Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Godparent's Day

Godparent's Day is an unsung day of celebration that takes place on the first Sunday of June. Do you have godparents that deserve special recognition today? Feel free to share this poem via email, facebook, or pinterest to let them know their love and devotion in your child's spiritual life is appreciated and admired.

If you are a godparent, I would just like to say thank you for taking the time and the care to guide our young children into the faith and love of God. It is a calling like no other, and I will continue to pray for you as you serve in this role. God bless you.

So, you need to choose Godparents?

The tradition of godparents dates back to 2nd century CE, when Christianity decided to baptize infants and required an adult to stand in for the confession of faith. It only made sense that if a person was willing to bet their soul on a child's future faith, then they should spend their lives assisting the child in the development and understanding of that faith.

Today, godparents are seen from both a secular and spiritual standpoint. No matter a parent's faith, they may choose a "godparent" to hold responsibility for a child in case the parent no longer can. However, in the Catholic faith, a godparent is much more than a back-up guardian over a child. The godparent role is taken very seriously and is expected to carry the weight of spiritual growth for their godchild throughout the young one's life. This role is designed to provide spiritual support in addition to your own parental guidance. It is a lifetime commitment, and an eternal gift.

Who can be a godparent?

With such a sacred view of this role comes high expectations for the godparent:
  • At least one godparent should be Catholic. While it is understandable that non-Catholic believers may also make wonderful examples of faith to your child, there are certain beliefs and practices specific to Catholicism that should be properly addressed by the Godparent. Therefore, you may have two godparents, one of which may be Catholic and the other (if you choose) would be considered a "Christian Witness".
  • If the godparents are married, it must be within the Church. No, I do not mean any church. Just as described in the first expectation, it is important that godparents serve as an example through their own lives. The sacrament of marriage is a very important practice of the Catholic faith and must be upheld by those taking on this charge.
  • Godparents must be at least 16 years old. This makes sense considering the role of the godparent is to guide your child in their growing faith, and children below the age of 16 may not have completed their own faith education and confirmation yet.
This being said, every parish has their own expectations for godparents, and it is important that you discuss your choices with your priest or deacon.

So, who do I choose?

Good question. I have three children, two of which are baptized. (My little Cassidy will need godparents soon!) I will admit it, choosing godparents was not an easy task. Some people suggest it should be family, others suggest it should not, and regardless of suggestions, some people just don't have a large Catholic pool of loved ones to choose from!

Our first daughter's godparents are my husband's uncle and his wife. They are two very beautiful, devoted, and loving Catholics whom I have learned very much from in my own faith. We knew they would be godparents we would stay close with throughout our daughter's life. This was very important to us.

Our second daughter's godparents are a friend of mine from our parish and her husband. She is a very devout Catholic, volunteers at our church through various groups, and her husband (while not Catholic himself) attends church with her and is a wonderful example of love and acceptance. I met her through a church retreat, and as we discussed children (she confessed she and her husband could not have any for certain medical reasons) I felt strongly in my heart that her faith and love would serve as a perfect example for a child someday...I found out a week after that retreat that I was pregnant, and she graciously accepted the role when asked.

Now, here we are again (and so soon!). If you are in the same boat, and trying to decide how to go about finding godparents for your child, here are some possibilities to assist you:

  • Check your Family Tree! If you have Catholics in your family, take time to discern if they would serve a positive double role in your child's life as godparents.
  • Check your phone contacts! Chances are, you know Catholics even if you don't know them through your church. Always take the time to learn about the faith of your friends, as they may be the perfect choice for your child!
  • Check your bulletin! No, they don't put ads for godparents in church bulletins....yet. But if you are one of those shy people (like me!) who has had a hard time making friends in your parish, or if you are new (or renew) to the faith, look for retreats for church groups you can join to get to know your fellow parishioners better. God may just send His choice your way.
  • Check your priest! It always seems to hold true that no one know the flock better than the shepherd. Ask your priest for suggestions, and he may know some wonderful people for you to consider.
As you are praying, discerning, and choosing who your child's godparents will be, know that I am praying for you and with you. This is the first spiritual responsibility you will decide for your child, and I know it can feel daunting. Take this as an opportunity to get to know your parish, to grow in your faith, and trust in God to provide the perfect people to serve this role in your child's life.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Breastfeeding Mother and the Public Eye

