Schedule God into busy summer family plans
By Kelly Bothum | Catholic News Service
My family missed Mass a few weeks ago. It doesn't happen often, so my youngest looked genuinely confused when I told him we weren't going.
"Like at all?" he asked.
If there was ever a time when guilt felt good, this might have been it.
I told him we ran out of time in the day, but the truth is, we didn't make the time. We were out of town playing tourists and savoring a rare morning to sleep in followed by brunch. God gave us 24 hours and we used them all on ourselves.
Of course, the following Sunday, we squeezed into the church pew to restart our family streak. And I'll admit that I whisper-yelled at my kids during the homily and shot them a stern look during the eucharistic prayer. But at least we were there. Present. Together.
There's never an easy time to raise Catholic kids. During the school year, you're competing with after-school activities and homework and playdates and snow days.
In the summer, you're wrestling with a different kind of busy -- the kind where camps and vacations and fun days at the pool with friends can make it hard to keep a routine. If anything, summer is where not being in a routine is actually the routine.
Summer is what I think of when I read the chapter about raising children in Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"). The pontiff notes that raising kids means parents have a duty to pass on their faith to them.
But even he sees that job is "made difficult by current lifestyles, work schedules and the complexity of today's world, where many people keep up a frenetic pace just to survive."
Holy Father, you have just described my summer.
It's true that our lives are busy and full of the unexpected -- I often get tired just looking at my to-do list. But it's precisely in this chaos that we must find Christ. He is in the middle of our tornado of life, the one spinning with barbecues and camping trips and late summer nights. We have to see him in every one of these experiences.
To do that may require some rejiggering of how we share our life with God. If our Muslim brothers and sisters can take time to pray five times a day, we Catholics can certainly find a few opportunities in our busy summer schedules.
After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that our prayer matters not just to us, but to God as well: "Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him" (No. 2560). That connection, like a garden, requires tending and cultivating.
One quick way to check in on your family's faith is to take its spiritual pulse. This can be any time, but for families it often works best around bedtime -- kids tend to be more contemplative then, anyway.
Ask them about what went right that day and also what went wrong. Did they attempt an act of kindness? Did they see someone hurting? How did they help?
These kinds of questions help open children's eyes. It allows them to see their friends, family and even that mean lifeguard through the lens of Jesus.
If we want them to think, "What would Jesus do?" then we need to help them see him in the world around them. Plus, kids are usually looking to draw out bedtime as long as possible, so why not add God into those extra minutes? It's here that we can water the mustard seeds of faith we've planted as parents.
While the calendar may say summer, it's ordinary time in the church. But for most of us, there's nothing ordinary about family life. There's always something happening. The same should be true of our faith.
As a parent, I've learned that you can make anything a teachable moment, whether it's a beautiful sunset, a ripe blueberry or the first firefly of the season. How we perceive God in our world can influence how our children see him as well. When we make prayer a priority, we increase the chances they will, too.
That's part of why saying grace before dinner or praying before bed matters. More than once, I've had my children stop me on the way out their bedroom to remind me I forgot to pray with them. It's a habit that means something, and for that I'm grateful.
Again, Pope Francis nails it in "Amoris Laetitia": "Hence moments of family prayer and acts of devotion can be more powerful for evangelization than any catechism class or sermon."
Summer is about freedom and fun. We don't always see God in there, especially when we have to figure out when to go to Mass while on vacation in a new place. But God's love gives us the freedom of salvation.
Our lives may have more twists and turns than a waterslide, but it leads us to the same place -- into his loving arms.
Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.
Welcoming parishes help vacationers keep the faith
By Mike Nelson |Catholic News Service
Visitors are hardly strangers in the three-blocks-from-the-Pacific parish of Mission San Buenaventura, founded in 1782 by St. Junipero Serra in what is now the city of Ventura, 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
At each of the mission's six weekend Masses (two in Spanish), first-time visitors and vacationers -- whether hailing from neighboring cities, any of the 50 states or from all over the world -- are welcomed at the door by ushers bearing smiles and worship aids.
During Mass, parish priests invite visitors to stand and tell where they are from, and lead the assembly in applauding the visitors' presence, while ushers gift them with commemorative prayer cards detailing the mission's history.
"These are provided in both English and Spanish," adds Father Tom Elewaut, pastor, who began the practice upon his arrival at San Buenaventura in 2011. "Our parish is a welcoming parish; it's part of who we are as people of God."
Such hospitality is emulated in parishes located in or near vacation and "destination" locales throughout the U.S.
"Vacations provide an opportunity for people to grow in faith," says Deacon John DeWolfe, pastoral associate at Holy Family Church in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, which adds another weekend Mass during vacation season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) to accommodate travelers seeking to worship in the 640-family parish.
"Probably 80 percent of our seats are filled by visitors during vacation season," says Deacon DeWolfe. "They are well-grounded in their faith, and in fact many long-term visitors participate in other parish ministries. I get great participation in weekly Bible study that I lead. And visitors love to go to confession," he adds with a chuckle.
The summer influx of vacationers is welcomed at small parishes in western South Dakota, as Catholics vacation in the Black Hills and visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and Wind Cave National Park, among other attractions.
