The Soul Project Week 16: Forming a Moral Conscience

soul project moral conscience image

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1776

This week we talked about making decisions. How do we know what the right thing is to do? Should we always do what our friends tell us to do? Where can we find good advice when we aren’t sure what to do?

We are all constantly forming our consciences. Every time we read the Bible, the Catechism, hear a homily, or read the story of a saint, we glean more about what is right and what is wrong. Personal prayer and our own interpretation of scripture can be revealing, but we must be careful that our conclusions are always in line with Church teaching. Some of the best advice I’ve heard about discernment and personal prayer is that God will never tell you to do something that goes against what the Church teaches.

This week was a good time to remind my children that we are constantly bombarded with messages from the world of what is “good” and “right”–but we must always double check those messages with the Church’s view on a particular topic. Trusted priests, good Catholic resources, and others well versed in the faith are always ready to help us when we face a difficult decision in our lives. It’s up to us to pause, reflect, and turn to someone for help and guidance–which, over time, will lead to greater confidence that the voice echoing in our depths is truly the voice of God.

For more topics like this to discuss with your children around the dinner table, see the book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.

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The Soul Project Week 15: Being A Good Example

salt of the earth image

“People are to see, in us, Christ on earth today.” -Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

As our family discussed our duty of being a good example, we talked about our unique gifts and how God expects us to use them. In Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book, Feeding Your Family’s Soul, she reminds us of three parables from Jesus–that we are to be the salt of the earth, light of the world, and a light on a lampstand.

While my husband and I encouraged our children to be good examples to their siblings, classmates, and other peers, the lesson I spoke to my children once again became a lesson for myself.

Am I a good example to my children throughout the moments of my day? Do they see Christ in me as I prepare their meals, wash their clothes, and help them with their homework? I know there are many times that I’m not much of a light if I sigh as I pick up the basket of laundry, lose my patience as I cook dinner, or fail to see my children as the individuals they are and instead simply view them as yet more tasks on my daily list.

With our oldest child entering the teen years, I’ve been delving into books about how to best meet his needs and help him grow into adulthood with love and respect. One book addressed the issue of being a positive example of adulthood to our teens. Do we make being an adult look like nothing but drudgery and hard work? Or do we embrace our responsibilities with enthusiasm, or, at least, a sense of peace? And, are we living the examples of chastity, moderation of food and drink, charity, and so many other virtues that we want our children to emulate?

This chapter reminded all of us that so much more is caught by preaching through example rather than words–something I know I can definitely work on during this season of Lent.

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The Soul Project Weeks 13 and 14: Obedience and Redemptive Suffering

crucifix face of christ image

“…the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross…In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering…Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close…every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God.” -St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris

Offer it up. I was trying to remind myself of that the other night. When I realized my one-year-old had disabled our TV remote by chewing and drooling on it. Just as I was about to sit down and relax at the end of a long day. Just after we’d finally  gotten (most of) our kids in bed for the night.

Sometimes it’s those little unexpected “sufferings” of our day that are the most difficult. Those moments when God asks us to give just a little more in ways we hadn’t planned.

But what does it really mean to “offer it up”–and how do we explain this redemptive suffering to our children?

Before Advent, our family discussed the chapter on obedience in Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table SpiritualityAfter the Christmas season, we began Ordinary Time again with the concept of redemptive suffering. How closely these two ideas are tied together. As we become more obedient to God and His will, we can be sure that we will encounter suffering. And this suffering would make absolutely no sense unless we looked at it through the lens of redemption.

My children so often understand and accept these concepts much more readily than I do. Over this past week, we talked about how, while we certainly aren’t expected to actively seek out suffering (although many great saints did), we are expected to use it well when it is thrust upon us.

A sore throat can be patiently endured for a child suffering in the hospital. A pinched finger can be offered with a Hail Mary for a friend who is struggling in school. And I am so grateful that I can offer our daughter with a heart defect a purpose for any future suffering she may have to undergo. I hope that, over her lifetime, she will start to see her health trials as a great gift that God can use to heal others–just as His death on the Cross saved so many souls.

Our sufferings–whether as small as a broken TV remote or as big as open heart surgery–have value. And this is how we find joy through our tears and peace in the midst of heartache. Because within our trials, lies the power of God.

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Reminder: Teach Your Children The Beauty Of A Hug. Especially At The Holidays.

child hugging man image

With the Christmas season approaching, family get-togethers hold the promise of Christmas cookies, funny stories, and joyful traditions. But they could also be a time when our children hear the wrong message about consent and physical affection.

With all of the sexual harassment charges circling in the media recently, you may find yourself advising your children to withhold physical affection from well-meaning family and friends. It’s understandable if we feel wary about physical affection right now, but erring too far on the side of caution could also have negative effects on your children.

Think of it this way: telling your child that she doesn’t have to hug a family member or friend could be sending the message that physical affection is bad–that we should be fearful of speaking this language of the body. It can convey that it is some sort of trading commodity–something we either “owe” someone or not–rather than a gift to be freely given. And while caution and vigilance are certainly in order, our children also need to be protected from withholding the kind of love that others might truly need.

I have an aunt who used to smother me in kisses and hug me until it hurt every time I saw her. I couldn’t have escaped her hugs even if I had tried. But I never felt violated by it. It was simply how she expressed her love. And now that same aunt sits in a lonely nursing home. She suffers from dementia. Her mind may not be there, but her body still is, and she obviously loves the comfort of physical touch. She is someone who I would encourage my children to hug. It can be appropriate to nudge our children a bit out of their comfort zones to learn the love language of another.

I’m not talking about forcing, but rather, teaching our children how to speak a language that will carry them through their dating years, marriage or a religious vocation, and the final days of their lives here on earth. In a world where “connection” is defined more often by our internet speed than by physical proximity, the language of the body is becoming a lost art.

But we were made for this.

“The Theology of the Body tells us that we were made for love and that even our bodies are wired for love. [Studies show that] children who received extravagant levels of affection demonstrated the greatest degree of those skills associated with good moral decision making. If parents want moral kids, we need to do much more than sheltering kids’ innocence and telling them the difference between right from wrong. Parents need to prepare their children’s brains for the work of moral decision making by rooting them in extravagant physical affection and generous displays of parental love.” (read Dr. Greg Popcak’s full article on this topic here.)

Physical affection is good for our kids (and for all human beings), and they need to know this! Certainly, I want to protect my children from true sexual predators, but I also don’t want their need for touch to become so starved that they’ll do anything to feed that hunger.

Our children can learn the lines that shouldn’t be crossed, while at the same time learning to give of themselves freely. They can be encouraged to give their well meaning uncle a hug “because that tells him it’s nice to see him again” or give their aunt a kiss on the cheek “because that’s how she knows you liked her gift.” If our children simply won’t do this in the moment, then of course they don’t have to–but it’s okay to continue to nudge them along in their understanding of the language of the body.

The body is a gift and it’s language is powerful. To truly master it, our children need to practice speaking with it–generously yet appropriately.

And what better time to shower our kids with physical affection than Christmas–the moment when God Himself became flesh so that He, too, could speak the language of the body.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Posted in Family Life, Freedom, Language of the Body, Love, Relationship, Teaching, Theology of the Body, TOB for TOTS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 12: Love Of Family

Zelie and family hospital Christmas

The Tierney family on Christmas Day 2016 with baby Zelie at Children’s Mercy Hospital

“It was the best Christmas we’ve ever had!” That’s still what my kids say about last year’s Christmas–the Christmas we spent at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital where their newest sibling, Zelie, was fighting to overcome a severe heart defect. And even one year later, I have to admit that I feel pulled to return to that hospital. I want to walk through the front doors with my healthy baby and remember how grateful I am.

Immediately after returning home from Zelie’s open heart surgery, I felt so happy just to be. It really didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing–I was just glad to be out of the hospital, with a healthy baby, and the anxiety of her surgery over with.

But, over time, the elation of her homecoming has worn off. And I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter where our life’s journey has taken us, we will always have exhausting days, times of down heartedness, and discouragement in our own failings.

This week, as we’ve talked about the importance of family, we’ve recognized that even the most loving of families can’t keep us from experiencing sorrows in life. We read about St. Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, who buried four of their babies. They were sad. They suffered. But they still made beautiful memories with their family and inspired an unsurpassing love of God within their living daughters.

It’s incredible how the love of family can turn a nightmare into an experience that only radiates love. It can turn a hospital into a haven and a Ronald McDonald House into “the best Christmas ever”.

That’s why I feel pulled to return. Because in the midst of the struggles of every day life, it’s the pulling together of family in times of real suffering that reminds me of how much I am loved. It’s the love of family that is the reflection of God’s great love for us.

For more ideas on teaching the Catholic faith to your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality.

