How To Talk To Your Kids About Lent

by Ray Martin

Recently, I was enjoying a delicious Chipotle dinner with my family on a Sunday night and one of my daughters looked in panic at her chicken burrito bowl and said, “uh wait…Dad, is it okay that we’re eating meat for dinner?  I thought we couldn’t do that on Sundays.” One of our sons interjected definitively, “No not Sunday, it’s on Wednesdays and Fridays!”  *Sigh*  I corrected them that it was ASH WEDNESDAY and Fridays during Lent.  This of course launched a lengthy dinner conversation on what Lent was, why we choose to give things up during this season and what days we do it.  What was interesting to me was the language that our kids used like, we CAN’T eat meat, or we HAVE to give something up as though it was a punishable offense for not following the rules.  So, I went to a source to get some facts and here’s what I discovered in a letter from the US Council of Bishops from 1966 on seasons of penance, specifically Lent.

Why Do We Observe Lent?

Because Jesus did.  Most of our Catholic traditions point back to something that Jesus said or did.  The first Sunday of Lent is marked with the Gospel account of Jesus going into the desert for 40 days to fast and pray.  This is where he was tempted and he did this prior to starting his public ministry which was a the major season in his life that led to his passion and crucifixion.  Unlike Jesus, we all have sin in our life. We need to make ourselves better, especially in our spiritual life, healing and mending our relationship with God. Those needs and how we reconcile with God are totally different from person to person.  Historically, the Church has held many seasons for penance that often date back to Hebrew traditions, but today there are mainly two that are observed in our modern era of Catholicism in the United States: Advent and Lent.  Lent is around 40 days and we choose this time frame starting with Ash Wednesday because it leads to our biggest celebration of the Christian calendar, Easter.

What Do We HAVE To Do?

Nothing.  But, we can choose to do a lot of things!  Yes, we do have a commitment as active Catholics to go to Mass each week and on special feasts.  If there’s a major sin that’s broken down our relationship with God we should clear that up through the sacrament of reconciliation, but that’s really the extent of “the rules”.  We can choose not to do anything different during Lent, but the hope is that we make this a special season of penance or doing something to show we’re sorry for messing up and reflecting on where we need to make changes in our life so that we can get closer to God and really celebrate Easter with our church family.  Many Catholics in the U.S. follow the old traditions of our church ancestors who gave up meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent.  You don’t have to, but it’s a tradition.  This statement I mentioned from the Bishops specifically mentions that meat used to be more of a luxury than it is today where it’s pretty common, so if giving up meat isn’t a big deal to you, then they suggest you find something else to do or give up.  If people have special circumstances especially when it comes to their diet, then they shouldn’t feel obligated to participate in abstinence or fasting. They should use their best judgement.  Again, the hope is that we take a day like Friday to be a special day where we think more about Jesus and how he died for us.

Why Does The Church Pick Certain Days To Be More Charitable Or To Give Something Up?

Ash Wednesday was chosen because it’s the “opening day” of the Lenten season.  We give up meat on Fridays because Jesus died on a Friday.  Even outside of Lent, Fridays are suggested as a day to be a little more solemn and reverent leading up to the weekend when we celebrate Mass.  They refer to Friday as a “mini Lent” that leads into the Easter of Sunday every week.  The Bishops caution against being high and mighty in your piety if you do follow the Church traditions to a “t”.  It’s not a law and it would be unfortunate to judge others who don’t choose to participate in the same way as you do during Lent.  Ultimately, there are many wonderful ways we can give God glory by serving and volunteering, especially for the needy in our communities.

Spiritual Extra Credit

Giving up something or not eating meat is really the minimum practice.  Ideally, we should be doing some kind of charitable service or caring for people in need like the sick, the homeless, the poor, the imprisoned.  Why? Because Jesus said so.  He said that when we get to heaven, he isn’t going to ask us how often we failed to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, (okay I’m really paraphrasing!) but rather that we will be judged for what we did for the least of God’s people.  Basically, don’t get caught up in rules about food, go help someone!

Resources: A Statement Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 18, 1966

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Tips to Creating A Household Lent Plan

Tip 1: Use Candles

Just if you want to. But honestly, it’s the best idea I’ve ever had!

Here’s the backstory to the Lent candle pattern we’ve developed over the years, and here’s how it goes in our house (feel free to do whatever you like):

Just like with Advent candles, once a day, you light the candle of the current week, and all the candles that have already been lit. So for the first week, you light one candle, for the second, you light two, and so on.

Each week the candle is connected with a Bible reading and a sentence that makes a point from that reading.

The Sacraparental Lent Candle Pattern

Arrange seven candles on your dining table or somewhere prominent. We use six purple and one white, but you can do whatever you like.

As we light the candles, we say:

  1. We light the first candle to remind us that Jesus is wise.
    2. We light the the second candle to remind us that Jesus and the prophets make us brave.
    3. We light the third candle to remind us that Jesus gives us important jobs to do to make the world better.
    4. We light the fourth candle to remind us that Jesus gives us a fresh start whenever we need one.
    5. We light the fifth candle to remind us that Jesus is in charge of life (and death).
    6. We light the sixth candle to remind us that Jesus is a surprising King.
    7. We light the seventh candle to remind us that Jesus is alive.


Tip 2: Do something daily

Lighting a candle each Advent Sunday at church is awesome, and we’ve found it is even better to light candles every day at home as well. A day is a long time for a little kid, and a week is beyond their comprehension.

I warmly encourage you to try doing something that’s a daily practice – or, you know, most days.

Some ideas and examples (just pick one or two – this isn’t supposed to be a list of a million things to fit in!):

What we’ll be doing

This Lent, we’ll have three adults, a four-year-old and a one-year-old in the house.

We’re planning to do these things daily(ish):

  • light Lenten candles each night at dinner time, using this pattern
  • make a purple paper chain prayer streamer, ring by ring, adding to it daily
  • read or tell stories about Jesus at bedtime.


Tip 3: Talk about Jesus (more)

Lent is squarely about Jesus. It is an opportunity to refocus our own lives towards Jesus, too.

Perhaps you could do a little audit of your daily and weekly life at home. I have two key questions for you, and the answers may surprise you:

  1. How much of your day or week is focused on or connected with Jesus – from yourperspective?
  2. How often each day or week do you mention Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit in the hearing of children?

I think it’s common for kids to have a completely different impression of how ‘spiritual’ their family is than their parents, because so much of adult spirituality is internal and silent, or happens out of earshot of kids.

As I wrote in this guest post on Lulastic and the Hippyshake:

You might be a pro at finding God in everyday life, or seeing the spiritual angle of your routines and choices. In my observation, many kids don’t notice this in their parents. Churches I have been part of are full of kids who would be astonished to know why their parents actually follow Jesus, because the subject simply hasn’t come up. If you want to model spiritual stuff to your kids, you’ll have to live it out loud.

[Read more about how we do this in our family at Lulastic.]                        

This Lent, live your commitment to Jesus out loud in front of your kids. For example:

When you do the recycling or turn off a light in an empty room, talk about how ‘it’s important to take care of God’s earth’.

When you intervene in a squabble, remind children that Jesus wants us to be kind.

