Monday, September 15, 2008

Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts

We all know, I hope, that the family is the domestic church. That means that most everything that happens in the local parish should also be happening in the homes of parishioners. That includes the proclamation of the Gospel, ongoing catechesis and formation, outreach to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, discernment of vocation, prayer, scripture study, healing of the sick, table fellowship, the offering of our work/relaxation/self to God, etc.

I'm afraid not many families take this very seriously, nor ask themselves how they might become cells within the larger body of the Church. One family I know takes this seriously, and one of the ways they do it comes in the way they teach their five children, ages 9 months-10 years, to appreciate the blessed life they have (their father is a surgeon, so they have a comfortable life). As they become old enough to understand, they are taught to select a charity to support as part of the way they can help those who are less fortunate. Sometimes they help support an existing charity through organizations set up to do that. Other times, they are encouraged to start up something themselves.

One example of the latter is a project begun by the children this year called, "Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts". Emily, the second child, who's nearly ten, made a design which was used to decorate dishtowels that they children are selling to raise funds for Angel Notion Medical Clinic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Angel Notion is a non-profit that helps poor children of Playa del Carmen in need of heart surgery. Angel Notion has teamed up with Rosa Christus Children's Hospital in San Antonio, TX, to provide these surgeries at low cost. Even so, it is more than the families of Playa del Carmen can afford, and they must also provide their own travel expense. So these kids decided to do what they can to help.

This is a great example of putting our faith into practice within the home, especially by expanding the awareness of young children of the existence of other kids, just like them, who struggle with health problems and poverty.

It should come as no surprise that these kids are a delight to be around, too!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Intentional Disciple Elves Hard at Work

Mark Shea here again. The little elves of the Siena Institute are (between going to the Uncle Wilbur Fountain, visiting the Cave of the Winds and hanging off of cliff dwellings) getting revved up for our soiree next week. It's been a peculiar combination of goofing off (for us visitors from Ohio and Washington) and working (for Dave Curp and Sherry W.).

Sherry is toiling away on the prep for the Building Community meeting on the 31st. We had a good long talk into the evening and got a bit of a preview of things to come. I think those who are coming will be happy with the chewiness of the content. Sherry is not fluffy.

Here on the Shea front, sleep seems to have been interrupted last night. I got in about four hours and then woke with a headache, so I talk a long walk at dawn and had a lovely view of the prairie stretching away off to the east from Colo. Spgs. I also got in a decade of the Rosary and spent the walk sort of venting at God and trying to listen a bit. Jan and the kids are still in bed, which is a switcheroo since I've been the slugabed.

I've been laboring to not think deeply about things much, which I find is disturbingly easy. That said, I've also been enjoying our time here. I've got some big decisions I need to make and not having other things pressing has been good. Especially good has been the chance to, 'ow you say?, "pursue God in the company of friends" (a phrase of which you shall hear more on this blog presently). It's been really wonderful having a chance to re-connect with Sherry and the Curps (and the little Curplings). Simply the chance to hash out things out loud is really sweet, since we all have our various struggles and trials to deal with. So I am grateful.

Sherry is going to need the computer pretty soon and I have to decide whether to crash or go to today's expedition, so I'm logging off for now. But I will check in later.


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Monday, August 20, 2007

Greetings from the Sheas of Colorado!

Mark Shea here. Chesterton said that inconveniences were only adventures wrongly considered. On that accounting, I have had a weekend of adventures! After I saw Jan, Peter and Sean off on their flight to Colorado Springs, my flight to Amarillo was canceled, so I caught a redeye and was up all night. I got into Amarillo shortly before I was to speak, gave my first talk, then crashed in my hotel room with a wakeup call for 15 minutes before the next talk. Both talks seemed to go well (though it's typically hard for me to tell). I got to meet the bishop of Amarillo (a very good man named Yanta, a Pole who has, among other things, given Priests for Life a sort of headquarters and house of formation, not to mention coordinating a bunch of laypeople in a prayer campaign which has shut down 18 out of 20 abortuaries in the diocese. Speaking of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone was there this weekend and he kindly gave me a little tour of the new facilities for his apostolate. He seems to know what he's doing in terms of organization and creating a long-term ministry that will be fighting for the rights of the unborn for a long time. Also, he preached the Mass yesterday and was, as usual, terrific.

The flight to Colorado Springs was also full of adventure. The plane to Denver was inexplicably late by an hour, so I wound up missing my flight to Colorado Springs. However, I was able to catch a later flight and so arrived safe and sound and delighted to see Jan (who came and got me) and Sherry Weddell and the Curps (old friends all) as I stumbled through the front door of the house.

We sat up talking till 1:00 and played a bit of catchup (we haven't all been together since the last trip to C. Springs in 2003). Then we drifted off to bed and (for me) the beginning of some serious sleep deficit payoff. Today we popped out to the library and brought home *ridiculous* numbers of books--ridiculous as in "people were laughing at the giant armload of books I was lugging out to the car".

C. Springs is All That. Clear blue skies and warm with the Colorado Rockies Right There and Pike's Peak looming over you. The streets in the neighborhood are all named for plants and flowers. It's like the classic American town in addition to being the Vatican of American Evangelicalism.

We're taking it easy mostly. The oxygen level here is half that of Seattle due to altitude. So I am dutifully taking my iron and drinking a lot of water to stave off headaches. The two Sherrys and Jan are planning Big Things (something I overheard as I slipped off into my afternoon nap (ah!). I have no big plans at all. That's my idea of vacation. We did bring along the Dangerous Book for Boys as a resource idea for fun stuff to do as father and sons and will probably consult that oracle in our next bit of down time. I'm going to push for swimming soon, because it's 83 degree indoors.

I may be popping in from time to time on this blog to say howdy and chronicle our adventures. And I look forward to seeing those of you who are coming to the Siena Soiree in a week or so! Till next time: toodles!

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Monday, April 30, 2007

The Seuss is Loose

This weekend I helped out a bit with a LifeTeen retreat sponsored by Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, CO. The title of the retreat was "The Seuss is Loose," and the presentations offered by various members of the core team were reflections based on a few beloved Dr. Seuss stories, and focused on the need for perseverance in the faith in the face of opposition, growth in virtue, overcoming peer pressure, and the unique love that God has for each person.

I had the privilege of listening to some of the kids share about what's going on in their life, and I was blown away. Their adolescence is so different from my own. The pressures they encounter at school, the difficulties they face when they go home, sometimes, are incredible. I don't know how well I would handle them at age 47, much less age 17! In some cases, the children's parents are divorced, or working hard to maintain a standard of living and providing what their kids ask for. But of course, what the kids ask for and what they really need - parental time and individual attention - are two different things.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of parents in the lives of their children:
"The joyful love with which our parents welcomed us and accompanied our first steps in this world is like a sacramental sign and prolongation of the benevolent love of God from which we have come. The experience of being welcomed and loved by God and by our parents is always the firm foundation for authentic human growth and authentic development, helping us to mature on the way towards truth and love, and to move beyond ourselves in order to enter into communion with others and with God."
Pope Benedict XVI. Sermon at the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia 2006

George Barna, in a reflection on the Virginia Tech shooting linked in the title of this post, cites a number of chilling facts about parenting and the state of parenthood today, including:

-By the time an American child is 23 years old, as was the killer in Virginia, he will have seen countless murders among the more than 30,000 acts of violence to which he is exposed through television, movies and video games.

-By the age of 23, the average American will have viewed thousands of hours of pornographic images, which diminish the dignity and value of human life.

-After nearly a quarter century on earth, the typical American will have listened to hundreds of hours of music that fosters anger, hatred, disrespect for authority, selfishness, and radical independence.

-The typical worldview of a person in their early twenties promotes self-centeredness, the right to happiness and fulfillment, the importance of personal expression in all forms, the necessity of tolerating aberrant or immoral points of views, allows for disrespect of other people and use of profanity, and advances forms of generic spirituality that dismiss the validity of the Judeo-Christian faith. Largely propelled by postmodern thought, the typical worldview of young people does not facilitate respect for life, acceptance of the rule of law, or the necessity of hard work, personal sacrifice, paying the dues or contributing to the common good.

-The average adolescent spends more than 40 hours each week digesting media, and the typical teenager in America absorbs almost 60 hours of media content each week. For better or worse, the messages received from the media represent a series of unfiltered, unchaperoned worldview lessons.

-It appears that as many as one out of every five young people is or has been under the influence of mood-altering medications, some of whose long-term side effects are not fully understood by the medical community. Drugging children has become one of the ways in which we have coped with other issues.

-Stress levels have been steadily rising among young children over the past couple of decades. A variety of factors have contributed to such stress, including parental acrimony and divorce, household financial troubles, media-fed expectations regarding materialism, overscheduling of children, bullying, physical abuse within the home, and excessive peer pressure.

-One-third of the nation’s teenagers report having been in a physical fight at least once in the last year. Nearly one out of every five 9th through 12th grade students has carried a gun, knife or club in the past month.

-Education, both in the home and outside of it, provides diminishing emphasis upon the development of character, and increasing emphasis upon meeting academic performance standards, especially through standardized testing.

-Growing numbers of children seek to make their way through an increasingly complex life without the traditional safety net comprised of a loving and supportive family, a stable circle of supportive peers, teachers who know and help nurture the child, and a community of faith that assists in giving meaning to life and a sense of belonging.

-Most young people admit that they feel as if they do not receive sufficient attention from their parents; do not have enough good friends whom they can count on; are unsettled about their own future; have personal spiritual perspectives but not much of a sense of spiritual community; lack role models; and do not feel that they have intrinsic value."

The stress parents face is also outlined in the article.

In spite of this, the retreat demonstrated that adolescents can and do respond positively to positive role models, can support one another, are willing - even craving - a relationship with Jesus (witnessed by their attentiveness to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). They can sing songs of praise with great enthusiasm, are able to be achingly honest in the sacrament of reconciliation, and will even forego an extra hour of sleep to attend a non-required early-morning Mass.

My hat's off to all those who work with our youth, and to parents who are struggling to remain in a healthy, positive, Christ-centered relationship with their children!

How can we support each other in this vital task?


Saturday, April 7, 2007

A Very Good Friday, Indeed

I spent yesterday with a family that is very dear to me. I've known Pam and Andy (or 'Pam'n'Andy', as I usually think of them) since I was first ordained. They were the "young couple" at the first Engaged Encounter weekend in which I participated. We hit it off so well that they asked me within a few weeks if I would join them as part of the regional leadership team of Engaged Encounter for Arizona and Utah - even though I'd only experienced one weekend! I said, "Yes" only because I found them so enjoyable. We've been friends since, and I am the godfather of their eleven-year old son, Jacob. Pam and Andy are also the parents of Melissa (age 20), Kyle (18), Zachary (16) and Grace (9), all of whom have received or are receiving their grammar and high school education at local Catholic schools.

Pam'n'Andy invited me to join them on a Good Friday hike/retreat with their children, and since I hadn't seen them since Christmas, I readily agreed. I drove up to Phoenix yesterday, arriving at their doorstep at 7:15 a.m., just a few minutes before Andy, who had just finished his shift as a firefighter in Chandler, AZ. We loaded up the van, picked up Melissa, who lives in a house with another college student, and headed out to the desert.

I didn't know quite what to expect, besides a hike. What I experienced was a glimpse of how I believe the Church imagines Catholic family life should be - a domestic church.

While on our short 1.5 mile hike, Andy instructed each of us to pick up a stick that in some ways represented us. When we returned to the trailhead, we sat around a picnic table and each of us described some aspect of ourselves based on the random sticks we'd found along the trail. There was talk of how a bend in a branch represented a time the individual had strayed from "the narrow way," or of how the sharp buds of branches on one stick were irritating, like the stick's possessor could be at times. It was amazing to hear the members of this family be so vulnerable in front of each other. Pam cried as she described the small branch she'd found with five smaller branches, each further subdivided, spreading out from the main branch. Each of them represented one of her children, who would soon be leaving her and Andy's side to start their own families. So much of her life has gone into attending to her children, sharing her faith with them. Sometimes, she said, she feels diminished by the project of raising children. She and Andy are like John the Baptist, decreasing so their children can increase. I pointed out that their children, so good, so compassionate, so grounded in faith, will each have their own positive effect on other people and the institutions of which they become a part.

I chose the skeletal remains of a teddy bear cholla (a particularly nasty cactus) and said that it represented more of how I want to be than how I am. I want to cooperate with God in letting him remove my prickly exterior, and be able to be "seen through" the way one can see through the gaps in the cholla's skeleton. After we described ourselves based on the stick, we were instructed to break the stick in half. When I did that, a little mound of dirt fell out of my cholla, at which point one of the adolescent boys piped up, "I guess that means you're full of cr*p, Fr. Mike."

I don't know why the others laughed.

Andy gathered all the broken sticks together and tied them with string while Pam explained that Christ is like the string that holds us all together. Even though it is not too difficult to break a single stick, when all our broken pieces are tied together by Christ, we are strong. A simple message, clearly illustrated, and one that will stick with me (no pun intended) a long time.

After a small lunch we were each given sticky notepads and pencil and told to think of some affirmation that could be given to each person in the family (and me), as well as a brief memory of an event involving that person. Twenty minutes later we regrouped and again, I was deeply moved as I observed this family, whose interactions are so often marked by good-natured teasing and competition, dive wholeheartedly into an intimacy that most families avoid except at funerals. How many children get to hear their parents affirm their love for each other, and tell an endearing anecdote from their life together? How many adolescent brothers and sisters tell each other something positive, without sarcasm, and with genuine appreciation? When do we listen to the youngest member of the family and treasure the contribution they make to our life?

The whole event took less than four hours, and cost Pam and Andy a $5 park use fee and a few dollars of gas. Yet it was a blessed time of tears and gut-busting laughter, of memories re-lived and new memories made - a glimpse of the joy of heaven whose gates are opened by the cross-shaped key of the Son of David.

Thank you Andy, Pam, Melissa, Kyle, Zach, Jacob and Grace. May God continue to bless you and keep you in His love and in my life.