By Father Sean Kilcawley, director, Family Life Office
The Lord is near! As we enter into this fourth week of the Advent season, the Church focuses our attention on the first coming of Christ into the world. This Sunday we will hear of the announcement of the birth of Jesus proclaimed to St Joseph and how he should not be “afraid to take Mary as his wife.” The Angel Gabriel tells him that the child born of her will “save his people from their sins” and his name will mean “God is with us.”
In another week we will celebrate the first coming of Christ into the world—the day that God Himself came to live among us. He came to live, and to love, in a family. He came to live, and to love, in a body. The incarnation—the fact that the second person of the Holy Trinity—took a body to himself is the definitive difference between Christianity and all other religions.
Through his body, Jesus revealed the love of the Father as he embraced sinners. Most profoundly he revealed the love of the Father as he offered his body on the cross to redeem us from our sins. In our own time, a time in which the body is objectified by so many in our culture, this truth must be proclaimed over and over again; because if it is true that God has a body, then the body must be holy.
A friend of mine recently was sharing her conversion story with me. She had struggled for many years from different addictions. At times, it seemed that her body was in complete rebellion against her. She once cried out to God in frustration, “Why did you have to give me this body!?” One day, as she was praying, she could see Jesus in her mind’s eye, standing across the room and it hit her: Christianity is the only religion where God has a body. This fact started her on the way to a continued conversion process which eventually led to her consecrating herself to Christ.
We have been preparing to welcome Jesus into the world, into our families, and into our hearts. We have been preparing to encounter the love of God in a most profound way. For the past three weeks these articles have focused on the need to create space for Jesus in our families by safeguarding our time, by saying no to worldly distractions, and repenting of our sins.
In particular we pointed to ways to safeguard our children from the objectification of the body by filtering our home internet connection, setting parental controls, and using accountability software. This week, I want to focus our attention on what we are saying Yes to, and how parents can facilitate an encounter with Jesus in your own homes this Christmas season.
We have to start winning the marketing battle. Good marketing tries to put a message in front of customers as many times as possible. As we are about to celebrate the greatest act of love in the history of humanity, we might ask ourselves about how that message is being communicated to our children. Every day we are bombarded with anti-love, anti-gospel, and anti-family messages. Do we find opportunities each day to speak about the love of Christ for us, God’s true plan for human love and marriage, and the joy that comes from living a chaste life? Each of us needs to be constantly reminded that the reason we celebrate Christmas is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus came so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the pontifical council for the family Dec. 1, 2011, stated, “In our time, as in times past, the eclipse of God, the spread of ideologies contrary to the family, and the degradation of sexual ethics are connected… the family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the ‘human space’ of our encounter with Christ.”
Pope Benedict rightly points out that the degradation of sexual ethics and the eclipse of God are connected. If we are to facilitate an encounter with Christ we need to both shun the false teaching of the world and teach our children about the truth, beauty, and goodness of their bodies and God’s plan for sexuality.
Pope Francis makes this point clearly in Amoris laetitia 281, “Sex education should provide information while keeping in mind that children and young people have not yet attained full maturity. The information has to come at a proper time and in a way suited to their age. It is not helpful to overwhelm them with data without also helping them to develop a critical sense in dealing with the onslaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood of pornography and the overload of stimuli that can deform sexuality.”
Education for love is the primary duty of every parent. This week, I am providing a list of resources to assist you in proclaiming the truth about our bodies, love, and human sexuality to your children. They can easily be found on www.Amazon.com or order them from your local Catholic bookstore.
TOB for Tots
“TOB for Tots” is a book series written by Monica Ashour from the Theology of the Body Evangelization Team (TOBET). Beginning with very simple books like “Everybody has a body,” “Every body is a gift,” and “Every body is smart,” the “TOB for Tots” series will provide the opportunity to begin to proclaim the truth about our bodies and love to your children beginning at ages 2-3.
Good Pictures/Bad Pictures
“Good Pictures/Bad Pictures” has been given great reviews from parents across the diocese. It helps to provide a language for teaching children to shun the negative messages about their bodies that they consume through media.
From about age 5-6 children will learn to identify “bad pictures” and report to their parents if they ever see them or are shown them. To see a short video illustrating the principles in the book check out the diocesan website www.lincolndiocese.org/protectmykids.
Wonderfully Made Babies
The book “Wonderfully Made Babies” is designed to read with your child at about age 9. It is a beautiful Catholic book which helps parents to teach children the beauty of their bodies and about God’s plan for procreation.
If age 9 seems young to you, remember that the average age of exposure to pornography is 8 to 10. Most parents who have read this book to their child at this age report that it actually results in a more secure relationship between parent and child. “Wonderfully Made Babies” also has an Imprimatur from Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Other helpful books
There are many other book series that can assist you in keeping open communication with your children about these issues. They include “God’s Design for Sex” from NavPress, “The Talks” (www.infoforfamilies.com), and Educate/Empower kids (www.educateempowerkids.org).
Be assured of my prayers for you and your families. I especially pray that this Advent season has been a time of renewal for each of you, and that you continue to find ways to “make space” for Christ in your families throughout the year.
The Family Life Office is committed to helping the families of the Diocese of Lincoln to safeguard the place of Christ in the family. If you have questions about these or other resources please contact me at (402) 473-0620.
Related item: Advent column for Week 3
Related item: Advent column for Week 2
Related item: Advent column for Week 1