When you buy fairtrade chocolate or free-range eggs, talk about how Jesus wants us to use our money to make the world a better place.

If you sometimes make a quick silent prayer for a friend or as an ambulance passes, try doing it out loud.

When a child makes a great choice, connect their growing wisdom and maturity with following Jesus or being filled with the Holy Spirit (as far as is appropriate and true for them): ‘I love how the Holy Spirit is helping you to be wiser every day.’

Also, what about taking turns telling your own story of choosing to follow Jesus? If our kids heard the adults around them ‘give their testimony’ each year at Lent, they would know us and God a lot better by adulthood, I reckon.

What we’ll be doing

We do a lot of this stuff in our house, so it will be business as usual for the most part.

Our four-year-old has started being interested in who else we know who follows Jesus too, so I’m wondering about asking friends if they can explain to him why they do. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Tip 4: Try Lenten meals (but probably not fasts)

It’s traditional to connect Lent with some kind of altered pattern of eating and drinking, usually some kind of ‘fasting’.

In the Old Testament, fasting is usually portrayed as a spontaneous response to what Scot McKnight calls a ‘sacred, grievous moment’. It is also always about going without food.

By the time of Jesus, however, Jews were also doing regular ‘stationary’ fasting (meaning the whole community or ‘station’ did it together at the same time), twice a week. Jesus was challenged as to why his followers didn’t take part in the weekly round of fasting, so it seems to have been an expected part of Jewish culture.

Jesus did, however, famously fast for 40 days in the desert while preparing to make the career change from carpenter to Messiah.

Fasting continued to develop as an important spiritual practice in the early church. By the end of the first century, adult converts were encouraged to fast in the lead-up to their baptisms. Christians fasted twice a week and also for the morning or day until they shared the Eucharist(communion) on Sundays. By around the fourth century it was usual for converts to be baptised at Easter, and for those being baptised – and their supporters – to fast.

The Orthodox churches have a strict vegan fast for 55 days leading up to Easter (yes, you read that right. Read more here.)

Roman Catholics are encouraged to give up meat for Lent, and in particular, to donate to charity the money that they save from eating more simply.

So what should we do in our family practices of Lent? Should fasting be part of it?

Children are not traditionally called to fast at all, and I’m pretty wary of changing kids’ diets for Lent. What’s in a kid’s diet that shouldn’t be there for six weeks?

BUT: you might find that some kind of change in meal habits could help (particularly older) kids to focus on Lent as a different kind of time.

Maybe you could start eating at a slightly different time, or move the dining table to a different location for Lent, or use different table linen or plates.

Maybe twice a week the family could eat a simple, cheap meal, like soup, or rice and dal, and donate the money saved to a particular charitable cause.

Maybe once a week you could all cook extra helpings together to drop off to someone who needs a break from cooking (a new parent, someone who’s sick, someone who lives alone).

Maybe you could volunteer weekly at a soup kitchen or other food charity (like a food bank or food rescue service).

Maybe you could learn to make special Lent foods together, like these prayer pretzels. Learning a new vegetarian or vegan family dinner recipe or two would be a useful thing you could use throughout the coming year to save money and go easier on the planet.

Do you have other ideas? Please pop them in a comment below!

What we’ll be doing

We’ll have our Lent candles to light at dinner time.

I’m thinking about the idea of having a simple meal once or twice a week. I’ll try selling it to the household and see how it goes down!

I like the idea of changing how the table looks. Maybe we’ll have a table-cloth for Lent?

Tip 5: Engage all the senses

Talking about our spirituality is important. Enacting it in concrete ways through experiences, visual reminders and special objects can be super helpful too.

One of the great things about lighting candles for Lent is that it is so multi-sensory. You can see the candles on the table, all day. You get to light them (or watch an adult light them!). You can smell the match and the wick, and use your own breath to blow them out at the end of the meal. Different colours might come into play.

Other ways to use the range of senses to connect kids with God:

  • Instead of just saying ‘Thank you, God’ for the good stuff in your day, write or draw it and stick it up on your own family Gratitude Wall.
  • Make a shredder confessional.
  • Buy a large map of the world, or get a large atlas out of the library. Use the visual reminders of different parts of the world to pray simple, one-sentence prayers for the people of different countries and regions.
  • Make a prayer tree of photos of people you want to pray for as a household.
  • Get out of the house and volunteer somewhere to make the world a better place.
  • Watch some videosthat help kids explore spirituality: wildlife documentaries, animated Bible stories, stories of how other people live… add your ideas below, please!
  • Write character traits (wisdom, kindness or self-control, for example) you want God to develop in you onto balloons, then blow them up, picturing how the Holy Spirit breathes life into us and makes us more like Jesus.

What we’ll be doing

The candles and paper chains will add some three-dimensionality to our Lent.

If the streamer goes down well, I could imagine switching to one of the other ideas later on for variety – but I could also imagine not quite having the energy for that! We’ll see.

Tip 6: Recruit a Lent Team

When I was researching the meaning of Lent in different traditions, I was struck by how, particularly for the early church and for the Orthodox churches, fasting and Lenten practices are community events. We can’t do this stuff by ourselves.

So why not make yourselves a team for Lent? Ask around your friends or at church for a few other households – with or without children – who would like to do some aspect of things together.

  • You could get together on Sunday evenings, have a meal together and light candles.
  • You could go out each Saturday afternoon and do a beach or park clean-up together, somewhere different each week, armed with rubber gloves, hand sanitiser and rubbish bags.
  • You could do a cook-a-thon together, and make lots of meals to distribute to people who would appreciate some help.
  • You could learn a new skill together that will benefit you all in the coming year: bread-making, sewing, car repair, first aid, perhaps? What else?


What we’ll be doing

Last time we did the Lent candles, lots of people around the Sacraparental community did it too and it was so great to have the company! If you’re keen, please leave a comment and stay connected throughout Lent, here or on Facebook or Twitter.

This year, inspired by lovely Christmas evening get-together with friends, I’ve sent out an email to four households asking if anyone wants to combine forces for some of this stuff, and get together in person. I’ll keep you posted.

Tip 7: Share the love

Make sure your Lenten practice includes things that impact people beyond your household.

The prophet Isaiah brings this message from God:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke?7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover them,and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

(Isaiah 58:6-7)

Fasting that doesn’t benefit our neighbour in some way is worthless or worse.

Whatever your Lenten plan is, make sure it faces outwards as well as inwards.

What we’ll be doing

We have the classic situation of a local park covered in rubbish, so I’m keen to do a Lent clean-up. Again, I’ll need to see who’s with me on this!

When we talk, each week, about how Jesus helps us be wise, kind, and so on, I’ll be making an effort to relate these things to why we have moved to Chiang Mai, and how we are trying, as a household, to make a difference for people in Myanmar.


Tip 8: Kick-start the rest of the year

Lent is an annual opportunity to refocus and recalibrate, but it’s not supposed to be the only time we grow or develop – or think about Jesus!

In this post on celebrating Easter with kids, I have a few ideas of new Easter traditions you can start in your household so that Easter is seen as the beginning of the next season, and we can all build on Lent to develop further during the rest of the year.


For example:

  • Review responsibilities. Is your eight-year-old ready for the challenge of cooking dinner or doing the grocery shopping online? Would someone like to swap from recycling to vacuuming as a weekly responsibility?
  • Chat about your household spirituality. Would people like to do something together in the post-Easter period? Search Pinterest or ask friends for some ideas. Would you like to read a nourishing book together each night? Narnia? Start a gratitude wallor other creative activity? Do people want to pray more together or more by themselves? Get older kids and adults to have a look at Ten Ways to Pray for some more ideas.
  • Discuss your charitable giving. Are there new initiatives you want to support? New ways of saving money in order to give it away? Do kids want to have responsibility for some giving? Again, remember that kids may not even be aware of half your charitable activity, and if you are to leave a legacy of generosity, they need to be apprenticed into it.
  • Brainstorm how your household can make the world a better place in the coming year. Check out this post on kids making a differenceif you need some ideas.
What we’ll be doing

My kids are a bit young for some of the family meeting ideas, but I think new clothes at Easter could be a goer.

Whatever crafty/multi-sensory prayer things we do over Lent, I’ll be keeping an eye on what works well and planning something to take the place of Lenten practice once the next season begins. I like the idea of having a different dinner-time spiritual practice for each season of the church year (so I’m just working on one for the time between Christmas and Easter at the moment).



Why Go To Mass?

by Fr. Tom Tank

Not  long ago while visiting with a Catholic, I  was taken back by the question, “Why should I go to Mass?”  My assumption is that Catholics know why they should go to Mass, but maybe I assume too much.  Hence this little piece Why go to Mass?  Every individual sharing in the Mass has his/her own reasons for doing so.  Here are some that deserve some consideration.


God gives us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  Is it too much to give Him an hour of our time?  God gives us life itself and all our talents and abilities.  Isn’t it only right to say THANK YOU by sharing our time and ourselves with God?


We lead hectic lives, running in a thousand directions.  What’s the integrating thread that keeps it all together?  What reminds us what is really important in life and what may be interesting, but superficial? Taking time to draw back and being with God in prayer helps maintain balance and perspective and helps us keep on track.


Some people say that they can pray better by themselves alone in the woods.  Sometimes I can too.  But that doesn’t take away the need to join with the community in prayer and worship.  In the midst of a world that focuses upon the individual as the center of it all, we need to remember that we are creatures and children of an all-loving God.  We are part of a community of faith that communicates Christ to us and needs us to be active members of Christ’s body.  The Mass is the most perfect form of worship because it is my prayer in union with the prayer of others that is joined withbest prayer ever offered – the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  No other form of prayer can take the place of Christ’s perfect gift of Himself and His sacrifice represented in the Eucharist.


Each of us carries with us some woundedness, hurts from others or our own sinfulness. We need forgiveness and the strength to forgive others.  We need God’s power to flow into our lives healing and renewing us in the spirit of Christ.  The Mass makes real the healing and strengthening presence of Christ whom we experience in Holy Communion as our Brother, our Savior and our God.


We lead by the example we give more than by the words that we say.  We can tell our children that we believe in God and are followers of Jesus, but if we don’t take time for God and show our fidelity to Him in prayer and example, our words will be hollow and our example weak.  Our young people learn to value what their parents value.  What are we sharing with our children?


We have a serious moral obligation to worship God through active participation in the Eucharist.  To neglect this wonderful prayer and to deny ourselves the grace of the Mass is seriously sinful and is in a way like spiritual suicide.  We have the serious obligation to make use of the means that God has given us to grow in holiness through union with Christ in the Mass and the Sacraments.


We need Christ.  We need a Savior.  We need to know that our life is of value and worth both here on earth and eternally.  We need Christ to keep us going in the right direction with what’s really important in life.  We need a personal relationship with Christ so that His word speaks to us and His presence is felt in our heart.  Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.  He gives his very self to us in Holy Communion.  To be embraced by His loving presence is such a wonderful and awesome gift.  Why deny oneself Someone so great and so loving?


“Keep holy the Lord’s Day” is the third commandment.  What better way to do so than to join in the perfect sacrifice, the perfect prayer of Jesus?  Jesus enjoins us “Do this in memory of Me!”  Ultimately we go to Mass as an expression of our desire to really love God with all our heart, soul and mind and that in turn helps us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

On the other hand, I often hear why people don’t go to Mass.  I imagine the reasons are as individual as the person, but here are some common ones.


Who ever said you were supposed to?  Do we only do something because we personally get something out of it?  We receive from God every moment of every day; is it too much to do something for God without expecting an immediate return?  We go to Mass to worship God, to thank Him, to draw closer to Him, not to get something more from God who already gives us everything.


Church is not a health spa for saints, but a hospital for sinners.  Yes, we have hypocrites at Church.  Can I say that I have never acted hypocritically?  I wish!  We go to Mass because we are sinners and need God’s grace and strength to live better lives.  If no sinners went to Mass, the church would be empty.  Some people stay away from Mass because they have a hard time with accepting or living some of the teachings of Jesus and the Church.  We need to remind ourselves we are all on a journey.  None of us has it all together yet, but we need to be present and open to Christ who will show us the way and give us the strength.


For people used to fast action and constant entertainment, the Mass seems boring.  As one young person put it “It’s the same old miracle every time.”  Is it the ‘same old’ or is it the ‘miracle’ that we experience?  The Mass is not entertainment.  It is prayer and worship.  We get out of something what we put into it.  Consciously entering into the miracle of Christ’s love present in the Eucharist will engage our mind and heart, indeed our entire life.


Most of us are over extended.  We have too many commitments and responsibilities.   Yet can we really be too busy for God?  Is an hour a week too much to give?  If we plan our Sunday around Mass rather than trying to fit Mass into a crowded weekend, we will never be too busy for the Lord.  If we don’t go to Mass, how much time do we really devote to prayer on our own?


Yes, most of us are subject to laziness.  It’s part of original sin and we can let ourselves develop some pretty lazy habits.  Laziness can lead to weakening and even loss of faith.  Just as we need to exercise our bodies to keep them strong, we also need to practice faith in order to strengthen it.  The best remedy to laziness is just simply DO IT!


When we are not living the life that we know we should, we feel guilty.  Guilt needs to be resolved rather than denied.  We have to face our guilt and seek forgiveness and search for a better way of living.  The Mass will challenge us and remind us of our guilt, but it can also bring us healing forgiveness and new life.


Unfortunately some have been disappointed and even hurt by the Church or its representatives.  Just as Jesus teaches us to seek forgiveness, He calls us to be forgiving.  Past hurts because of the human side of the Church shouldn’t keep us from experiencing its divine side wherein God shares his very self with us.  St. Paul enjoins us “forgive as the Lord has forgiven you”.


“I don’t need the Mass to be a good person.  I can be kind to others without going to church.”  That may be true, but being a nice and kind person is not the essence of being a Christian.  Loving God above all things is.  How am I really showing my love of God above all if I don’t take any time for Him?  And by loving Him we will have greater strength to follow the second commandment, to love our neighbor.

