Catholic in America: Maria, a Princess and a Warrior

“I’m a princess but you’re not,” a little girl abruptly said to my second grade daughter, Maria. I had wondered why she had come in prematurely on a beautiful day in MN. It snowed three weeks ago, but now it’s in the 70s and 80s. We bask in the beauty of nature, soaking in the sun whenever we can here so it’s a red flag when the kids come in early.

Kids can be so cruel when they’re not taught right from wrong in their home. Our school-aged children have been targeted by bullies since the moment we began to socialize them outside of the domestic church (our home). The home, also called the domestic church, is also called the first school. Children should be loved and nurtured, given responsibility, and taught right from wrong. I have often questioned my parenting and wondered what I’ve done wrong. Why are my kids targeted when from what I’ve seen, they’re “normal” kids, trying to socialize and have innocent fun with others? What am I doing wrong?

I hate to admit this, but I’ve even gone as far as to blame them and ask them why they can’t just “fit in” with the other kids. I’ve been especially hard on our oldest child, an authentic leader who has spent the entirety of childhood swimming against the tide. She recently called me out for my “why aren’t you like other kids?” in a moment I initially called sass.

She said, “Mom, you want me to practice Catholicism and follow the Gospel. But my peers, the kids my age, have FUN by engaging in sinful words and actions. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to ‘fit in’? Or do you want me to BE Catholic?

I wish she dropped her imaginary microphone so I could write “mic drop,” but by now she knows I reflect and turn inward when I’m alone, praying through my household chores, so she walked out of the room without giving me time to reply.

I reflected in my space when she was not in it. Point taken. In reflecting, I realized that I wish I always had the faith and courage to say to her (and each of my children), “No, my child, be you. Be Catholic. Be counter cultural.” I didn’t have the courage or strength. But I do now. . . most of the time.

A doubting Thomas like the Apostle who converted my ancestors in India two thousandish years ago, I’ve learned faith through experience by feeling Jesus’ open wounds and asking, “How?”

I’ve learned it as a mother, watching my innocent children crucified by the ways of this world. And by the way, it hurts.

I ask Mary’s intercession when it hurts as a mother. I ask her to comfort me and to pray for me. I can talk directly to Jesus and I do. But Jesus gave us his mother. I always asked my Mom if I wanted something because my Dad was strict. My son asked my husband for a cookie and he said, “No,” so he came and asked me. I looked at my husband and said, “He has been a really good boy.” My husband turned to my son and said, “Ok, if your mother says it’s ok.” And that’s the power of intercessory prayer. Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, not starting his public ministry yet but they ran out of wine and Mary asked Jesus to help. He changed the water into 🍷 wine.

He changed the water into wine. Not Johnny Cash, Jesus . . . but I always get that song in my head. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fE09xqZYBLI

But, I digress. Back to the second grader, Maria.

She came inside early from outside play, and I asked why since it’s unusual of her to not enjoy the weather and play. So, she did one of the things she does well. She told me a story.

Calm as a πŸ₯’ cucumber, Maria shared that a girl came up to her to tell her she’s not a princess and not beautiful. She’s the fourth child in our family and the cruelty of peers is no longer a surprise, but what did surprise me is her response. She said, “I told her that technically I am a princess because I was baptized and adopted into God’s family, and all baptized girls are princesses.” She continued, “Then I told her a story of one of the saints who was killed just because she believed in God and she wouldn’t say anything bad about God. So even though she could have saved her life on earth, she was killed because she loved God so much. And now she’s in heaven. She’s a princess too because she’s part of God’s family!”

As an adult (and even as an adult with a law degree), I’m often (okay, not just often, almost ALWAYS) caught off guard when someone insults me or challenges me for no reason. I typically find myself speechless and with no come back, even though I know my faith.

But this young child God gave us to parent, even though she’s struggled to learn in school, can so gracefully and confidently defend our faith like a warrior, clothed in the armor of God. I told her she’s right and that I’m so proud of her for her courage to share the truth.

I asked how the other girl replied. And MarΓ­a said, “Well, she didn’t believe me. She told me I can’t be a princess because I’m not beautiful and because I don’t have freckles like her. But I said, ‘God doesn’t care about beauty.’ And I told her there are earthly princesses in different countries and you aren’t one of those. But if you are baptized into God’s family, you are a princess. And i know I am because I was baptized when I was a baby. And I receive the bread of life too now.”

“Wow. Maria, you are so beautiful to God and to me. God knows how many hairs are on your head. I am so proud of you and I love you so much.”

She said she loves me so much and gave me a hug. The next day, when some of the same kids were outside again, she asked to go out. I didn’t want her to because my Mama heart hurt for her. I said, “I don’t want people to be mean to you, Maria. That’s not right.”

She looked at me and without hesitation said, “Mom, it’s okay. That’s how the world is. Sometimes the devil talks to people and they listen. People are like that. But I want to be a saint so I don’t listen and I try to be nice. So just let me go play.”

We are the πŸ§‚ salt of the earth 🌍, the light πŸ’‘ in the dark world. Our love for God and each other is evangelical. It stands out, flickering in the dark, adding flavor to the bland.

If you’re Catholic in America and you are practicing your faith tradition, you will be put to the test. And know your children will be put to the test when not in the domestic Church (your home) or in the protection of your parish community. And yes, they’ll also be tested in your parish and home. But those will be different tests. Catholics are persecuted all over the world. We are tortured and killed for our beliefs. So, the bullying we face in the secular world in America might seem like a lighter cross but it’s heavy and painful too, especially when our children have to carry the cross wherever they go.

If you are not Catholic and would like to be, I would love to help you! Please let me know.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here’s some advice for parenting Catholic kids in a culture of morally nihilistic bullies:

1. If your kids are honest and do what I used to consider oversharing (tell you everything), be thankful, listen to them and believe them. Actively listen, repeating things back; validate their feelings. I’ve been terrible at this because it seemed so strange my kids were picked on wherever we would go. I started to assume it was them and us. Don’t do that please! It hurts. I now remind my kids that Jesus warned us we will be persecuted all because of Him. (Mark 13:13, Matthew 10:22, John 15:18-25, Matthew 24:9).

Teach your kids about saints. Our kids love stories of saints. They are really captivated learning about saints who were martyred. Saints are historical, real life super heroes. And when you talk about the Gospel and how Jesus wants us to live and they say, “Well, I’m not Jesus,” you remind them that we are all called to sainthood.

Put down your phone to be present for your children. I write as I’m on my phone, ironically. (Marley and Mahala, I know you’re reading this and will hold me accountable.πŸ˜‚)

2. We call home the domestic church for a reason (well, many, actually). Home needs to be the family’s sanctuary, a holy place where we can have a break from “work” in the world. If you send them to school or to play and if you’re doing your job at home, they’ve been evangelizing all day, just by the nature of their moral choices. Be easy on them. Make home a place to relax, pray and be there for each other.

3. Hang a crucifix, religious art, and sacramentals in your home to remind you and your family of your Catholic/Christian identity and to call you into contemplation. Set up a prayer corner if you want. A word about sacramentals for our non-Catholic (Christian) brothers and sisters: we do not worship “false images” like paintings, statues, crosses. These images are NOT our God, but during the first few hundred years of Christianity, most Christians were illiterate. So, just as our little kids like to “read” picture books and are drawn to images, stories are told through images and pictures and symbols, whether they be stained glass windows, paintings or the written word in the Bible (which is not God but is certainly inspired by God). We show some degree of reverence for these items that draw us into worship, just as we show reverence for the Bible, a library of books put into one book by . . . the one holy Catholic Church, even before the printing press existed. We have a Mary garden statue and we do not worship it. But we will stop and pray in front of it because looking at the statue reminds us of our story, God’s story and how Mary said “yes” when she was called. And we are called into deeper contemplation and imagination.

4. Speaking of graven images and idolatry, do not worship false idols. You probably think of that golden calf in the movie, The Ten Commandments. Hey, I do too!

But that’s pretty easy. If it was that easy to NOT worship a golden cow or a statue, most if not all of us could live without temptation of breaking that commandment. But anything. . . And I mean anything you put before God is a false idol.

You’re obsessed with soccer ⚽️? Hey, me too! 🀚 I love the sport. Your kids play and can’t miss a traveling tournament game? Fine. But Mass is a holy day of obligation. It’s that one commandment: that one of ten.

. “Keep holy the sabbath.” So, if your soccer game interferes with your ability to attend Mass (and make Sunday a holiday), you gotta miss it. #sorrynotsorry

Don’t put soccer or hockey or basketball or band or orchestra or dance or anything before God. I know it’s easier said than done but this is important stuff.

Money is a false god.

Don’t idolize it. You don’t need more and more and more. Be conscientious about how you spend it and whether you’re supporting fair wages, the earth, and moral companies. I’m consistently working on this one because harmful products and companies who have immoral philanthropies tend to have cheap and convenient products or services, which make them awfully tempting. Give a tithe. Give 10% of your income to the Church. Maybe you want to give that full 10% to your parish. Great! Maybe you want to give 5% to the parish and 5% to charities. That’s fine too. However you want to arrange it, practicing tithing helps us detach from a false idol.

Your career could be a false idol. My identity being linked to “what I do” has tempted me to make some poor choices that were not discerned for God’s glory. Who are you? A lawyer? Doctor? Nurse? Lobbyist? Be like a child. Be like Maria. You’re a princess or a prince awaiting your royal inheritance in heaven. That’s your identity. That’s my identity.

Your vanity could be an idol. And I’m not saying you should neglect self care. No, no, no. Contrarily, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. So, care for it like God’s sanctuary because it is . . . you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, a sanctuary of love. I struggle with being a disciplined steward of my body. I like ice cream and beer and tend to overindulge. Or maybe you’re on the opposite end of that and starve to be thin. Either way, if you struggle with caring for your body as a temple, you’re not alone but I’m not justifying your actions or my own. We are not excused from responsibility for ourselves. But we can be sorry and ask for forgiveness and repent. And we can be thankful for God’s mercy.

5. If you have been worshipping false idols by putting other things before God and just realized it, don’t worry. Thankfully, if you’re Catholic, you can go to Confession. For free! How awesome is that? It’s better than therapy and you don’t need any health insurance co-pay for it.

If you are catholic and you have committed a mortal sin or are living in sin, you may not receive the Eucharist until you’ve confessed and repented. So, if you’re outside of the state of grace, sit with God. If you’re sorry and ready to repent, go to Confession. If you’re not feeling sorry or don’t understand (truly practicing Catholicism takes discipline and it’s counter cultural), talk to a priest, spiritual director or practicing Catholic. Here’s something I’d like to share: I get nervous every single time I go to Confession. Even for venial sins. Even for saying the same thing I said last time. I have laughed in Confession. I’ve cried. I’ve cried so hard I’ve laughed and laughed so hard I’ve cried. I’ve sat there and talked with my stomach full of knots, knots that can only be untied through absolution. And then walked away feeling free. Sometimes I go to other parishes. Sometimes I go to my home parish. Either way is fine.

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen said something along the lines of “Hearing nuns confessions is like being stoned to death by popcorn.”

If your worried about what the priest will think, don’t. At least maybe he won’t be bored. And Jesus gave us this sacrament. Don’t ignore it now and risk the fires πŸ”₯ of hell later. You might disagree with the fire and brimstone preaching, but I’m serious. Don’t be the rich man, asking to go back and tell his relatives to live life as Lazarus on the doorstep when it’s too late. (Luke 16:20) Instead, look for Lazarus at your door. He’s there, covered in sores and hungry and thirsty. There our Lord is in the least . . . (Matthew 25:40). Do onto Lazarus as you would onto our Lord. Look for Him! Encounter Him. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven!

6. After Confession . . . receive the Eucharist. Encounter Jesus in the flesh. Remember this covenant and that you are a sanctuary.

Vatican II said the Eucharist is the source and the summit of Christian life. The Eucharist is our spiritual nourishment and renews our covenant with God. Christians, most of us are Gentiles. Jesus came to invite you to the table. He is our sacrificial lamb. Make the Eucharist the center of your family’s week. Your week’s plans should revolve around what time you have Mass planned. You might think this is unnecessary or be overwhelmed by this but try it. It will fill you with joy and grace and love. It’s my favorite part of the week. We try to make Sunday a holiday and get donuts after Mass. It’s part of our family tradition.

Yesterday, Father Don asked Maria after Mass, “tell me, what are you doing this summer? What is the most exciting thing?” I honestly expected to hear, “Swimming lessons” or “going to the cabin” or something similar. Without missing a beat, this kid who has struggled academically said, “Going to Church.” She wasn’t coached to say that. And all week she has said, “Mom, I can’t wait to receive the body and blood for the third time!” My two year old throws tantrums to go to Church and McDonald’s. The two aren’t connected for her. They’re just her two favorite things, I guess, even though she’s wiggly during Mass.

7. Pray. I know. I’ve got to pray just to make it each day.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says “Pray without ceasing.”

Translated from Greek, the author is saying our prayer should be constantly reoccurring.

Talk to God. Bring Him your worries, your sorrows, your joy. Whether you’re playing a soccer game, doing dishes or working at an office, you can talk to God. Unite your suffering with His.

Be disciplined in your prayer life. Our kids know to pray before we eat and we do so even on the rare occasion when we go out to eat. We say the “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts . . . ” prayer before every meal. If you’d like to do a different or additional prayer, that’s fine. Your prayer can always be personalized. But memorized prayer allows us, in our family, to focus on God and not have to think of who is the best orator. There’s no prep work or praise of the individual necessary. And it allows us all to participate. We have special family prayer times, and some depend on the liturgical season. During Lent, we did Stations of the Cross in our home on Friday’s. We pray nightly with our kids and the prayers we choose as well as how personal the prayer is changes depending on the season of our life. But what’s non-negotiable is prayer before bed.

We make the sign of the cross before and after our family or individual prayers. We have holy water fonts throughout our house which we try to keep full. We remember our baptismal vows and that we are born of water, adopted sons and daughters of God. As aforementioned, we do not worship Mary or the saints but they are our favorite heroes. We ask them to pray for us, just like we ask holy people in our parish to pray for us.

In our home, we yell. We sing. We argue. We play. We laugh, and we cry. We are fully human and prone to sin and error. But we try to live a Christian life. We regularly use the language of our faith because we are baptized royal priests and prophets. We bless each other in our homes and outside our home. I frequently hear my kids say to others without even thinking or knowing it’s counter-cultural, “Bye, God Bless You! We love you!”

So, for anyone reading this, I hope this blog finds you well. Reach out if you like what you have read and would like to learn more. May God bless you.

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