Why can’t we all get along?

This question has permeated any discussion our culture has had as long as I have been alive. It’s a timeless dilemma that threads through the Bible from the very beginning. I can’t change our culture’s mind about abortion. It’s too big of a task for me. I hope that in my high school speech class in the late 70’s, I changed a few minds with a speech on abortion. It began with the question, “How would you feel?” That question was from the perspective of the baby, unwanted and subsequently unborn. I wish I had the speech to read today. I wonder how my 15 year old mind fought to grasp the attention of my listeners in public school about such a grave subject in the recent aftermath of Roe vs. Wade.

When my son was 16 and lamenting the fact that he would have no rights as an unmarried father unless the mother gave him rights, I tried to help him see how he could still be a father. A subsequent political debate ensued and he voiced his resignation that we should fight for better education. A better issue to support would be to improve our school system. Unbeknownst to him, he was on the right track. He said that I was a one issue voter because I was Catholic. My honest retort was that you can’t get a good education if you haven’t been born. And here we are, about 10 years later – trying to be better educators of the Catholic faith.

Our teens struggle to understand their place in the world. How can we help them navigate the waters using Jennifer Collins (Director of the Rockford Diocese Life and Family Evangelization office) swimming analogy? How can we help parents and families?

In his recent homily (http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/1109971), Pope Francis talked about our ‘discard’ mentality and highlights our dramatic divergence from what is good that includes discarding people, young or old, great or small. How do we find our own value and dignity so that we can see others’? Our young people may try to justify being born or alive. “Why am I here?” becomes “Am I worth being here?” “Am I worth it to society?” The pressure is on us to prove our worth at any age. This brings to mind the genius of Archbishop Fulton Sheen with his program, Life is Worth Living.

As I reflected the call by our bishops to teach in a new and better way about the gift of forgiveness, I tried to think of ways that we may be falling short. What exactly are we teaching about reconciliation? Is it just about the Sacrament? Because the Mass not only encourages reconciliation with God and our brother but actually demands it. Even our 6th grade discussion of Cain and Abel demands addressing how to get along. Lessons in all grades include scenarios for how we should respond to conflict and by natural progression make the world a better place.

The idea of reconciliation transcends the process of preparing, completing and doing ‘penance’ whether with God, our community or our selves. So when the bishop asked us to talk about marriage in age appropriate ways taking into consideration all of our families, broken, healthy or just surviving, I couldn’t help but put the two together. Marriages fall apart because of a lack of communication and the skills to resolve conflicts with even those we love.

Hence, my discussion of helping Catechists to teach problem solving and coping skills within the context of our chapters during class because this is an essential piece of the puzzle. If we do not live as a Eucharistic people, with love and sacrifice, we can’t reconcile or just get along.

How can we break down what it means to be a family? How can we teach first graders about marriage when they don’t see one that works well? It’s not do as I say, but do as I do. My marriage is not perfect, but my husband and I strove to teach our kids that we were in it for the long hall. Even with great differences, challenges and conflicts over the years, we would continue to find ways to talk it through.

Here are two examples from what my children learned and talk about today:

Be careful how you talk and act in my house because we have values we are trying to uphold. Everyone is welcome, good behavior required. (They actually told their friends the rules before they came over!)

Parents need date time. We had our dinner/date time on the screened porch when our children were little while they watched a TV program. My youngest daughter, now 18, still brings up the necessity for our date time. We didn’t always talk about how to have a good marriage or give a 30 minute lecture with a PowerPoint. We just tried to live it, as messy as it was.

How can we talk about marriage and family to first graders? I suggested to Catechists that when we talk about the Holy Family, we could talk about Joseph and how he protected his family. They left everything they knew and went to another country. How about how Mary said yes to carrying Jesus in her ‘belly’? No politics or hot topic vocabulary necessary, just the building blocks.

We are being asked to teach the good of marriage and family. We are asked to give support to the parents and families. The bishop asked us to witness to the gospel of the family. I love that phrase. We preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through just being a family in public. We preach the Good News of Christ in our joy.

So how can we get joy? What are the basics for the Christian life? Good order, prayer and community are essential. Last year, I started the monthly Family Mass and Dinner to give families a non-threatening way to experience our Church community and connect with other families. Sometimes games and activities are included. I started the Faith Institute to offer classes with interesting books not just bible study, but spiritual life study. My pastor asked me to create a monthly program to be offered by him this year for parents to attend during class time instead of going home or shopping.

This year I asked Catechists at the bishop’s request to talk to our kids in class about marriage and virtues. That may be in their textbooks already but I didn’t want them to limit their discussion to one week of the year. Could they focus their lessons on peace, marriage and family life? If they see a spot in the lesson that relates, make the connection. Turn it into a game. Ask your class to find peace in the story. Was there a conflict that was resolved? What virtue did that Saint have? How did he get it?

When I read some of the documents from the bishops that talked about the gift of forgiveness, I focused on the idea of gift. How can we give this gift to our kids in class? What tools do they need to become peacemakers? How would this make family life better? Would this help our parents, too?

So this year, my theme for Faith Formation is “My peace I give you…not as the world gives…don’t be afraid.” We need to remember that Jesus said he would be with us always. I get to talk to each class period for 15 minutes about the upcoming Scripture and connect these concepts to the Sunday Readings each week. I gave each student and teacher a bookmark with the Scripture with the St. Francis Prayer on the back. I am hoping that as this year progresses, we will find ways to bring peace to those around us, become better peacemakers and foster a better understanding not only of the purpose of marriage but the joy, and gifts, that we have.

The Peace of Christ be with you.
Now and forever.

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