Simple Living for Catholics Part 2: Examples

Last Friday, I wrote about living simply as a Catholic. The basic idea is to buy what you need and give away the rest. To generalize even more, Catholics should use their resources as needed for their basic needs. Once their needs are taken care of, all surplus resources should go towards those in need. If we don’t pay attention to what we do, it is easy to fall into laziness with giving. You might think you have nothing to give, but spend some time thinking about it and you will find ways to give.

To illustrate the ideal of simple living, imagine a family of four with two parents and two children. The father is a police officer, the mother works part-time as a tutor and part-time as a housewife, the son and daughter are both in school. Their household income is $90,000. Per year, they spend $26,000 on their mortgage, $24,000 on healthcare, $15,000 for school tuition, $10,000 for transportation, $4,000 on vacations, $2,000 for utilities, $2,000 on other miscellaneous necessities, $2,000 on entertainment, and $1,000 for charity. They save $2,000 a year for retirement and $2,000 a year for emergencies.

On a typical weekday, the father gets home at 7pm, eats dinner, and watches TV until his 9pm bedtime. The mother gets off work at 1pm, does some errands, takes the kids home from school, has dinner with the children at 5pm, does some chores, and watches TV with her husband until her 10pm bedtime. The son and daughter get home from school at 3pm, have dinner, do homework, and plays with their tech gadgets until their 10pm bedtime.

On a typical Saturday, the father goes golfing with his buddies during the day and plays poker with other friends at night. The mother spends most of the day taking the kids to their sports practices and competitions, using any free time to make meals and do chores. On a typical Sunday, the family goes to church in the morning. Then they go shopping for food, clothes, entertainment and other things. The rest of the day, the father watches football, the children play video games or socialize with friends online, and the mother makes meals and finishes the household chores.

Now we can look at how this family can simplify their life by giving, donating, and serving. The first step is giving excess material goods. This family is buying new things every Sunday. Over a whole year that’s a lot of clothing and entertainment. At most, they need outfits for maybe a month. Even then, clothes can be mixed and matched, so they don’t need a unique set of clothes for all 30 days. Over the year, they should be able to give many surplus clothing items to the needy. Entertainment items are even easier to give. Most times entertainment is consumed and then never touched again. Movies, books, video games, and more can be sold at garage sales or on Craigslist. The money can then be given to those in need.

The second step is donating money. This family is not donating any money to the church or poor. It looks like they have no money, but they really do if they take the time to think about their actual needs. If they buy used cars instead of new ones, they can save $2,000 a year on transportation. Vacations can greatly be cut back. Their current spending is enough for a big trip every year like going to Disneyland, but it’s not necessary to go on such big vacations. Switching to camping or a short road trip will save $2,000 a year for vacations. This family buys clothes and entertainment every Sunday. Some of that is needed but not all of it. They can easily cut that down by $1,000 for another big chunk of money.

Combined with their existing donations of $1,000 a year, their new total is $6,000 a year in donations. Ideally, they would be able to donate 10% of their income or $9,000 a year, but $6,000 is not bad at all. God would be very happy with this starting point. The next $3,000 might require more drastic sacrifices like moving to a cheaper house or even changing careers. God understands our limits.

The third is serving others. Within this family we can already see that the father is not spending enough time with his family. It’s true that he gets home late from work, but he just plants himself in front of the TV for 2 hours on weeknights. On Saturdays, he’s gone all day with his friends. On Sundays, he spends a little time with the family but then watches more TV. He should use some of that time for family activities like talking about their day and prayer. TV can be a family activity if the children are involved, but other than dinner, the children are in their rooms. They should be using some of that time to help their mother with chores and spend time with their parents. The children should do their best to get good grades. Sometimes this is a real sacrifice but it will please their parents and aid their future.

The mother is doing the heavy lifting in this family, juggling her job and the household chores all while taking care of the children. The father and children need to help her out more. The parents also need to be educating their children in the faith and in basic skills they will need when they grow up. A huge part of being a parent is educating their children, but these parents are completely ignoring this responsibility. School is not enough to teach children everything they need to know. The education in school and from parents works hand in hand to make good kids. Without reinforcement at home, the children will most likely struggle to adapt to adult life.