I would like for you to imagine, if you will, Eve. She is admiring the garden around her, the literal fruit of God's creation. Though she probably has not thought to consider, she as well serves as a miraculous example of God's creation. The human body. She has been designed by God to take in seed, to bear fruit, and to nourish and care for that fruit. Scientists in centuries to come will admire the design and capabilities of the human body with a reverence, the same reverence Eve has in this moment for God. This is because we truly are God's incredible creation.

Now I would like you to imagine Mary, Joseph, and their new son in the manger. Her son begins to cry (which I can only imagine to be the most beautiful and heart wrenching cry the world would ever hear), and Joseph immediately responds with a protective yet gentle hand, cradling Jesus in his arms to bring him to Mary, who is still recovering in a makeshift bed of hay. She instinctively makes little sounds of reassurance as she opens her dress to place Jesus at an already leaking breast. He, the Son of God, has found nourishment and comfort in the fruit of God's creation.

If you would, just one more time, now imagine a young mother who has come to mass for the first time with her newborn. She has not been to church before, but somehow taking part in the miraculous creation and birth of this tiny little human being has inspired a new spark of reverence and curiosity in her spiritual life. As she hesitantly takes her seat in the pew, and the service begins, her tiny blessing begins to cry. She realizes what her child wants, but cringes at what she will now have to do in a room full of strangers and priest and God. Nonetheless, she discreetly tries to pull her shirt down and slip her breast out while quickly trying to get her infant to latch properly on her overly-sensitive, cracked, engorged breast. The physical discomfort is immediate, but it is nothing compared to the anxiety she feels in her pounding chest at all the eyes around her. Now imagine you are sitting next to her in that pew. What face are you making? What words do you say? What thoughts go through your mind?

In today's society, the human body is no longer viewed by most as the fruit-bearing creation of God that it once was. With a wide array of magazines, movies, commercials, advertisements, and more displaying the human body as a commodity to be purchased, a perfection to be attained, or a desire to be devoured, it is no surprise that we have a hard time refreshing our minds and spirits to the pure and true purpose of the human body. Sadly, the result of this societal conditioning is that mothers are now expected to abide by the sexualized standards of society and are ridiculed or judged by others for providing the nourishment and care that God created their bodies to provide. Though laws have been put in place to protect a breastfeeding mother's right to feed her child in public (http://breastfeedinglaw.com/state-laws/), the law does not protect a mother's spirit from the judgment and condemnation of the public.

I believe the most important stance we can take as a community is one of understanding and support. Can the sight of a mother breastfeeding in public make one uncomfortable? Yes. It would be naive to assume that people will suddenly forget the societal conditioning they were raised on in our country. However, is that the mother's issue to address? Not at all. We should all respect and appreciate that the mother's role is to care for her child as God intended, and her focus should solely be on that proper care--not on the bystanders around her.

What is the best way to do that? Well, simply put, the best way for us to support breastfeeding mothers is to NOT do anything. What I mean by that is, we should NOT make any kind of facial expression/sound/gesture when they attempt to feed. We should NOT advise the mother on how to breastfeed (whether by covering up, going to the bathroom, etc.). We should NOT judge a mother's integrity or manners based on her need to breastfeed in public. This last one is important. The largest complaint I receive from the community is how the mother is not being "considerate" of those around her when she breastfeeds/breastfeeds in public/breastfeeds uncovered/etc. Please be mindful that the most considerate thing a mother can do is breastfeed her child. That very act shows unconditional love and consideration for her child, regardless of her personal feelings of embarrassment, shame, or concern. Also, when a mother breastfeeds her child in public, she is being considerate of those around her by stopping her child from screaming and crying in public. It is very important to remember that our own discomfort does not always equal some wrong-doing on the part of someone else. I do not experience discomfort because a breastfeeding mother is present. I experience discomfort because society has conditioned my mind to view breasts as sexual objects instead of a source of nourishment.

