Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Setting Firm Boundaries

When I was growing up, the boundaries were never clear and the ones that did exist were ever changing. You didn't know what to expect from day to day. It was terrifying because something that got rewarded one day could get you beaten the next. The fear caged me in, kept me on the edge, and prevented me from being free to fully explore the world around me. Growing up in this environment of abuse created a mistrust of authority, and of the boundaries that good authorities establish. Rather than seeing the boundaries as efforts to establish places where I could roam and explore freely, without fear, I saw them as mere efforts to manipulate or control me. It made it very difficult for me to obey any kind of authority, which in turn made it difficult to become a member of any kind of community.

This mistrust of authority and misunderstanding of the purpose of boundaries caused me to walk away from the Catholic Church at age 16, just before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. I spent the next 11 years struggling against the Church, testing other religions, trying to find peace in my own life and making a mess of it all. Yet I was drawn to her as well, drawn to the community of people that she contained, wanting to be a part of that and yet not knowing how.

My husband shared my skepticism of authority and my trouble with boundaries. As a result, we didn't set firm boundaries for our son. He became terrified of change. The least little change in routine was a cause of fear for him, because he never knew what that change was going to bring. He’s better now, but that’s because our lives have become more stable as we have learned to accept and to remain within the boundaries provided us by the Catholic Church.

The truth is that all people need boundaries established for them. They need to know where it is safe in this world to go and explore, and where it isn't. Strong boundaries create secure children, children who aren’t afraid and who are confident enough in their environment to explore it to its fullest.

Boundaries are also important in personal relationships. As I was growing up, my own personal boundaries were continuously violated and my privacy and person invaded, until I didn't know how to say ‘no” to anyone. It literally took me until age 27, when I finally realized that I was living my life trying to please everyone else, be what everyone else wanted me to be, that I understood I needed to learn how to say the word “no”. It was a hard word for me to use, especially around men, because I feared losing their love.

The Catholic Church models good parenting for us by handing down to us the clear boundaries given to us by our Heavenly Father and teaches us to obey them. These boundaries are not established to harm us, but rather to let us know where in the world we can go and explore freely, and what areas we should work to avoid. She also teaches us how to use the word “no” appropriately, establishing personal boundaries that protect our privacy and our person. There are those who complain that the Church has too many rules, too many things you are supposed to do or not supposed to do, but to these people I say that if you understand the underlying purpose behind the boundaries, then you can walk freely without fear of going too far astray.

The two boundaries which the Church establishes as the most important are found in Matthew 22:36-40, when a group of Pharisees (experts in the laws of Moses) asked Jesus which was the greatest of the Commandments. “Jesus replied Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these commandments”

While everyone knows the 10 commandments, most people don’t realize that they are really just subsets of these two laws. The first three commandments deal with how God expects us to show our love for Him. The rest of the 10 deal with how we are to show love to our neighbor.

“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

Since love is a term thrown around so casually in today’s society that its meaning is no longer clear, it is important to establish a definition of love that is based upon Catholic teaching so that you are clear on what it means to love someone. The Catholic Church holds Jesus Christ as the example of what it means to fully love another, and in doing so defines love as a willingness to sacrifice one’s own life in the service of helping another achieve the highest possible good. The highest possible good the Catholic Church knows is to enter into Heaven.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The precepts of the Catholic Church, those behaviors required of all believers, are supports intended to help the Catholic live out his Christian faith. These are subsets of the 10 commandments, showing the faithful how to live them out in everyday life. We find them laid out for us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (

The first precept deals with how we, as Catholics, honor the Commandment to keep Holy the Sabbath Day. “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation, and rest from servile labor.” The purpose of celebrating the Sabbath day is to make as present as possible here on earth the joy we will find in Heaven. This is why we are called to gather with our fellow brothers and sisters in worship of God, just as we will gather with them to worship God in eternity. We are fed mentally and physically at the hands of the Lord during the Mass and then are sent outward to bring this joy to others. We are to rest from labor, because this is one of the things promised to us about Heaven.

“For all who have entered into God's rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” - Hebrews 4:10

The second precept deals with seeking forgiveness and reconciling ourselves to the people we have hurt through our selfishness and sin. “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.” When we have hurt someone else, love requires that we reconcile with them and seek forgiveness. If we have done damage, we must try to repair it. Confessing our sins to a priest is not so that the priest can judge us or for our humiliation, but as an aide in diagnosing the reason behind our sin and as a means of having graces bestowed upon us to enable us not to sin that way again. This precept comes from James 5:16, in which the author writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

The third precept is about nourishing the soul, so that you are able to maintain the strength it requires to love others deeply. “You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season. “ The Eucharist is food for the soul, containing within it the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in its entirety. Only by taking Christ into ourselves and allowing Him to transform us from the inside outward can we ever hope to love others as Christ has loved us. We are too broken to do so on our own. It is Christ who warns us about the necessity of regularly receiving Communion for remaining connected to Him,

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53)

The fourth precept is about building up the endurance we need to bear wrongs patiently, avoid temptation, and make sacrifices for others by willingly entering into periods of suffering out of love for God. “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. “ Going without food and water for short periods of time or abstaining from pleasurable activities or certain types of food are meant to help us grow in our empathy with the sufferings of others, and to allow is to grow in self-control. If we are able to put aside, even for a short time, those things which we desire or even need, it develops our ability to say no to pleasures that the world has to offer and helps us to become more resistant to temptation and sin. As Christ warns us,

Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting - Matthew 17:21

The fifth precept deals with becoming a contributing member of the community, and giving back to the community out of gratitude for what we have received from it through Christ. “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.” Providing for the needs of the Church does not merely mean giving money, although if we have it we certainly should give it, it means giving of our time and our talents as well. God has created us all with a specific purpose, unique and individual. Serving in our community does not just benefit the Church, it benefits us as well, helping us to make sense of our gifts and talents. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, it is only when we come together that our real purpose is revealed and we begin to see why we were made the way we were made.

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. – Deuteronomy 16:17

Again, the boundaries the Catholic Church sets forth for her Children are firm, rooted in love, and do not change. This is so that her children always know what is expected of them. Every other rule that the Catholic Church lays out are her responses to the questions her children have posed in how to live out the 10 commandments and the five precepts throughout her two thousand years of parenting. They are not additional burdens imposed by men, but useful instructions for living out the greatest of the commandments.

I hope you have enjoyed Chapter 4 of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can find the rest of the chapters by clicking on the link above.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for Chapter 5: Establishing Consequences.  If you have enjoyed what you read, have a question about it, disagree with something in it, or want to add something to it, please feel free to leave a comment below. I'm always listening :)

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