The family members are not doing as much as they can to serve their loved ones, but they also aren’t doing any service towards those outside the house. All their weekly activities are for themselves. There are a lot of needy people they could help. An easy form of service to start is prayer on behalf of those in need. They don’t even have to leave the house to do this. Another easy service opportunity is helping with coffee and donuts after church. Within the community they can help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Another good one is participating in the pro-life prayer vigils. They are very common on Sundays outside abortion clinics.

Here is a quick list of the changes this family could make to practice simple living:

Giving Material Goods

  • Once a year give clothes that haven’t been worn in over a year.
  • Once a year sell or give away all the movies and books you have seen or read. Donate any money obtained this way to charity.
  • Whenever the son gets a new game, he has to sell or give away one of his older games. If he sells it, he has to use the money for a family gift such as getting ice cream or seeing a movie.

Donating Money

  • Buy used cars instead of new cars. Then donate the saved money to charity.
  • Switch to cheaper vacations and donate the extra money to charity.
  • Buy clothes only one Sunday a month and donate the savings to charity.
  • Spend no more than $100 per month on entertainment, giving the rest to charity.

Serving Others

  • For the father, play one of golf or poker, not both. Use the extra time to help out with chores, making meals, and going to your children’s sports practices.
  • For the parents, spend one hour per night on weeknights teaching and praying with your children.
  • For the children, help out the family with one chore each per day.
  • For the whole family, pray at least 15 minutes every night.
  • For the whole family, help out with coffee and donuts after church every Sunday.
  • For the whole family, help make a meal at a soup kitchen one Sunday a month.

Every Catholic family should take the time to analyze how they are giving, donating, and serving. It’s not easy making these sacrifices, but this is the Catholic way. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, take your analysis and write a list of all the changes that would be good to make similar to what I wrote above. Then once a year during Lent, make just one of those changes. Put it on the calendar, so you will remember. Focus on just that one change the whole year. You’ll probably keep forgetting at first or get out of the habit, but eventually the whole family will get used to it. The next year make another change.

If, for some reason, you can’t work on a new change during a year, feel free to postpone it. Just do your best to improve over time as a family. When you look back 10, 20, 30 years of family life, you should see a huge, positive difference between your family now and your family in the past. Remember every sacrifice for good will be rewarded in heaven. You will not regret God’s rewards for your good works.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Real Way to Make America Great Again

On Monday, I wrote about how the Internet poses many dangers to children, which requires parents to pay attention to how their children use the Internet. This is part of the larger task of raising children with good, moral values. It’s a tiring job for parents, but it must be done because of how important raising good children is.

It is in the home when children learn all the habits and the discipline that they carry with them the rest of their adult life (CCC 2207). It is true that people are constantly changing throughout life, adopting new values and leaving others behind, but many of those good values will stick around. This greatly improves their decisionmaking. The better their decisions are the more successful they are at supporting themselves and serving others. People with good values serve the needy and less fortunate, are a positive influence to others, and truly enrich their communities. The biggest impact good values has is when they raise their own children. Many of those good values that they learned from their parents are now passed down to the next generation.

Across a population with good values, the society creates a collective reinforcement of good behavior (CCC 2212). No one is perfect — people make mistakes and commit sin — but others see that sin and call the person out on it. The population corrects itself. How can good values make such a big difference though? It all comes down to the everyday decisions people make. When the majority of people have good values, most of their decisions are going to be good because the foundation of good values is love and love is sacrificial. When the population as a whole sacrifices for others, it automatically prevents many societal problems from happening.

There are fewer divorces, single parents, and broken families. The families are stronger, so when a relative is in need, the family members pitch in to help them out. Business owners treat their workers well (CCC 2213). No sky high paychecks for the top executives while workers at the bottom are stuck with measly wages. In general, people become much more self-sufficient. They, along with the occasional help from friends and family, can take care of themselves. This takes a huge weight off the government, so now the government is no longer in debt. That allows more money to be spent on defense and other services which the people cannot provide for themselves.

In short, people with good values have a habit of sacrificing for the good of the whole. This is why the Church says that families are the foundation of society (CCC 2207). People with bad values are selfish. They do their own thing, maybe not outright ignoring the needs of others, but at least not paying attention. Many of our current problems would just disappear if the vast majority could sacrifice for the whole, but it all starts with children in the home (CCC 2208).

