As part of a Laudato Si’ Project family event, kids get to catch, tag and release monarch butterflies on their migration to Mexico. (Submitted photo)
From Moses and the burning bush to the dancing sun at Fatima, God has always chosen to manifest his truths, his mercy and his love through the natural world he created — meaning that any time spent in nature is always a valuable catechetical lesson.
One of the main objectives of the Laudato Si’ Project, through its new Catholic Ecology Center, is to create those opportunities for parents and kids to discover God in the perfection of his creation together.
“We want to show people how awesome the created world is, and lead them to the conclusion that it is something to be wondered about and something to be inspired by,” said Ryan Grusenski, a member of the board of directors of the Laudato Si’ Project. “But it’s also something that’s so much bigger — it’s the height of God. It’s the whole idea that God is the creator, and we are his creatures, and we can be in awe of all the things that he’s done.”
As the parents of four young children, Grusenski and his wife Beth try to find as many chances as possible for their family to be in nature. It is as important for them as parents as it is for their children, said Grusenski.
“(As adults) we grow into this ‘I’m invincible and I know everything’ attitude,” he said. “But we’re the creatures, and there’s a Creator that’s way above us.”
Grusenski pointed out children are more likely to exhibit wonder and awe, synonymous with fear of the Lord, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
“Children wear their emotions and their reactions everywhere in their body. When kids are learning about the created world and they come across something truly awesome, truly full of awe, they wear it all over themselves,” said Grusenski. “That’s a spiritual gift that we as adults, through our hardness of hearts, hide.”
The wonder and awe a child feels while marveling at a rainbow darter or a perfectly constructed spider web will one day translate to a deeper and more complex appreciation of God’s gifts that are not so tangible.
“When they get older, they’ll be amazed and awed by the generosity of their friends — amazed and awed by the fact that they can have a spouse who loves them,” said Grusenski.
Here are some tips for ways to explore God in nature together with your children.
Start with your own passions. “Our passions and the things that we love and enjoy tend to become the things our children love and enjoy,” said Grusenski. For him and his kids, it was birding — a fun, easy pastime they could do from their backyard, in which Grusenski already had an interest. Pursuing new hobbies is great, but don’t put pressure on yourself to go fishing if you’re just not into it.
Look for the everyday opportunities.
You don’t have to live in the countryside to be close to nature — it really can be found all around. An excursion to someplace like the Catholic Ecology Center is great, but wonder and awe can happen by growing a lima bean in a plastic cup in your kitchen window. “The natural world exists all around us — oftentimes despite our best efforts,” said Grusenski.
Model being observant.
The more you notice and comment upon God’s hand in nature, the more your kids will follow suit. The more they notice nature, the more they will care about it. As Pope Francis wrote in the encyclical Laudato Si’: “If we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.”
Get outside every day — even if you don’t feel like it.
The Grusenskis embrace the maxim that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” “That becomes our back-pocket response to ‘It’s too cold out,’” said Grusenski. “Get outside, especially in the seasons you don’t think it’s a reality. You can, and everyone is better for it.”
Remind your kids that ‘life’s more fun when you’re tough.’
Or sweaty, or dirty, or even a little uncomfortable. “Have that attitude of, ‘OK, we’re going to fall down, but we don’t need to use a Band-Aid every time,” said Grusenski. “Hikes are going to be hard. We’re going to sweat. And in the end, it’s going to be a great memory of ours that we will have forever.”
As they prepare for their first summer and fall seasons, a variety of family-friendly activities are being planned at the Catholic Ecology Center. For more details, visit catholicecologycenter.org.