Jesus invites you to join Him each Sunday in prayer.  Come and experience the awe of God’s love and presence in the Eucharist.
4:30 p.m.
8:15 a.m.
10:00 a.m.
11:45 a.m.
5:00 p.m.
Come to Me and I will bring you strength and peace!

Why go to Mass?  Ultimately each of us answers that question by the choices and decisions we make.  The answer lies in how seriously and personally we take the invitation of Jesus “Do this in memory of Me” and God’s commandment to love Him above all else.  God wants to be central to our lives.  Our choice is to make Him number one!

Ideas On Ways to Celebrate Christmas after December 25th

Celebrate Christmas to the Fullest with These Catholic Traditions

            From the website:

Family Christmas traditions are a great way to connect, make memories, and grow closer to Christ. Here are 21+ Catholic traditions to choose from this Christmas season.

Family Christmas traditions are a great way to connect with one another, make memories to last a lifetime, and grow closer to Christ. What kind of traditions does your family celebrate?

Whether you’re just starting out or you already have set family traditions, this year, consider trying out some of the Catholic Christmas traditions and customs listed below. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the Christmas season can last anywhere from to 16 to 22 days, depending on when the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (marking the end of the season) falls, offering plenty of opportunities to celebrate Christmas long after the stores have switched out their Christmas displays. (Related: How Long Is the Christmas Season?)

A few notes to consider: First, it is good to distinguish between popular customs and formal Church observances. A few Catholic Christmas traditions are obligatory; some are optional; and others are not formally recognized by the Church, but are cultural practices popular in predominantly Catholic places.

Second, don’t expect to try all of these ideas in one year. Sift through them and pick out a handful (or even just one) to try this year; in future years, you can try new traditions.

Most of these traditions focus on the religious celebration of Christmas, but toward the end of this article you’ll find some other non-religious (but fun!) family Christmas traditions to try.


Midnight Mass

The very word Christmas comes from the Old English words Crīstes mæss, or Christ-Mass. From ancient times, Mass has been at the heart of the celebration of Christ’s birth. Accordingly, Christmas is a holy day of obligation, on which the Church calls all Catholics to celebrate Mass.

Your parish might celebrate one of four different Masses, each with its own set of readings: the Vigil Mass (held Christmas Eve), Midnight Mass (the “Mass of the Angels”), Dawn Mass (the “Mass of the Shepherds”), and Christmas Day Mass (the “Mass of the Divine Word”). You will hear different readings and liturgical prayers at each of these Masses.

The classic Christmas reading from Luke 2:1-14 is heard at the Midnight Mass (which is often celebrated well before midnight). Midnight Mass is the most elaborate celebration of Christmas, and many parishes pull out all the stops for it. At some point in the life of your family, your kids should get to experience it. While it may be later and longer than a typical Mass, it is often less crowded. If you bring little ones, bring a blanket so they can lay down in the pew.

Many of the strategies that work for a regular Sunday Mass, including previewing the readings with your kids, will also help make your Christmas Mass a more pleasant and meaningful family experience. See Doing Mass with Kids: 25+ Strategies for a Better Experience.


Read or chant the announcement of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Roman Martyrology

You can find this text, which is most appropriately sung or chanted on Christmas Eve, at the USCCB website. “The announcement of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord from the Roman Martyrology draws upon Sacred Scripture to declare in a formal way the birth of Christ,” the USCCB explains. “It begins with creation and relates the birth of the Lord to the major events and personages of sacred and secular history.”


Add figures to your manger and bless it

If you have left your manger set or nativity scene mostly empty during Advent (except for the animals, of course!), then you can make a big deal out of adding the angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and other figures on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

You may want to add the baby Jesus overnight on Christmas Eve as a surprise for your children on Christmas morning.

You may also want to place the three kings someplace else in the house at a distance from the manger so that they can “journey” to the manger over the twelve days following Christmas, arriving at the manger on the Feast of Epiphany. (See below.)

If you haven’t already, bless your manger set or nativity scene using this blessing from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Christmas Eve is the suggested time for blessing your manger.


Pray before the baby Jesus

“No one, whether shepherd or wise man, can approach God here below except by kneeling before the manger at Bethlehem and adoring him hidden in the weakness of a newborn child.” So says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#563).

You can take that to heart by encouraging your kids to pray before the baby Jesus in the nativity scene at your church or at your home, either after Christmas Mass or right away on Christmas morning, before opening gifts. You can find a brief Prayer Before a Creche here, or encourage your kids to make up their own prayer.


Make your own nativity play

If your parish doesn’t sponsor a nativity play (or even if it does), make your own nativity play at home. This can be a big production (find ready-made scripts online) with costumes and props and so on, or it can be as simple as Mom and Dad (and older siblings) acting out the Christmas story extemporaneously. Young children can be given simple roles to play.

Whether it’s Oscar-worthy or spur-of-the-moment (it’s amazing what you can do with a few sheets and a blanket), re-enacting the Christmas story is a great way to teach kids the true meaning of Christmas. And it might just be a deeply moving experience for the adults involved, too.


Decorate and bless your Christmas tree

If you have held off on buying a Christmas tree (or kept it as an Advent tree), then decorate your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve as a sign and celebration of Christ’s arrival. (Take down your Jesse Tree ornaments first!) If you are just getting started with your family Christmas traditions, make your own homemade Christmas ornaments (see below for ideas).


Make and light a Christ candle

If your family has enjoyed lighting the Advent wreath, extend the practice by making a Christ candle. Purchase a large white candle, ideally one made for liturgical use (at least 51 percent bees’ wax), and decorate it with the chi rho (the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ) along with the year. Place it in the center of your Advent wreath and light it throughout the Christmas season as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world (John 1).


Celebrate the Festival of Lessons and Carols

The Festival of Lessons and Carols is a service of Scripture and song that originated at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1918. The service consists of nine Scripture lessons which recount the Fall, the promise of a Messiah, the Incarnation, and the Great Commission; each lesson is followed by a song that reflects on the lesson’s message, and a brief prayer. Today, the service is broadcast worldwide by the BBC on Christmas Eve, and churches around the world celebrate different versions.

Check to see whether the Festival of Lessons and Carols will be offered by churches in your area. Otherwise, you can use the simple version offered by the USCCB to conduct your own service, or catch it on the BBC World Service; you can find broadcast information at the King’s College website.


Do more works of mercy

The message of the Gospel and the call of the Church is unambiguous: fully celebrating Christmas means reaching out to the poor, the oppressed, and all those in need of our help. Model the true spirit of Christmas for your kids by seeking out opportunities to help others throughout the whole Christmas season.

You can download a family calendar for the Christmas season that contains many ideas for doing works of mercy. Some highlights:

  • Pray for Christians being persecuted around the world.
  • Give away things you do not need (and maybe some things that others might need more than you), and renew your commitment to Christian stewardship and simple living.
  • Consider year-end gifts to charitable organizations that help those in need; let your kids help choose a recipient. Better yet, pool your money as a family and decide to give it to a family or organization in your community.
  • Donate goods to your local food shelf, St. Vincent de Paul Society or other charity. Make it a family field trip.
  • Commit to at least one work of mercy as part of your family’s resolutions for the New Year.
  • Observe January as poverty awareness month by using the interactive resources at org.
  • Lobby on behalf of migrants and refugees; the first full week of January is observed as National Migration Week by the Church in the United States.
  • Arrange a group to sing Christmas carols at your local jail, hospital, or nursing home. (Reach out to the organization’s volunteer coordinator.)