The human race has thrived over thousands of years by passing down good values from generation to generation. It’s a continuous cycle of goodness. When children don’t learn good values, the cycle is just the opposite. Rather than enriching their communities, the children grow up to be burdens on their communities. They are a negative influence and those bad values are instilled in the next generation of children, who go on to to also be negative influences in their communities. We are currently in a negative cycle.

After the postwar boom, life was good for so many years, parents became too hands-off with children. When everything was going so well, parents just didn’t have any worry about their children’s future. The children could find their own way to success because success was everywhere. This started slowly and ramped up until the present, where huge percentage of children enter the world unprepared. While the children are responsible for their actions in adulthood, their parents share some blame for not taking the time to instill good values in them.

We have parents these days with almost no interest in their children. They busy their children with smartphones and televisions, never really spending any time with them. Many times the parents are sitting there, but not really present. Their head is buried in their own smartphone while the children do whatever they want. This is not the way to raise children. When you have a generation of children who grow up being taught mostly by entertainment, it’s no wonder our country is having problems. Entertainment should always be just entertainment. It might teach a good lesson occasionally, but most of this comes from the parents. Just because a problem is known doesn’t mean there is an easy fix. In households where parents aren’t learning good values, what should be done? I don’t know the answer, but I do have an idea.

Right now, there is way too much focus on the classroom when the greater measure of a child’s success is the quality of their parenting, not education. The classroom can teach many good values to children, but it has to be reinforced by parents or else the children won’t carry much of those values forward in their later years. Spending all kinds of money on expensive schools or technology won’t help much. That money should instead be spent on improving parenting. The ideal approach is different depending on the situation.

For all parents, money should be spent educating them on good parenting. A key part of this should be guidelines on how much time to spend with children each week. Many parents are workaholics, showering their children with gifts instead of just hanging out and talking with them. The children don’t need expensive cars, huge houses, or luxurious vacations. They need their parents. Better for parents to work less and have more time to spend with the children, teaching good values and reinforcing values they have already learned.

Some parents have to work long hours just to make ends meet. They should be helped with more than just good parenting education (CCC 2208). Two options are available. Either they can get supplemental money that allows them to work fewer hours, giving them time to spend with their children, or society can organize helper families who have the means to take in the children a few hours a day when the parents are not available. Ideally, the children’s own parents would have time to spend with them, but in some cases, they would need help from others. It would be very important that both biological parents and helper parents would be consistent in how they raise the children.

In cases where parents ignored the good parenting education and continued to be bad parents, the government would have permission to remove the children and place them in a better home. In existing practice children are removed if they are being abused or neglected, but parents not being present for their children and not teaching good values really is neglect. The children might be getting food, water, shelter, and all the basic needs, but having available parents is really a basic need. If parents can’t or won’t provide this, the government should give the children to parents that will. This doesn’t mean they would be cutoff from their children. The children would just live in a home where they were the focus. The parents could still visit their children whenever they wanted.

These changes would require many laws to be passed — it wouldn’t be easy at all — but the only way America will get out of this rut is if sacrificing for others is well-known and regularly practiced by all people. That happens in the home when parents teach their children true love, which is having a habit of looking out for the needs of others. Most good values are about doing what’s best for the family as a whole, something that directly translates into doing what’s best for society as a whole.

Everyone would have to come together to make this happen. Of course, parents would have to listen to the advice given, change their lifestyles, and put that advice into practice, but this would also require the government, charities, and other parents to sacrifice for the good of the children. The government, in its duty to support the family (CCC 2210-2211), would need to shift money into parenting instead of education, watch for bad parenting, and move children as needed. Parents with surplus time and money would need to volunteer to help children whose parents were too busy. Charities would have to supplement government support for both needy parents and helper parents (CCC 2209).

The results would not happen overnight. In fact, there wouldn’t be any results until the next generation became adults, entered society, and got into leadership positions. Children become adults at age 18 but don’t really impact society until middle age, maybe ages 40 to 60. We have had decades of decline due to bad parenting, so it would take decades of good parenting to get back to good values and success. If society became lax and parents started neglecting their children again, the decline would return. This effort would have to continue to maintain a good society and a strong country.

The real way to make America great again is raising great children. That requires having great parents. This idea is possible. It’s a longshot because of how society is so focused on education instead of supporting families, but it is possible. It just requires people to see the truth themselves and teach it to all those around them. When enough people get behind it, change can happen.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared