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Bringing Spirituality Into the Home — and Keeping It There

BC administrator and wife author book on spirituality for the family

Tim Muldoon, assistant to the vice president for University Mission and Ministry, and his wife, Sue. (Photo courtesy of Tim Muldoon)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 12, 2013

Tim Muldoon, assistant to the vice president for University Mission and Ministry, has been a student of the Ignatian tradition since his high school days at Loyola Academy in Chicago. He continued his Ignatian exploration as an undergraduate at Boston College — a period that included a formative study-abroad experience at Oxford University — and in writing his well-received book The Ignatian Workout.

So, when Muldoon became a parent it seemed only natural that he would look to the principles of St. Ignatius as a guide to raising his children. Muldoon and his wife Sue, a director of religious education in a suburban parish west of Boston, went on to develop rules they feel cultivate faith in everyday family life. They offer these guidelines to parents in a newly published book, Six Sacred Rules for Families: A Spirituality for the Home.

“Parenting is already an act of faith. You don’t know what kind of person your kid will grow up to be. Everything you do is guesswork on some level. Every decision as a parent is predicated on faith,” said Tim Muldoon.

Sprinkled with stories from the Bible and references to American films, Six Sacred Rules is an accessible guide that, according to Muldoon, can help parents find authentic spirituality “embedded right in the messy midst of [everyday life].” The aim of the book, he says, is to help parents equip their children with a religious vocabulary and faith practices that give them the tools with which to make more reflective judgments when they are older.

“A lot of parents are overwhelmed and are content to outsource their children’s religious development,” said Muldoon. “We teach our children manners, language, even things about sports we like, but we don’t want to teach them religion? Ours is a culture of pluralism and so we have to be more deliberate about what it is we want to pass on.”

The Muldoons’ Rules for Family Spirituality are:

• God Brings Our Family Together on Pilgrimage

• Our Love of One Another Leads to Joy

• Our Family Doesn’t Care about “Success”

• God Stretches Our Family toward His Kingdom

• God Will Help Us

• We Must Learn Which Desires Lead Us to Freedom

The Muldoons’ accumulated wisdom as both parents and educators converge in Six Sacred Rules. “This is not just theory. This has been road-tested,” chuckled Muldoon, whose children are 13, 11, and nine.

The book, Muldoon points out, is not a user’s guide to religious indoctrination, but rather about showing parents how to invite their children into rich, spiritual traditions as a way of helping them develop the habits of being more reflective, thoughtful and loving. The hope is, he said, that these practices will provide a launching point for children so that as they get older they make the connection between these practices and God and Jesus.

“Authentic spirituality begins with practices that bring us to things that are good. The key word is practice,” said Muldoon.

Six Sacred Rules highlights practices families can incorporate into their home life, such as grace before meals, Nativity scenes and Advent calendars, blessings before big events, and service projects, among others.

The Muldoons also adapted the Examen, the cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality, for their children. Before bedtime, they talk about what made them happy during the day, what made them sad and what they are looking forward to tomorrow. They thank God for what made them happy, ask for God’s help for when they are sad and pray for God’s presence in the coming day.

“It’s not magic,” said Muldoon, who teaches a Capstone class on Desire and Discernment. “There’s something very intuitive about saying, ‘Let’s go over our day. Let’s ask where God has been.’ It’s rooted in a really basic theology that says God is there. We just need to pay attention. I want [my children] to develop the habit of being reflective.”

Yet the book is not a guaranteed recipe for how to create a child who will grow up to be a practicing Catholic, Muldoon said.

“Ultimately, the Holy Spirit will do that work. It has to be an act of grace that draws a person to God. I can do my work as a parent of witnessing to my faith as much as I can. I can create all the conditions that can make that likely, but I can’t make that happen.”

If Muldoon has one hope for children it is that they derive their sense of self-worth from God, as articulated in the Muldoons’ third rule: Our Family Doesn’t Care about “Success.” Muldoon wants children to have a “profound sense that they’re beloved and that their self-worth comes from that long before it comes from what they look like, how good at sports they are, what their SAT scores are—the external measures.

“I want them to be who God made them to be, not what the world tells them to be.”