Catholic Husband

Love, Lead, Serve

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Soft Power

In the world of international diplomacy, there are two main forms of exerting pressure on another nation. The first is hard power. That’s to say, military force. If you want to bend another nation to your will, you can take direct military action and try to force their hand. The second, and perhaps more effective, is soft power. Soft power is influence. In diplomacy it consists of lobbying, economic aid, and other tools by which you can try to win the hearts and minds of your opponent.

Like any nation, soft power is the most effective tool that any parent has in their kit. Children deeply desire to be pleasing to their parents. It's almost as if when they rebel or question, they’re pained to be going against their nature. Their desire to express autonomy conflicts with their desire to make their parents happy. The emotional explosion from that conflict can be hard to contain.

When children, particularly young children, are disobedient or not listening, the reason behind this poor behavior can be hard to discern. They may be tired, hungry, or conflicted over an unrelated issue. So while my first instinct is to enforce discipline, my first action should actually be a mini-investigation. If I can solve the underlying problem, my little angel will reemerge and happily do as she’s told.

Discipline must be enforced evenly and consistently, a struggle that we all face. There are days when I don’t feel like prolonging a fight. I’d much rather leave the problem alone and change the subject. Children push the boundaries constantly, and what they’re asking for is to be shown where the line is. It can be very hard to see how heavily the consequences weigh on a child’s heart. In those moments when you want to give in and extend too much grace, you have to hold the line.

You’ll constantly hone and refine your discipline strategy, but make sure that you consider the weight of any situation before acting. Temper your own emotional response, address any underlying causes for the disobedience, and make sure that the process includes heavy doses of teaching, love, and affection.

Like an Abbot

St. Benedict is a well known figure within Catholicism, but his impact had a direct role on the preservation of Western Culture. Benedict grew up in an affluent Italian family and was sent to Rome to continue his studies. While there, he applied himself to his schooling, but was appalled by the moral weakness of his peers. In frustration, he fled.

Benedict sought, as many of his contemporaries did, to find and connect with God through asceticism. By rejecting the comforts of daily life, though by modern standards they were anything but, these men and women sought to enter into relationship with God by removing all distractions and obstacles. Benedict lived, for a time, in a cave below a monastery.

Benedict’s holiness became well know throughout the country, and pilgrims would journey to visit with him and to seek counsel. Eventually, some sought to join with him in his life of work and prayer. At first, Benedict did not want to engage in this path. After all, he lived in a cave so that he could be free from distraction and lead a simple life. Taking on the responsibility of creating and leading a religious community stood opposed to his basic goals.

Benedict may have left the cave and assumed leadership, but his principles came with him. His Rule is very strict, and many of his followers buckled under the pressure. On more than one occasion, they conspired to kill Benedict, only to be thwarted by divine intervention. Benedict’s rule, in its simplicity, gained popularity among successive religious orders. Today, Benedict is regarded as the Father of Western Monasticism. Through his Rule, Benedict inspired many of the religious communities who worked diligently through the Middle Ages to preserve and protect the arts and humanities of Western civilization. We owe him a debt of gratitude.

In Chapter 27, St. Benedict describes how an Abbot is to act towards a brother who has been removed from the community for offenses against the order. Benedict emphasizes that the Abbot should take great care not to punish the wayward brother, but rather, to remedy the situation. Excommunication isn’t a punishment, but a plea for reconciliation. Benedict writes that the Abbot should remember that his role is to care for the sick, not tyranny over the strong.

All fathers are the Abbot of their families. We’re are charged with care for the weak, not tyranny over the strong. This kind of service requires tremendous humility. We must summon the energy and courage to care for our children even when they don’t cooperate.

The number one virtue that you must have, in order to fulfill your mission, is humility. You must have the strength of character to accept your role and serve your children with everything that you’ve got. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to give it your best effort every single day.

The Abbot of a community gets the title, and the mitre, but they also get all of the responsibility. They’re accountable to the community for the care of the members, for setting a vision, and maintaining the monastery. Dads occupy the same space. We have the responsibility to enforce uniform discipline, adequate nutrition, and health and safety.

Parenting is never easy. Overcoming challenges and parenting successfully is within our control. It’s a high standard, but the kind of lofty aspiration that aligns perfectly with masculinity. We have the grit and tenacity to take on this lifestyle, and to do it well.

Drift

All things being equal, I’d like to keep a regular schedule. I’d like to have my day divided into neat little blocks of time, and simply progress from block to block. At any given time, my routine would be so ingrained that I wouldn’t need to consult my schedule. I’d check the time and know immediately what it is that I’m supposed to be doing.

Life with three kids, or really any number of kids, requires more flexibility. Over the past six years, I’ve tried and failed to implement routine and structure, only for each attempt to buckle and break. Appointments, weather, unplanned outings, sickness, or other conflicts can’t manage to find their way into a schedule etched in stone. Even worse, there are almost no digital tools that allow me to schedule our day quickly and easily.

I’ve come to learn that the best schedule is dictated by a task list. Each day we need to read, explore, play, and create. I wake up in the morning, vet my list, and then as free moments bubble throughout the day, I simply choose an activity from the menu. When the kids tire of playing together after breakfast, we sit down to read a chapter book. When they start to fight, we go outside to burn some energy. It’s a fluid schedule that doesn’t come naturally to me, but that fits our lifestyle.

The danger that comes with a free flowing schedule is the same that comes to any process without structure or discipline. I call it drift. It happens slowly, and over time, but that one hour of screen time each day stretches further and further. A virus that hops from child to child reduces our busy lifestyle for two or even three weeks. Getting back on task is no easy feat.