Mark the feasts of the first martyrs

Right on the heels of Christmas, the Church gives us a trio of martyrs’ feasts. First comes the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, on December 26. This is followed on December 27 by the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (another early Christian martyr), and then on December 28 we remember the Feast of the Holy Innocents (the infant-martyrs killed by King Herod as he sought to destroy the Christ child).

What are we supposed to take away from this juxtaposition? Perhaps it is a good reminder that Christmas is more than soft pastels, stars, a cute baby, and Hallmark sentiments. We need Christmas—that is, we need the saving Christ—because we live in a dark and violent world. These feasts also remind us that following Christ means forfeiting our lives in one way or another. Christ has only just arrived on the scene, and already we are called to follow him.

Be sure to note these feasts with your kids. You can find additional resources for celebrating at the USCCB Christmas website:

Feast of St. Stephen

Feast of the Holy Innocents


Celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family

On December 27, we celebrate the Feast of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family. Celebrate your family by making a very simple “family tree” with photos of each person in your family. Talk with younger children about what it means to be a family. Include the date of your wedding anniversary as the “birthday” of your family.

You may also want to think about making a family pilgrimage on the Jubilee of Families, which is also celebrated today (see below).


Celebrate Mary and world peace on January 1

January 1 is not only New Year’s Day, but the Octave Day of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and the Church’s World Day of Peace.

Celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and the Octave of Christmas by attending Mass (it’s such an important day, Catholics are obliged to celebrate Mass). When you get home from Mass, incorporate a special Mary-themed treat into your New Year’s Day meal; you will find a whole list of ideas at Catholic Cuisine.

You can share the pope’s message for the World Day of Peace by downloading the full text of his message or a shorter summary from the USCCB World Day of Peace web page. Also consider praying a rosary for world peace.


Do a family “examen” of the year

On January 1, use the format of the Ignatian Daily Examen to do an “examen” of the life of your family in the past year. If praying the examen is too formal, go through your calendar month by month, talking about the biggest events. Or go through family photos month by month. As you share memories, talk about Highs and Lows.


Bless your home and household on Epiphany

It is traditional to bless your home and household on the Feast of the Epiphany, perhaps because of the Biblical reference to the three kings entering the home where the Holy Family was staying in order to worship the Christ child there. You can find an Epiphany blessing of the home in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers (or at the USCCB website).

A more traditional form of the Epiphany blessing involves using blessed chalk to write the letters C, M, and B, plus the year, above the main entrance to the home (or above the door to each room in the house), like so: 20 + C + M + B + 16. The letters are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also represent the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, which means: “May Christ bless the house.” Of course, the + represents the cross. You can find a ritual for this blessing at the Order of Carmelites.


Send the magi on a journey through your house

If you have a manger set, bring out the three kings on Christmas Day—but instead of placing them at the manger right away, put them somewhere else in your house so that they can journey to the manger over the twelve days between Christmas Day and the traditional date for the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).

You can have the three kings move to a different room or area of your house on each day. Let your kids search for them every morning; when they find them, say to your kids: “The wise men are searching for Jesus in ___ (the dining room, your bedroom, etc.). How can we show the magi that Jesus is present in this place?” Brainstorm examples of Christian behavior in the particular place, then close with a short prayer:

“O holy magi, help us to see Christ in this place, and make it holy in all we say and all we do here. Amen.”


Hold a procession of the magi

On the Feast of the Epiphany, read the Gospel account of the visit of the three wise men (see Matthew 2:1-12), then have your children march through the house holding the figures of the three kings and singing “We Three Kings.”


Eat King’s Cake

A popular Epiphany tradition in many cultures, the King’s Cake (or King Cake) is a sweet cake in which a small figure of the baby Jesus is hidden. Searching for the baby Jesus in the cake imitates the Magi’s search for the baby Jesus. You can find great recipes for King’s Cake, along with some cultural background, over at Catholic Cuisine.


Celebrate Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a largely forgotten traditional celebration held on the twelfth night of the Christmas season, January 6—the traditional date of Epiphany before the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

Over at Catholic Cuisine, they have a complete and comprehensive plan for a Twelve Days of Christmas themed dinner feast that features twelve courses, including partridge in a pear tree pie. You can also find an extensive history, as well as some traditional ways of celebrating, at Fish Eaters.


Celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

It’s also the perfect time to remember your kids’ baptisms, and to talk about what that means: “Did you know you were baptized, too, just like Jesus?” Tell the story of your child’s baptism. What was the most memorable moment? Why did you ask to have your child baptized? What promises did you have to make? Pull out anything related to your kids’ baptism: a baptismal gown, candle, pictures, or video.

Using fabric markers, make a tablecloth celebrating baptism containing the baptismal dates of everyone in the family; bring it out for meals on the anniversary of each person’s baptism.


Wish people a merry Christmas

Model the Christmas spirit for your kids by wishing people a merry Christmas throughout the whole Christmas season.



Non-religious (but really great) Christmas traditions


Eat a special Christmas Eve dinner

Different families develop their own Christmas Eve meal traditions, but if you are looking for a traditional meal to latch onto and you happen to be of French descent, consider holding a réveillon, a long dinner full of sumptuous foods. If you are Italian, try the Feast of Seven Fishes, a meal featuring seven courses of seafood. Poles, meanwhile, celebrate a Wigiliameal.


Cut your own Christmas tree

“Cut your own” tree farms are proliferating; many offer other fun winter activities besides picking and cutting your own tree. If the weather is nice, you can make a day of it. You can find a Christmas tree farm near you at this website.


Make your own Christmas tree ornaments

If you’re just getting started with your family Christmas traditions, try making your own Christmas tree ornaments. If you have kept your tree as a super-simple Advent tree, then this might be a good activity for later in the day on Christmas Day.

There are so many great ideas for homemade ornaments online, we’re not going to attempt to provide a complete guide here. However, if you’re going to let your young children be involved (a great idea!) and if you care at all what your tree looks like, you’re going to want to choose simple decorations that are going to look pretty good no matter how your kids do with them. Some suggestions that caught our eye:

  • Classic or fancy paper chains. Google “fancy paper chain” for a cool twist on this classic childhood ornament. If you go classic, personalize your paper chain with words (Christmas greetings or Bible verses) or art from each family member.
  • Ribbon chains. Like a paper chain, but made from ribbons.
  • Natural ornaments. Go foraging outdoors for natural objects to make into Christmas ornaments (respecting natural environments and any applicable laws). Ideas for natural ornaments include pine cones (decorated or plain), shells, dried grasses braided into decorative ropes, stones (polished and hot-glued to string or hangers), dried flowers, sea glass, twigs fastened together to make stars and snowflakes, and so on.
  • Strings of fruit and popcorn. String cranberries, popcorn, and other dried fruits and nuts (dried orange wheels, shelled peanuts), then bring the strings outside for a tasty Christmas treat for the wild critters around your house.
  • Salt dough ornaments. Homemade salt dough is easy to make and fun to play with; when the dough hardens, you can paint it to make your own ornaments.
  • Paper snowflakes and other ornaments. For a twist, try making 3D paper stars and snowflakes.
  • Edible ornaments. Candy canes, gumdrops, and other hard candies look pretty strung on a tree.


