retreat, I realized that what I was taught as a child wasn’t the whole story. You see, my mother forced us to go to Mass. She’d condemn us if we didn’t pray the rosary with her at 5 pm every evening. She reminded us that if we didn’t live a virtuous life, we’d see the wrath of God. It placed a fear of “being bad” in my life more than it gave me encouragement “to be good.”
It hit me that I was on the road to teaching my children the same thing my mother taught me. I don’t want my children to live in fear. I needed the kids to understand the values of faith, hope and love. I needed to do that by putting my faith into practice.
One basic idea that my faith teaches is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s so simple yet so hard to implement. Even as adults we are challenged by this. On a drive with the family, my husband aggressively speeds up to cut in front of a car going at a snail’s pace. Honking ensues… excuses are made. The next thing we know, we’re scolding our oldest for pushing her little sister out of the way because she’s moving too slow. Do unto others… lead by example.
Another aspect of “do unto others” is forgiveness. My mother spoke of forgiveness but emphasized repenting. Again, fear versus love. How often do you hear, “I’m sorry mom” and reply, “Well you shouldn’t have done that so don’t do it again… or else.” There is no closure or love in that. To forgive is to wipe the slate clean. What if we did say, “I forgive you.” It hopefully instills the expectation that they shouldn’t do wrong because you’re demonstrating so much love that you’re willing to “let it go.” What a tough pill to swallow — gets me every time. Fear versus love? I’d go with love.
Hope is best when practiced rather than taught from a book. In my family, hope is demonstrated through prayer. We pray over our food, we pray for others who are sick, sad, or in need of help. The kids even pray for themselves to be good or to help with their struggles. It’s wonderful to hear our kids thinking of others in their prayers. It’s an act of love and charity. For the past few months we’ve been praying for a few friends who have been hospitalized or sick (physically and mentally). The kids always want to hear updates — to see if their prayers are being put into action. The kids get excited when they hear that yes, Mr. Bill pulled through and they’ve moved him out of the ICU. It gives them hope and releases negativity.
But sometimes prayers aren’t answered. That’s when we teach acceptance — acceptance that there’s a reason for everything and to find the good in the outcome. We prayed hard for a friend’s baby who eventually passed away. I had a talk with the girls about how important it was to cherish life and the people around you because we don’t know how long we have on this earth. It’s deep, but it makes me love my kids more and my kids constantly want to hold me and my husband just a little longer.
My family isn’t perfect. We, like many others, have our struggles and get into a funk. That’s why we practice our faith. As parents we have to constantly work on being an example to our children. It’s no easy task. It doesn’t matter what religion you have (or don’t have) — you need to continuously dig deeper into your moral values and wear it on your sleeve. Some find self-help books, others model themselves after exemplary people, some read the Bible. It’s rewarding when you see your children make good choices based on your example.
Our faith guides our family and gives us the tools we need to be stewards for good on this earth. This is the reason why Mass is important to my husband and me. It feeds our minds and hearts by giving us lessons on how to put our values into action. My hope is that our family can get out of the “donut hole” so our kids can see the importance that attending church will teach them how to receive blessings by living in faith, hope and love.