The only way that I know to combat drift is get back on the horse. No job, outing, or activity is as mentally taxing as my mind would make me believe beforehand. Loading up all of the kids and taking them to a museum may seem overwhelming when the kitchen is a mess and we haven’t put away toys in days. But 30 minutes of focused work and we have a clean house and three happy campers.

Drift will force you into the gutters and away from the noble aims that you have for your day and your children. Watch out for it.

The Scandal

Many Catholics in the United States felt in the opening years of the millennium that we had stared down our inner-demons. The uproar over the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy was justified, even if justice was never truly served. Consider the fate of Cardinal Law. He was ejected from his leadership role in the Archdiocese of Boston and lived out his final days in Rome, where he reportedly had an outsized influence over the governance of the Church. After all, he had nothing to do but go to meetings and lend his suggestions.

Sadly, the moral courage and leadership among the Bishops in the United States was largely absent from these past two decades. While they confronted abuse by priests, they conveniently sidestepped any equally grave matter, the accountability of the bishops. Perhaps they were just overwhelmed with it all, or their focus gave them tunnel vision. The unfortunate result of this oversight is now we’re in a second phase of scandal, surrounding the same abhorrent evil.

This is a societal issue, yes, but it is also a very Catholic issue. We aren’t grappling with it as the American Church, but as the universal Church. Pope Francis rightly wants to apply a universal standard of justice so that all of these cases, no matter from what corner of the globe them emanate, are dealt with in the same manner. The problem is, his track record is checkered, even as recently as two episode this year. Theodore McCarrick was defrocked, but he refused the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who was convicted in French criminal courts. Pope Francis is rightly concerned about a mob-mentality, but he cannot seem to balance the rights of the accused with the demands of justice.

Perhaps what is most confusing in all of this are the moral judgements made by clerics in position of authority. While I hesitate to apply my 2019 worldview to decisions made in the past, it is eminently clear that the sexual abuse of a minor is a criminal act of the most serious degree. It has never been acceptable and it never will be. Allegations must be fully reviewed and, if there is a guilty verdict at the end of due process, justice must be meted out to the fullest extend of the law. Should the statutes of limitations have expired, then canon law must step in to fill that void. If there is no remedy or relief under codes of law or conduct, the priest or bishop must be permanently removed from ministry. This is not hard.

We’ve suffered under the flippant approach that Pope Francis has taken since the first days of his pontificate. In recent days, Pope Benedict XVI, with the permission of Pope Francis, published an essay in which he comments on the crisis. In his essay, he blamed the sexual revolution and an overemphasis on the rights of the accused.

There are many causes and factors that lead a predator to abuse a child. The sexual revolution and the era of relaxed morality is counted among them. Predators are mentally disturbed individuals who manipulate those around them for their own ends. They move from victim to victim and only stop when they’re removed from society and jailed. There’s no cure for this type of mental illness, and by their actions, they have relinquished their rights to live in civil society.

Pope Benedict raises a very good point in his article, we are placing too much emphasis on the rights of the accused. There needs to be due process to filter out baseless claims; the presumption of innocence must be maintained. The criminal courts need to be given first rights of refusal on any accusation before canonical tribunals are allowed to conduct an investigation. Throughtout this process, out of an abundance of caution and with a profound sense of humility, the priest or bishop needs to be removed from public ministry. Once the process is concluded, if an allegation is proven to be without merit, the cleric should be immediately restored to office with a public acknowledgement of his innocence. If, however, the process concludes with a substantiated claim or guilty verdict, they must be immediately and irreversibly dismissed from the priesthood.

My view is not shared globally. However, in a matter as serious and potentially destructive as this, there can be no safe quarter in the clerical state for the very wolves we were warned against. They must be caught, uprooted, brought to justice. Only then, if they so choose, through the ministry of the Church, can they be reconciled to God.

Headspace

Cal Newport, the university professor and researcher who famously has never joined any social media network, published a remarkable book this year that has received much attention. Digital Minimalism is Newport’s response to a culture of increasing isolation and higher levels of depression and anxiety.

In the book, Newport highlights research that suggests that high frequency dependence on digital devices is leading to previously unseen rates of depression and anxiety in young adults. His research finds that the spike occurred around 2007, at the beginning of the smart phone resolution. In the book, Newport talks to college mental health professionals who are seeing dramatic changes in their practice because of this shift.

Newport’s solution isn’t to buy a dumb phone and reject technology. His approach advocates for users to first define their values, and then only incorporate technologies that align with those values.

One of the biggest technology struggles that we face is the “quick glance.” In any moment of down-time, we reach for the closest device and try to fill the time. We’re afraid of being alone with our thoughts. I hate the feeling of the quick glance. I know that there are other, better ways to spend my time and engage with my family, but instead I’m refreshing the same website over and over to no end.

Many of us see our relationship with our phone as unhealthy. That’s a correct judgement. I’ve undertaken the digital detox laid out in the book, in which I define rules for my technology that I find problematic in my life for 30 days. After the detox is complete and my values are clear, I can add back the technologies that are most important to me.

One of my rules is that my cell phone lives on the kitchen counter when I’m at home, not in my pocket. When it’s in my pocket, I feel the weight and naturally reach for it. If it’s on the kitchen counter in the other room, I have to think for a moment and consider whether or not I need it.

This small behavior change has given me a tremendous amount of headspace. Instead of frittering away any available moment on my phone, I’m alone with my thoughts. And I have many thoughts. My mind has the time and attention it needs to work through problems, generate ideas, and even process my task list. I feel much more balanced as I go through the day, and my mood has improved.

Drowning out our thoughts in an ocean of distraction is not a way to live. Consider the technology that you use, eliminate the ones that don’t add high levels of value, and give your mind the space and peace it needs to work.