As a community, especially as a spiritual family, it is integral that we uplift, encourage, and support healthy and positive behavior. A mother breastfeeding her child is the personification of health, and she is merely using the human body as God designed it to be used. If you need an example of the kind of attitude to have toward breastfeeding, here is a quote from Pope Francis himself:

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you believe may benefit, both community members and mothers alike. If you are a mother, please know you are loved and supported within the Catholic community, and we are thankful for the unconditional love and nourishment you provide your child, in whatever way you are able to do so. God bless you.

Support for Breastfeeding Mothers by our Pope!

God bless you!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Open to Life: The Beauty of NFP

I knew enough about Natural Family Planning to know my period should have come two days before. I told my husband I was going to buy a pregnancy test, and he thought I was overreacting but succumbed to my insistence. I hustled straight to the bathroom when I got home, with my toddler on my heels and my six month old fussing for my immediate attention. I didn't bother to close the door--if you're a mother you understand--and peed on the stick as my husband told me about his day. As I went to place it on the counter to wait my obligatory three minutes, I glanced down and gasped! The line had already begun to appear.

My husband tried to console me as I cried....they were not happy tears. My children were still whining for my attention, and all I could think about was giving it all up--my body, my sanity, my desires, my life--for a child we were not trying to have. We had taken a "risk" one night, and apparently one risk was all it took. As I sat there wondering why Catholics couldn't just support birth control, my husband asked me, "Aren't you even a little happy? God must really want this child!"

I was not happy.

Fast forward 11 months: Here I am, with an absolutely perfect daughter named Cassidy. She is three months old, and her coos would melt your heart. She captures all my love and attention, in the same way as my first two daughters, and she fits just right into the family God has created us to be. Just like puzzle pieces, we all complete a picture of miraculous design...one I could not have imagined, yet one I am grateful to be a part of.

I could not be happier.

It was not until Cassidy that I truly understood the Catholic belief of being "open to life". I practiced NFP the same way others play video games, to test my skills, prove my knowledge, and try to show off my ability to take charge. Except I never understood that the true purpose of NFP was to offer myself to God's charge. While it is our responsibility as parents to take care to provide a safe, healthy, and loving home for our family, it is our vocation as a married couple to offer ourselves to God's plan for our future. My husband said it best that day as I cried: "God must really want this child!" Who am I to say no to such an incredible gift?

The purpose of being "open to life" is to be open to the possibility. Even if we are not seeking out another child, it is important that we let go and let God decide, offer our lives and our hearts to the future of our family, and be willing to welcome with joy any blessing God sends our way. I cried when I first found out about Cassidy. I didn't understand then that happiness was a part of the bargain. Now I think back and ask forgiveness for ever letting my daughter feel sadness within me at the thought of her existence. She had done nothing to deserve such disappointment from me (and if you ever met her, you'd know no one could be sad in her presence!). Wasn't the point of practicing NFP to invite God to take control and open my heart to the blessings He offers? I understand now that is exactly the point. I am so thankful to Cassidy for teaching me this lesson, and I hope to instill the same understanding in my own children some day.

Before the end of World Youth Day in October of 2013, Pope Francis made a statement to the volunteers which included the following excerpt:

I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility - that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage to swim against the tide. And also have the courage to be happy.

Being open to life, within our family, within myself, is a vocation I may not have fully understood when I made my original vows to my husband and to God, but it is a vocation I readily accept now. This is the beauty I have found in Natural Family Planning--the beauty of taking responsibility for our decisions and our family while still allowing God to be in charge of the direction of the path we are walking together in this life. Who am I to say no to such an incredible gift? Instead, I humbly pray for the courage to be happy with every gift God bestows. Lord, hear my prayer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why I Don't Believe in the Cry Room

There seems to be a contradiction between the reverent piety of mass and the bubbly spontaneity of little children. As a Catholic mama of three children under three years old, I often sympathize with other Catholic families that feel hesitation and sometimes embarrassment when sitting in the pew on Sunday, trying to be faithful to God and considerate of other parishioners, while also trying to control my little ones and make weekly mass a positive habit.