Copyright Charisse Tierney 2017

Image credit Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

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The Soul Project Week 11: About Sin

“Sin is an offense against God…Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1850

At this year’s Midwest Catholic Family Conference, I heard Catholic evangelist, author, and tour guide Steve Ray give a talk. One of his stories especially stuck with me: “Someday,” Steve said, “my hope is that I will get to the gates of heaven. Once there, St. Peter will look for my name in the Book of Life. Hopefully, he will find it there and open the gates of heaven for me. But just before I step through those gates, I’ll see my neighbor across the way and realize that he is being directed away from the gates of heaven. This is a neighbor who lived next door to me for most of my adult life. While on earth, we would exchange pleasantries whenever we saw each other, and even though I knew he didn’t go to church regularly or live a life focused on Christ, I avoided the subject and just focused on keeping the peace between us.

But in that moment, as we stand across from each other between heaven and hell, my neighbor will look at me and ask St. Peter, ‘Why is he getting into heaven and I’m not?’

And after St. Peter explains that I knew the teachings of the Church and lived them, my neighbor will look at me with accusing eyes and say, ‘You mean you KNEW all of this and didn’t tell me?’”

Sin is a touchy subject. It’s difficult to tell our neighbor when we see an error in their ways. While we mustn’t ignore the plank in our own eye, we are also called to help our neighbor remove the splinter in his. This is how we help our neighbor and fulfill our calling as Christians to take as many souls to heaven with us as we can.

And while balancing prudence with true charity is a challenge with many of the people in our lives, I think it comes a bit easier with our own children. Certainly, it is our duty as their parents to shepherd them to heaven. And this means we must talk to them about the dangers of sin, the horrors of hell, and that even though it is the grace of the Cross that will bring us to heaven, we must guard against choosing to cut ourselves off from that grace through sin.

I find that my children readily accept these teachings on sin. They are eager for guidance and want to know how they can one day get to heaven.

As for me, it’s painful to think of the earthly separations that are sure to come between me and my children. It hurts to think that someday we will not all be gathered around a table together on a daily basis. It hurts even more to think that there may be Thanksgivings and Christmases in our futures when we will not all be together. I look forward to watching my children grow and mature, but motherhood is forever bittersweet.

Which is why I talk to them about sin. Because my greatest joy will be the day that we are all gathered together for eternity around the heavenly table–to share in the Supper of the Lamb.

For more ideas on teaching the Catholic faith to your children, see Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality  and companion video.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Posted in Book Review, Books, Family Life, Hope, motherhood, Sin, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soul Project Week 10: Learning About Prayer From the Saints

soul project st praying zelie rosary image

One night, I was telling my children about the Fatima apparitions and the requests Our Lady made known to the three children. “She told them that we should pray the Rosary daily,” I said. “Well then we should do it,” my 11-year-old son replied without hesitation.

At that moment, I understood why Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three young children. My own children remind me so often what real faith looks like. Their acceptance of the teachings of the Church is so pure, so trusting, and instantaneous. In their hearts, they possess the wisdom to know what is right and act upon it.

This is the type of wisdom we see in the saints as we examine their prayer lives. They come to God with complete trust, so simple in their love for Him.  In her book, Feeding Your Family’s Soul, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle tells us St. Therese of Lisieux’s description of prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Our family has been looking to the saints over the past week for inspiration on how to improve our own prayer lives. We’ve been working to incorporate a daily decade of the Rosary together, with the hopes of working up to a complete five-decade daily Rosary. Admittedly, we’ve had a few nights when the day has gotten away from us, and have felt too tired to pray before bed. One night, after a long day, my husband and I simplified our bedtime prayer routine, leaving out the Rosary decade. Before being allowed to be tucked in, our 6-year-old son said, “But we didn’t say our Rosary!” I told him he could say the decade on his own before he fell asleep–and he told me the next morning that he did.

I’m continually amazed at how God fills in the gaps. How, if I just try to teach my children something, He picks up where my sometimes exhausted and inadequate humanity leaves off. It doesn’t take much to inspire a spiritual habit in our children, who so readily turn their simple looks toward heaven. When Jesus said that heaven belongs to such as these, He was reminding us to pay attention to the saints-in-the-making who live under our own roof.

I am continually inspired by the prayer habits of the saints–but I am sometimes even more inspired by those who will (hopefully) someday join them in heaven. My own children are being formed by the prayers of the saints in heaven every day–I just need to remember to pay attention.

Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney

Image credit Charisse Tierney. All rights reserved.

Posted in Book Review, Books, Faith, Family Life, Fatima, motherhood, Prayer, saints, Teaching, The Soul Project | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment