It is an uphill battle to get my kids to pray, drag them to Mass, take them to religious events, I don’t feel like it is sinking in, maybe I’m just doing it wrong.
First of all, hang in there! Do not quit. Do not give in, do not despair. You have the right instinct. Persevere.
Second, I congratulate you, because in trying to develop the life of grace in your children, you have found the pearl of great price, see Matthew 13:45-46. This pearl is so valuable that nothing should come before it. Keep that life of grace a priority for you and your children.
The pearl of great price
Isn’t our spiritual life just another part of our life, together with eating, exercising, studying and working? Yes and no.
It is true our spiritual life cannot be separated from what we do with the rest of our life but no, it is not of equal importance as the other parts. What we eat and how much we exercise is good for this earthly life, but this life will end one day but the life of grace will not end.
Eternal happiness with God and Mary and the saints in heaven is our destination. We will not get there without grace and we have the amazing, unbelievable, tremendous and awe-inspiring opportunity to grow in that life of grace now.
It is like getting to taste a little piece of cake from the heavenly banquet table here on earth.
Notice I didn’t say that grace makes our troubles disappear, I said we can grow in that grace within as part of our daily ups and downs. Developing the life of grace is our primary task in this life. It is fundamental to our lives as Christians and it is the root of our ability to deal with the other challenges that arise in our lives.
This is true as much for you as an adult as for a child. Both of you have received that free and unmerited gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism. But for that Spirit to shine forth in our lives with his many gifts and fruits, we must develop the life of grace.
Let’s get back to basics
Growing in the life of grace is not that complicated. You need the sacraments, you need prayer and you need to practice service. Each of these requires faith and humility.
We need faith that God’s grace is sufficient for whatever ails us or confronts us and is sufficient to bring us peace and happiness, and humility that while we try to solve our own problems, in the end we still need God.
In fact, we have needed God from the beginning and this is how he made us; he made us not to be self-sufficient, but he made us many tiny members of a huge body. Not only do we need each other, but we need Christ, the head of the body and we need the Holy Spirit, the soul of that mystical body.
Therefore, in faith and humility we seek out confession and we seek out Communion as first steps. Then we try to feed our life of grace with prayer and service.
Personally, my soul craves silence, but as a father of five kids under age 11, that is hard to find. I set my alarm early, get up, pack my wife’s lunch, give her my blessing and a kiss goodbye, and then grab a cup of tea and sit down to do my liturgy of hours (my duty as a deacon) and proceed to do a morning offering prayer and then engage in some Lectio Divina. (A wonderful booklet for Lectio can be found at: tinyurl.com/lectiocompanion).
Lectio gives me a time to speak from my heart to the Lord and a chance to be in silence and let God speak to my heart. I also love litanies, and I will vary which litany I say throughout the year. My favorites are the Litany of Humility, The Litany of Saints and the Litany of Loreto.
You may prefer to say a morning rosary or a short Divine Mercy Chaplet or just say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and speak to the Lord, heart-to-heart. You may be blessed to have a church or chapel nearby where you can visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament or attend daily Mass or you may be an outdoorsy person who prefers to pray while walking in nature. The key in these various ways of praying is that you are sincere with the Lord and open to whatever changes he is asking of you.
Perfected in practice
The fruit of prayer then is a commitment to some type of change or action. It could be internal, such as how much patience you try to show your kids, or it could be external, such as carving out time for 15 more minutes of prayer.
It could also be a commitment to the church, to your child’s school or to acting in some other way as the arms and feet of Christ which you are. As you try to DO what you feel the Lord is calling you to do, you become more fertile ground for that seed of grace to germinate.
Maintain your own spiritual practices, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you to find the words to explain what you are doing to your children. In fact, you can practice some of these things together. As an example, we pray the rosary as a family, with the littlest children (4-year-old twins) eagerly volunteering to lead the first and second decades.
At first, they were out of control during the rosary, but over time they got used to it and even memorized the prayers enough to say them themselves. They are not little angels still, but they are much better than when we started praying together.
You can also practice the corporal works of mercy together: bake a pie and take it to someone who can’t bake anymore or who has no one to bake for; remember an elderly person’s birthday and take a simple gift; visit a chronically ill family member or friend.
Believe me, all of these acts of service are filled with grace, in you, in the person receiving your service and in the exchange. You may be surprised to gain more from the exchange than the person you went to help. Do not skip this step, as St. James so poignantly says:
“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:15-17)
Also remember our Lord’s admonition in Matthew 25:40, “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
All of these things should make some slow but progressive changes inside yourself. You become more generous, more patient, more understanding, more loving, more grateful, all of these are the fruits of the life of grace, of the Holy Spirit growing within you and your children.
It is beautiful to see kids and adults on this healthy path of spiritual growth. It is a joy to be around them, and they almost literally shine with the goodness of God. This is the goal, this is why we parents cannot give up, cannot give in and cannot quit.
(Deacon Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. He serves as deacon for St. Hyacinth and St. Anthony parishes, Milwaukee. Deacon Henry wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his children.)