Make it a Faith-Filled Summer!
By: Dcn. Matthew Halbach, PhD
June 20th marks the first day of Summer for 2021, it’s right around the corner! A new season means new fruit to bear, and God wants to do something new in your life and in the lives of your family members. He wants to plant mustard seeds for you to nourish into full bloom. It’s important to maintain a rich faith in the summer and this starts with nurturing the rich soil in which our faith grows in. Here are three tips to ensure families spend their summertime basking in the sun and the Son of God! They can: Practice and Cultivate Gratitude, Share Personal Stories of Faith, and Celebrate the Sacraments Together
Tip 1: Practice and Cultivate Gratitude
Being a family of gratitude is foundational to being a family of faith. When we focus on gratitude, God takes first place, as everything good comes from him. Attending Sunday Mass becomes important for different reasons. With gratitude in our hearts and mind, church is where we will naturally gravitate to worship and thank God.
Gratitude begins in our hearts. It starts with—and this sounds strange—desiring to desire to be grateful. Let me say that again: to grow in gratitude, sometimes we need to ask God for the desire to desire to be grateful. For many of us, unfortunately, gratitude is not a typical mindset. We are often focused on what needs fixed or corrected, what is wrong that needs to be righted. Gratitude is something we practice. It is a habit, a good one at that. Being a family of gratitude is foundational to being a family of faith. The summertime affords us many opportunities to cultivate gratitude in our families. Many of these opportunities happen organically. You don’t need to prepare in advance. But we do need to be mindful of these natural openings for grace and growth when they present themselves.
For example, seeing my children playing on the trampoline together, one afternoon, and noticing how they are not shoving each other or pulling each other’s hair for once—or jumping on top of each other! —I shouted, “I love you guys so much! Thanks for playing nicely.” They smiled and laughed a little. Later that afternoon, we had a snack together around the kitchen table. Grace, my four-year-old, said to me, “Thanks for the snack, Daddy-waddy.” I chuckled. And I thought about how contagious gratitude is. Just a few words of thanks to my kids resulted in a few words of thanks to me. It reminded me to ask the kids to give God gratitude. So we prayed a table blessing together. Practicing gratitude by being mindful of our blessings is a great way to stay connected with God throughout the summer!
Tip 2: Share Personal Stories of Faith
Parents can and SHOULD be their children’s first and primary religious educators. Through my travels and speaking engagements, I often come across well-intentioned Catholic parents who are, to put it mildly, frightened about “teaching” their children the Catholic faith. But the truth is that every parent is already equipped to share their faith in transformative ways. It all begins with getting in touch with and sharing your own experience of God in your life. Many parents do not realize that they have stories of faith to tell their children. Moms and dads do not think or speak in the language of faith very often. Many of us will look back on our lives at moments of surprise assistance and good fortune, and we will say how lucky we were or how fortunate. These coincidental moments, and myriads of others, are God moments—every one of them! Because God exists and has created all things, there is little to no room for chance, though it is true that we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. It’s one of those questions we can ask God when we see him.
Every parent is already equipped to share their faith in transformative ways. It all begins with getting in touch with and sharing your own experience of God in your life. When it comes to teaching the faith at home, I prefer to use the language of “faith sharing.” Faith is first experienced and later described and repeated in doctrinal form. Many young children and adults have profound experiences of faith though they lack the words to articulate them. They sense the hand of the Divine in their lives, but may not feel comfortable describing the experience.
As primary faith sharers, parents have the ability to do three things: Listen carefully to children’s stories and experiences to help them identify those “God moments” or moments of grace in their own lives, reflect on their own life journey and the role God and faith have played in it, and share their reflections with their children.
Tip 3: Celebrate the Sacraments Together
Catholic families can celebrate the sacraments WELL together… even during the summer months! Whether a family has one child, or six children (like me!), they can utilize strategies for worship that help minimize the challenges and distractions that parents often face when bringing children to Mass and the sacraments. Worshiping well as a family takes some planning and some effort, but the payoff is worth it. I’ve seen my kids slowly evolve from not liking Sunday Mass, to not minding it, to sort of liking it. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress! Here are three things that our family has discovered out of necessity and experience that can help your family celebrate the Mass and sacraments together.
- #1 Focus on Others: First, it helps to remember that sacraments are celebrations of God’s love for his entire people, not just you. The sacraments are special encounters with God, who gives us his grace so that we can love him and our neighbor as ourselves—you guessed it—more gracefully. Remembering that the sacraments are meant to offer us grace for the sake of healing and strengthening our family and community keeps us less focused on ourselves and more focused on others. A good mantra to have before and during Mass is, “ I am here to receive the grace I need to serve my family and my Church.”
- #2 Take Time to Prepare: Second, celebrating the sacraments well means taking time to prepare for the celebration. If you know it will be difficult to pay attention during Mass, take time to read the Sunday readings with your spouse or the whole family before Mass. Discuss the readings. Remind children that they can listen for these readings during Mass, which will help them pay attention to the words being spoken and read. It is important to acknowledge the struggles that each of you are facing when attending Mass. Family prayer is a great way to do this! When you pray as a family throughout the week, add the intention of “paying attention at Mass” or “getting the most out of Mass” or “enjoying Mass together” to your list of intentions. Share with each other what would help you get the most out of Mass.
- #3 Provide Kid-Friendly Resources: Third, make the small investment in a children’s Bible and a children’s Mass guide. If you have particularly squirmy kids, as I do, these and other kid-friendly resources can be a great way to keep them engaged in their relationship with God without providing them with an alternative activity that will distract them from the Mass.
Being able to look at pictures of the Scripture stories they are hearing, or following along with the order of the Mass and praying along will help them actively engage and participate at Mass, which means less “shh-ing” from parents.
Know that God loves you and is ready to bless you this season. Whatever it is that your heart desires this summer, let it be for the Glory of God!