Christmas Eve luminaries

In Spanish-speaking countries and parts of the southwestern United States, it is traditional to set out luminaries—candles set in paper bags weighted with sand—on Christmas Eve. It is said that the lights are meant to invite Christ, the light of the world, into the home. Probably the tradition is just as much about making a pretty and interesting light display in a season of darkness.

Family Life: Griswald Family Traditions

by Ray Martin

Every year my brother and I exchange a phone call on Christmas to say, “Merry Christmas, $h!tt#r’s full!”  Christmas Vacation is one of our favorite movies and we grew up watching it together every year.  My kids and I quote the movie year round!  I love the opening scene where they go to get their tree out in the woods…decorating the house with too many lights, having the big sit down dinner, waiting on the holiday bonus, etc.  I think that a great point is raised by Clark’s extreme nature in that we tend to do some things each year just to do them or because it’s what we’ve always done, but in reality they may not be all that healthy for our family.  So in the great Griswald family tradition we’re gonna discuss…drum roll please…drum roll…rituals!

The Marriage Shield – Faith Devotion

by Ray Martin

If someone told me that there was a simple solution out there that relieved anxiety, fear, depression, and was known to strengthen my marriage to the point that it was less likely to break down, I’d be like, “how do I buy a bottle of that?!?”  The truth is that it’s not a pill or product, but rather an uncomplicated thing that we all can do: pray.  Prayer is a powerful tool.

In this final installment of The Marriage Shield we come to the third F: Faith Devotion.  Previously we covered fidelity and fiscal stewardship, but faith is the magic ingredient that has such a profound influence on our behavior that it guides our choices to be faithful to our marriage and responsible stewards of our finances.

Time For Family

In The Choice Wine Steve Bollman’s father-in-law, Riley Leggett, advised him to sit with his family in church every Sunday.  This wisdom has a profound impact on a family.  Couples attending weekly church services have a divorce rate 60% lower than those who never attend church services.  Why?  Because going to church changes the behaviors that lead to divorce: infidelity, using money foolishly, and substance abuse which all decrease significantly when you regularly worship with your community.

Prayer changes the functioning of the brain during and afterwards:

  • It reduces anger, fear, and anxiety.
  • Makes one more empathetic and compassionate.
  • Strengthens a person’s sense of self.
  • Leads to lower levels of loneliness, depression, anxiety; less substance abuse.
  • Prayer changes you, which changes your marriage.

Statistically Protecting Your Marriage

The General Social Survey used in The Choice Wine found a baseline of close to 30% experiencing a marital breakdown, but this included newlyweds.  The national average today is closer to 40% or more, but here’s the statistical rundown of how The Marriage Shield protects your relationship:

  1. Couples who don’t cohabitate prior to marriage and are faithful reduce the likelihood of marital breakdown from around 30% down to only 11%.  This is why infidelity is the greatest threat to your relationship.
  2. Attending weekly worship drops the rate to 9% and praying daily takes it down to 5.9%.
  3. Many who are fiscally responsible have earned a certification or bachelor’s degree and combining that with fidelity and faith brings the probability down to nearly zero.  Considering that the foolish use of money is the second leading cause of marital breakdown it makes sense.

Sex, Money, And Religion

The Marriage Shield covers three topics people don’t like to talk about, but that’s because they are the leading causes of problems in a relationship.  Steve Bollman says that nailing these three areas of your life will nearly divorce proof your marriage because they substantially lower the probability of a marital breakdown.  In our first discussion on The Marriage Shield, we covered that married people are generally happier, healthier, and wealthier than average.  Spending time at the dinner table proved to not only save us money, but is also a huge benefit to our children which is why protecting marriage is so critical to the future of our community making it all the more important to protect following the three F’s:

  1. Fidelity
  2. Fiscal Stewardship
  3. Faith Devotion

Faith is that intangible spirit that changes us into better spouses.  I hope that you will take the three F’s to heart and think about the wisdom shared by Riley Leggett that we should be eating with our family each night and going to church with them every Sunday and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be engaged in your church community who is here to cheer on your family life.  Change and habits are hard to break, but little changes every day will keep you on the path to a lifelong, holy marriage.

Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Paradisus Dei

<—Part III Fiscal Stewardship

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The Marriage Shield – Fiscal Stewardship

by Ray Martin

I’m one of those cheap people, like I don’t usually drink soda at a restaurant because I can get it cheaper at the store (and let’s be honest, I don’t need the calories!) I love buying used stuff on Ebay or at Pawn Shops. I drive a car that was wrecked and rebuilt. I eat most meals at home and bring groceries to my office on Monday to make sandwiches all week for lunch. I even cut my own hair…well what’s left to cut. It’s not that I’m broke, I just don’t like wasting money on things that that I can get for less or do myself, but who knew that being cheap could be good for your marriage?

Protecting Your Marriage

In case you missed our introduction to The Marriage Shield, you can go back and read or watch it to get an idea of why it’s important to keep a relationship together and what it takes to do so. In our last episode on fidelity, we discussed our vows one of which applies to this topic “for richer or for poorer”. Today we will focus on the second of three “F’s” in protecting your marriage, fiscal stewardship.

Financial stress is the leading cause for tension in a marriage, especially for newlyweds as they try to navigate this new blending of income and spending. According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, using money foolishly is the second leading cause for women to end a marriage tripling the likelihood of marital breakdown. Even though it’s not as big of an issue for men, misuse of finances is a top cause of tension in a relationship. So when we talk about keeping a marriage together for life, fiscal stewardship is a priority because not being responsible with your money is a serious threat to a relationship.

Marital Tension

Financial stress can be particularly intense during the newlywed period when the couple try to blend two lifestyles and two bank accounts into one household. The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman highlights how the top issues causing tension for newlyweds relate to money:

  1. Preexisting debt
  2. Balancing work and marriage
  3. Husband’s job
  4. Financial Decision Making

Credit card debt, car loans, student loans, and medical expenses are the four areas of preexisting debt that cause stress. The top purchased categories on credit cards are clothing, gasoline, eating out, and travel which are consumable goods and therefore not the best choice for debt which should really be used in cases of investments like a home or an education. Brain imaging reveals that when a person considers buying something a reward is anticipated in the circuitry of the brain, but when considering paying for the purchase a pain region is anticipated. Credit cards were designed to delay the activation of the pain in our brain until after the purchase is made. The problem for a marriage with all of this is that studies indicate that debt and financial stress lead to lower levels of marital satisfaction and increase levels of marital discord. Needless to say, debt is a threat to marriages, but Americans continue to accumulate debt at historic levels.