"We get a substantial increase in the summer," says Father Grant Gerlach, administrator at St. John the Baptist Church in Custer and St. Anthony of Padua in Hot Springs, within 32 miles of each other and less than hour from the region's well-known tourist sites and recreation areas.
St. John the Baptist (six miles from Crazy Horse) adds another 100 seats, boosting capacity by 50 percent for its two weekend Masses, and at the start of Mass, Father Gerlach welcomes all visitors who attend. Thanks to a hospitality-minded parishioner, the parish offers visitors "guide sheets" to the parish (including the all-important answer to "where's the restroom"), and plans to add a kiosk filled with information on the area.
"We want them to feel connected not only to the area, but to their faith," says Father Gerlach.
In the Grand Canyon of northern Arizona, the presence of tiny (50-seat) El Cristo Rey Chapel comes as a welcome surprise to many visitors, says Father Rafael Bercasio, administrator.
"Sometimes the church is full on Sundays, sometimes not," says Father Bercasio. "But I always tell visitors near the end of Mass that I commend them for taking the time to fulfill their Sunday obligation. Because even on vacation, faith does not take a rest. And it is a good feeling to see tourists come to receive the sacraments."
He and other pastors advise people to find out, prior to vacationing or ask upon arrival, where the nearest Catholic Church is, a task made easier by websites like masstimes.org.
Father Elewaut of Ventura further suggests researching the local religious heritage and visiting shrines or places of pilgrimage; checking out local Catholic colleges, which "frequently have great spaces for prayer, beauty and worship"; and posting on Facebook any interesting religious experiences while traveling.
Most of all, he advises, "recognize the God of creation in your travels. The seascape, the mountains, the farmers or workers and even the great architectures can become moments of awareness of God's creativity through humanity. Praise God for these."
Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.
How parishes can support faith growth in summer months
By Father Herb Weber | Catholic News Service
Any pastor will let you know that Mass attendance goes down during summer months. This is due primarily to families and individuals being out of town on any given weekend. Families have fewer scheduled commitments that prevent them from traveling or spending long weekends with grandparents, at cottages or at beaches.
With this is mind, parishes have to help families find ways to not only maintain faith during the summer but also to support faith growth.
For parishes there are two starting points. First of all, churches need to make sure that they do not inadvertently give the message that nothing is happening during summer months.
That means they have to review how liturgy is celebrated and what takes place during the week. Many choirs do not sing during the summer and most religious education programs take a break. But are there still ways to make summer an active and engaging time?
The second starting point is that parishes have to work year-round to make certain that parishioners are engaged in the daily life of discipleship, so much so that summer becomes an extension of what is already taking place.
One of the goals of our parish has been to develop a spirituality that includes the whole family for the entire week.
At this parish the staff calls this "The Other 10,020" (usually simply called the 10-20) approach. Knowing that a week has 10,080 minutes and that 60 minutes are attributed to Sunday Mass, we try to emphasize the rest of the week as well. Parish programing may change during the summer, but it doesn't stop.
To facilitate that happening, there are ongoing connections forged.
Our parish has a "Mid-Week Meditation" that appears on Wednesday mornings to draw people's attention back to faith awareness. We also have a weekly podcast that helps people reflect on Scripture readings, many small faith groups that continue to meet during the summer and a variety of special summer gatherings like a summer film series and book discussions.
Often our emphasis is to find ways to put "faith thoughts" into the minds of people right in their homes.
As for people attending Mass while on vacation, we encourage people to share their travel experiences. Often bulletins from churches around the country show up on my desk. People frequently talk about what their experiences have been, both the positive and less so.
Finally, our parish streams Sunday Mass through our website. On a recent trip to Finland, even after I attended one of the few Catholic Churches in the country, I found it comforting to tune in to Mass at home and pray with members of my own parish. I realized what a blessing this form of technology can be.
In short, it is not enough to simply remind people not to take a vacation from church or God during the summer. Churches need to make efforts to help people stay connected with their faith.
Father Weber is the founding pastor of St. John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg, Ohio.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Here are a few fun, faith-filled activities that families can try this summer:
-- Plant a Mary garden:
Create a space in the yard for prayer, meditation or reading. Place a statue of the Virgin Mary here with blue and white flowers, or use another theme. Pray the rosary or sing Marian hymns together.
-- Take a mini-pilgrimage to a local shrine:
Plan a day or morning trip to a nearby shrine. Before going, look up -- or have the kids look up -- a few facts about the particular saints or devotions of the shrine, so kids can point out what details they recognize in images, stained glass windows or outdoor areas.
-- Create a time capsule:
Gather photos, holy cards, favorite Bible verses, drawings and place in a container to bury in the backyard. Write down family traditions or memories and make predictions of what the future will be like. Each family member can write a private letter to God for safekeeping in the capsule.
-- Volunteer at your parish:
Call the parish office and ask how you can lend a hand. Think outside the box -- offer to organize a summer family movie night series or family game nights -- and be sure to invite parishioners who may not have families in the area.
For more ideas, visit: http://catholicexchange.com/10-summer-ideas-catholic-family.[[In-content Ad]]