This struggle within the religious community was met at some point with the creation of a place called a "Cry Room". (If you go to the beautiful Cathedrals of Europe, you'll notice Cry Rooms did not exist back then.) The idea of the Cry Room was a simple one: give families a place to be a part of the worship service while not disturbing the service itself. What we have seen in the evolution of the Cry Room is that it is often viewed as a permanent seat for families with small children, as opposed to a temporary place to address a little one's cries or behavior before returning to the mass.

The problem that arises from this "solution" is that families now either walk straight to the Cry Room for mass without the intention of joining the congregation or are pressured by fellow parishioners (or even the priest) to use the Cry Room for permanent seating. Why is this an issue? Well, in order to answer that, we must consider the design and practice of our Catholic mass.

Why don't we have Sunday School?
We make a point as Catholics to ask families to attend mass together. We do not send our children to another room to be educated in the Church, as we have separate classes for that purpose. Sunday is a day of celebration, to join together as one body and receive the Eucharist of our Lord. By bringing our children into the fold, we teach them by example how to behave, how to believe, and how to love. It is one of my favorite practices in our faith.

So how does this compare with a Cry Room?
When used effectively, a Cry Room can be a temporary place to address a child privately without disrupting the service. However, when families spend their entire mass in the Cry Room, it teaches a very different lesson by example. How a child behaves in a Cry Room is often not nearly as controlled, since they are no longer disrupting the service, and they often learn from other children a very different idea of proper behavior during mass. How a child believes is often not addressed much at all, seeing as they are not expected to follow along during the service with as much focus as they would while sitting in the pew. (For example, there are some Cry Rooms with books and toys to distract children.) How a child loves themselves, their family, their community, and their God is less of a focus when they are unable to see how their behavior affects those around them, and how they are loved is often recognized as "conditionally" since they are only welcome when quiet.

I would like to be clear that I understand and appreciate that not all Cry Rooms are used this way or fit this description. I am not seeking to generalize all parishes. Rather, I am writing this post to bring to light a concern that is affecting many young families within the Catholic Church, and I do think it is important for all of us as a community to support and uplift these families by welcoming them--not alienating them. So how do we do that?

Speak words of welcome!
The easiest way to let families know they are welcome with the main congregation is by telling them! Greet them when they arrive. Let them know how happy you are to see them. Stranger or friend, words of kindness are always appreciated to help us feel like a part of the Body.

Smile at the little ones!
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? I can't tell you how many times a smile, wave, or giggle from a fellow parishioner has kept my little ones distracted and content during mass. Seeing my community react positively toward my children also has spoken volumes to me about how my family is viewed in the Church--as a blessing and not a burden.

Encourage parents during challenging services!
Some days when my daughters are....less than their best, behavior-wise, I have second guessed my weekly struggle to keep my children in the main sanctuary. It is during those moments that I have been brought to tears by a simple "Little ones have so much energy, don't they? Keep up the good work, mom!" It means more than you can possibly imagine to receive affirmation by the congregation that we are doing the right thing by immersing our little ones in their faith from the very beginning.

So, if you are a family with young children, please do not hesitate to make your family part of our collective Family! We are so excited to be able to share in the formation of your family's faith and are filled with joy to welcome your little ones just as our Lord taught us to do. Your continued practice of the faith ensure the future of our congregation, and we are blessed to have you here.

If you are a fellow parishioner, thank you for taking the time to read this and consider how you can serve the families in your church as they learn how to navigate the often rough and spontaneous waters of spiritual parenting. I hope you will share this post with others, and remember to say welcome to the families you see next Sunday!