Work Life Balance

The average full-time worker in the U.S. works approximately 47 hours per week and just over 1,700 hours per year. Riley Leggett’s wisdom about eating dinner with your family every evening is very difficult to do with that kind of workload. 69% of workers check their work email before going to bed. 57% of teenagers eat dinner together with their families at least five nights a week or more. The average worker spends an additional seven hours per week working from home. Technology has given us an unprecedented challenge making it all the more important to be intentional in balancing our professional and domestic worlds.

Here’s what’s at stake, youth who eat dinner with their family five nights a week or more are:

  • Twice as likely to spend at least 21 hours with their parents during the week
  • 60% less likely to have parents who argue a great deal
  • 30% less likely to feel a great deal of stress in their lives
  • One and a half more times likely to say that their parents are proud of them
  • 30% more likely to have an excellent relationship with their mother
  • 60% more likely to have an excellent relationship with their father
  • 40% more likely to confide in their parents with a serious problem
  • One-third less likely to have tried alcohol
  • 60% less likely to have tried marijuana
  • 70% less likely to use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs
  • 23% more likely to be have A’s and B’s in school
  • 20% less likely to have friends who have tried drugs
  • Half as likely to have parents who do not know their children’s friends well.

Save To Give

Our brains are wired to be charitable. We receive a reward in that same circuitry that guides us to buy something when we give. People who are charitable tend to be happier and healthier than average. The more that we save, the more that we can give. Riley Leggett was onto something with this eating with your family philosophy because over an 18 year period skipping one night out of fast food would save you over $37,800 which could equate to an average four year tuition at a state university.

In order to be able to give more, here are some of Steve Bollman’s tips on being a better steward of your money:

  1. Give the first fruits of your labor to God recognizing that all we have is a gift.
  2. Keep $8 in your wallet that you must give away.
  3. Moderate your consumption of media. Not only will you save subscription costs, but it’s full of advertising propaganda on all of the things you just have to buy!
  4. Live within your means.
  5. Cut up credit cards until they are paid off.
  6. Reduce entertainment expenses by eating more meals at home and enjoy nature as recreation.
  7. Begin saving and gradually increase the amount.

The way we manage spending and finances have tremendous influence on the success of a life-long marriage. Debt and working too much causes stress and tension and limits our ability to spend time with our children which has an exponential effect on their success. Making sacrifices by not buying things that are outside of our means and eating more meals together with our family will greatly reduce the risk of marital breakdown and increase the joy in your family which is why Fiscal Stewardship is the second F of The Marriage Shield.

Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Paradisus Dei

<—Part II Fidelity                                                             Part IV Faith Devotion—>



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The Marriage Shield – Fidelity

by Ray Martin
If you missed our introduction to The Marriage Shield, I encourage you to go back and read or watch it to get an idea of why it’s important to keep a relationship together and what it takes to do so.  Today we will focus on the first of three “F’s” in protecting your marriage, fidelity.  Infidelity is the surest way to break down a marriage.  According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Infidelity is the number one cause of a marriage ending.  It increases the likelihood of marital breakdown by 300% or in other words, the probability is quadrupled.  So when we talk about keeping a marriage together for life, fidelity is a priority because not being faithful is the biggest threat to a relationship.

What did we promise when we got married?

We hear from the very start of creation that God made man and woman to be lifelong partners where the “two become one flesh”. (Genesis 2:24)  Let’s go back to the wedding itself and see what it specifically is that we do or say that supports God’s plan for us and how we can keep it together.

The first step shared in The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman is to “Honor your wedding vows.”  It’s not surprising that many people don’t actually remember the vows themselves.  These days there is so much focus on the party of the reception that much of the wedding ceremony is quickly forgotten, but to refresh your memory we say:

“I take you to be my lawful (husband/wife) for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

If you go back to our first installment of this series we discussed the “marriage premium” findings Bollman shared that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than average and that’s similar to what we promise when we say, “for better or for worse” which speaks to our happiness, “richer and poorer” is obviously tied to wealth, and “in sickness and in health” refers to our physical wellness.  We promise in our vows that regardless of our happiness, financial status, or health, that we will be faithful to the union that is joined together during the sacrament of our marriage.

Questions of Consent

In addition to our vows, we also answered three questions of consent:

  1. Do you come here freely without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?
  2. Will you love and honor each other as husband and wife all the days of your life?
  3. Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?

It’s no surprise that one of these questions has to do with honor.  The first is simply asking if there has been any coercion or if you are in a state to give yourself to your spouse.  The third question regarding children could be it’s own topic for discussion because fertility and being open to children in various forms is a challenging topic in our culture, but when it comes to honor, being faithful to your vows is pretty obvious.  If you go back to the wisdom of Riley Leggett shared in The Choice Wine which was to eat dinner with your family every night and sit with them every Sunday at Church, it’s easy to see how difficult it would be NOT to honor your spouse by spending that intentional time with them and being in a culture with your church community that supports marriage and family.

What Did Jesus Say about Marriage?

Let’s close with a few things found in scripture about fidelity.  Jesus preached to a crowd and it’s known today as the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew Chapter 5.  During that sermon he said, “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Leave it to Christ to raise the bar on the definition of cheating!  He also went on to dig his heels in regarding divorce “ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  Later on in his ministry, church leaders known as Pharisees questioned him about the Jewish rules on divorce and he responded, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female? and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  And finally back at that sermon on the mount Jesus commented on keeping your word which I think sums up all that really needs to be said on fidelity, it says in Matthew 5:37, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.  Anything more is from the evil one.”

If protecting your marriage is important to you in order to honor the union that God has joined together then fidelity is the most important thing you can do and why it’s the first “F” of The Marriage Shield.

Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Paradisus Dei

<—Part I The Marriage Shield                                 Part III Fiscal Stewardship—>


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Family Life: The Marriage Shield

by Ray Martin
What if there were a couple of simple things you could change about your relationship that could almost guarantee that your marriage would last a lifetime?  Could it be that easy?  Would you do it?

My grandparents were blessed to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary which was an even bigger deal since it was my grandmother’s second marriage and my grandpa’s third!  I recall how meaningful it was for them to have made it to that milestone.  When my mom passed away, I was the bearer of giving them the news and it was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do, but what was so touching was how they stayed up all night together sharing memories of her entire life.  I want that kind of relationship with my wife, to be there with her even in the midst of pain and sorrow, but how do people keep their marriages together over the course of a lifetime and why should we when relationships can be difficult to maintain?

Happier, Healthier And Wealthier

Steve Bollman, author of The Choice Wine which is a book and video series that highlights seven steps to what they call a superabundant marriage, begins by sharing research on the benefits to getting married and staying married.  He refers to the statistical data as a marriage premium meaning that married people seem to benefit greatly by being married.

  • Happiness: married people are happier than single, divorced, separated, or widowed people according to the General Social Survey, 1972-2012.
  • Health: People who have never been married have a 75% increase in poor health and those divorced have a 90% increase compared to those who are married according to the General Social Survey.
  • Wealth: Married individuals accumulate approximately four times the net wealth of those who have never been married or who are divorced according to the Journal of Marriage and Family’s study in 2002.

How To Reduce The Likelihood of Marital Breakdown

Bollman refers to the first three steps in The Choice Wine as a way to nearly Divorce-Proof your marriage meaning that statistically, the likelihood of getting divorced is nearly zero when following these behaviors discovered through the research of successful couples.  Over the next few weeks we will be going in more depth to these specific steps which I’ll conveniently call three “F’s” of Marriage Shielding:

  1. Fidelity
  2. Fiscal Stewardship
  3. Faith Devotion

The Legacy of Riley Leggett

Riley Leggett was Bollman’s father-in-law and is referenced throughout The Choice Wine.  Riley offered Steve some advice before getting married to his daughter that if he would eat dinner with his family every evening and sit with his family every Sunday at church, then their marriage was guaranteed to work out.  While this sounds almost trite or too simple, there is a lot of wisdom in this message.

  • Only 7% of families who eat dinner together five or more times a week experience a “great deal of tension.”  (Columbia University September 2005)
  • Only 17% of those who attend worship services on a weekly basis have been divorced.  (General Social Survey 1972-2012)

I hope that you’ll stick with me as we review these three F’s or what The Choice Wine calls their first 3 steps which dramatically reduce the probability of a marital breakdown over the next few installments of this series.  If you haven’t read or watched The Choice Wine, I highly encourage you to check it out.  More information can be found at

Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Paradisus Dei

Part II Fidelity—>


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Family Life: Spirits and Saints

by Ray Martin

Halloween is almost here and kids start getting all freaked out about ghosts and all of the evil characters from horror movies, but we can confidently say as parents that there’s no such things as ghosts, right?  After all we’re just organisms that developed over time from other species, but wait that’s evolution…and the bible says God created us, and then there’s the bible stories about angels and they’re okay, but when we die we die…except for the saints…who went to heaven and we pray for their help, but they’re not ghosts…I’m so confused!

Creation Vs. Evolution

There’s a seven step marriage book and video series called The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Pardisus Dei, the same company who made That Man is You.  Step four of The Choice Wine focuses attention on the conflict of science and reason versus religion and spirituality.  This is a highly argued topic that folks like to debate as if the right answer is one or the other, but there are scientists who wrestle with faith and have started out as atheists who then become believers through their research.

Charles Darwin’s writing in the late 1800’s on evolution are notably accepted as an explanation of how life developed on earth over millions of years, but this is not at odds with the creation story in Genesis.  Unlike the other animals and things created before, God both made and created man whom he “formed out of dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.”  Nobel laureate Dr. John C. Eccles was a scientist from the 20th century who is credited with our current understanding of the brain and how thoughts travel across neurotransmitters.  We have a brain full of tiny paths, but the electrical currents traveling across those paths which are our thoughts come from our mind.  The brain is physical, but the mind is spiritual.  We can be made up of physical matter which evolved over time, and also be spiritual creations formed by a spiritual being, God.

Bollman in The Choice Wine goes on to share an analogy he heard to explain this using a cell phone.  All cell phones are tuned to a specific frequency.  We can see the phone, but not the cellular waves.  My phone is specifically tuned to my number, so it only rings or alerts me when someone calls or texts my number.  The brain & mind work like this as well.  The brain is activated by the mind which is tuned specifically to that person.  Evolution and biology can explain where our bodies come from, but not the origin of our minds.  Now back to the phone analogy, the frequencies tuned specifically to my phone exist even though they aren’t visible and if something happens to my phone like it breaks or is destroyed, people can still send text messages to my frequency.  My phone isn’t going to receive them anymore because it’s broken, but the frequencies tuned to me are still there.  This is a good way to think about what happens when we die.  Our mind is not made up of elements or matter.  It’s spiritual and so our body dies and returns to dust, but our spirit, our unique radio frequencies still exist.  They’re still out there.

Communion of Saints

This brings us to saints.  In the creed that we proclaim every weekend during Mass we say that we believe in the communion of saints.  St. Paul taught that we are one body in Christ both the living and the dead and so as Catholics we believe our spirits are in union with the spirits of those who are no longer living on earth.  How can we do that?  Even though their cell phones died and aren’t able to receive a call anymore, their unique frequency created by God is still out there among us and we can still call upon them through prayer.  We have to use a different means of spiritual communication but we acknowledge this when we come together as a community at Mass and you hear the priest say, “in union with all the angels and saints we exalt and bless your name and sing the hymn of your glory as without end we acclaim…”  In that moment we are placing our minds in the company of the minds of those saints and angels.  We do that at every Mass!

So, if you can accept that we are more than biology, that we have a brain and a mind, and that even when our brain dies that our spirit continues to exist, then it’s not so hard to believe that there are other people who have died, but lived such virtuous lives that we know without a doubt that they had to have gone to heaven.  Those people are the saints of the Church.  Is it a stretch then to think that through prayer we could ask those servants of Christ who have gone before us to still help us out?  This is why we honor saints through celebrations and feasts.  Their lives are examples to us of how to live the Christian virtues in our faith journey and we consider our minds to still exist in a spiritual along realm with theirs.

Saint of the Day

There are a ton of resources out there on saints, but one in particular that I have been enjoying is the saint of the day from Franciscan Media.  There is a link to it on the homepage of our website as well as in our mobile app.  There is an audio file that you can listen to or you can simply read their article on the featured saint of that day.  Our Catholic calendars that we get every year also have feast days of saints listed on them and you will note if you go to daily Masses or watch ours streamed online that the vestments worn by priests will often reflect a special feast from a saint who may have been a martyr.  You’ll see a priest wear red on that particular day.  Our priests will often talk about saints during their homilies.  Fr. Michael in the past two weeks has mentioned St. Faustina and St. Augustine.

Quick story- I was reading 33 Days To Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley on the life of St. Therese of Lisieux referred to as the Little Flower.  She is known as a Doctor of The Church because of her writing on Divine Mercy and her philosophy called the Little Way which is a path for us to get to heaven by recognizing our littleness, trusting God, and striving for holiness.  While alive, she said that when she died she wanted to shower the world with flowers, roses specifically, so she is known for roses and people often think of her and ask for signs from her in the form of roses.  While reading about her I began to pray her novena which has reflections weaved into the 9 days of rosaries.  One day during that novena, a woman came into the office here at the Parish and asked if we could do anything with these roses that she had left over from a wedding and we gladly helped her bring them in…box after box, hundreds of roses made their way into our Parish office!  What’s even better is that I had been praying specifically for one of my children and she brought one of the flowers to my office which I dried and kept as a reminder that St. Therese heard my prayer.

All Saints Day

We celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st.  We will have Masses throughout the day and I highly encourage you to attend, not out of obligation because I really dislike that term, but come because you want to celebrate this rich history of heroic people who lived here on earth just like us and left us an incredible witness of how follow Christ all the way to heaven.  If you want to start learning more about saints, start checking out the saint of the day that we link to from our website and app.  Perhaps there’s one that you may want to read more about?  The 33 Days to Merciful Love was a terrific read, so maybe that would be a good one to start with.  We are so lucky to have the Hall of Fame of Holiness as Fr. Michael likes to refer to the saints.

Hopefully the next time people are talking about creation and evolution you will feel more comfortable being okay with both.  There’s nothing wrong with believing in science and religion!  And as we celebrate the feast of All Saints, I pray that you will start to talk about and learn more about the many saints of our Church.


Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman and 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley

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