On a recent Saturday morning, I had the privilege of speaking to the Raising Faith-Filled Kids Group at the Newman Centre in Toronto. We looked at ways in which Catholic families can grow in holiness.
In his 1981 Encyclical Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Family in the Modern World, Blessed Pope John Paul II urged: “Families, become what you are.”
He explained: “spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers. Of this salvation event, marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation, and prophecy. As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.”
The article The Holy Family: Model for the Modern World by Father John Hardon, SJ, teaches us that “all families are created through the providence of God. … The family has a common vision; a common purpose and that should be to work together for the salvation of the human family.”
Catholic families are beset by influences that would destroy holiness. Human frailty makes striving for sanctity a daily challenge and is a constant reminder of our need for God’s grace.
Each family is a domestic church and it is within the home that devoutness is first nurtured. Here are ways in which a family can develop an inner life that fosters holiness.
- Have a vibrant prayer life, especially the Rosary. Prayer is the foundation of all Catholic families. Introducing simple prayers to toddlers and then building on them as the family grows anchors and strengthens us.
- Faithful attendance at Holy Mass. Receive the Holy Eucharist frequently because, quite simply, we need Jesus.
- Go to confession regularly. Schedule regular monthly confessions for you and the children so that they learn to make it part of their life.
- Consecrate the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The love and mercy of Jesus and the maternal guidance and protection of our Lady must saturate our homes.
- Hand on the Catholic Faith to your children. Parents are the first and most important teachers of the Faith to their children. Begin to teach them at an early age and openly discuss the Faith at home. Parents must also keep learning more about the Catholic Faith.
- Work together for the common good of the household. Doing chores builds a sense of responsibility, consideration for other people, and instills a necessary work ethic in our children.
- Don’t take yourselves too seriously. It’s okay to make mistakes. Laughing at ourselves keeps us humble.
- Make your home a trusted, welcoming place for priests and religious. A friend who is a priest said he appreciates that we share our messy life with him. Another friend said that in his heart he feels when a home is focused on faith and family and those are the homes where he likes to be. Exercise discretion when Father comes to visit. Facebook doesn’t have to know.
- Encourage your children to be open to all vocations. Fr. Allan MacDonald, Vocations Director for the Companions of the Cross Religious Order of Priests gives this advice: assure children that God has a plan for their lives. Encourage them to think about what God might be calling them to do with their lives. And parents, it’s their vocation, not yours.
- Marriage is self-sacrificing. The needs of our loved ones come before our own needs.
- Be joyful in the duty of the moment. Servant of God Catherine Doherty said that the nitty-gritty, daily, ordinary routine of life can bring Christ into our home if we do everything with great love.
Our life of holiness cannot remain in our homes. We are called to spread the Gospel to an unbelieving world. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us in his Vatican Radio Address of December 2011, “the New Evangelization depends largely on the domestic church.”
- The family must be totally Catholic. Be a confident, uncompromising Catholic. Live out your faith joyfully.
- The family evangelizes in many ways. Bring the entire family to witness at 40 Days for Life and other pro-life vigils. And nothing says Catholic like a family bowing their heads in prayer and reciting Grace Before Meals at a restaurant. Be an authentic, messy, joyful, honest witness to the ups and downs of family life. All families have challenges. What sets a holy family apart is the way in which we deal with them: with faith, constant prayer, humility, and hope in Christ’s abundant grace and mercy.
- Share your God-given gifts with others. But remember that family and professional responsibilities come first, in that order. Catherine Doherty used to chastise parents who were so involved in many different ministries that they neglected their children.
- The duty of the moment is lived outside the home. We are called to be a loving, joyful, prayerful witness in our place of work and in our community.
- The family respects life. We remain open to Church teaching that dignifies sexuality and sexual love as sacred and open to new life. We also show respect for and are attentive to the needs of the elderly.
- Make choices in keeping with the Magisterium. Including career choices, areas of study, purchases we make, friendships and other social relationships.
Becoming a holy family is a constantly evolving process. Catherine Doherty asks questions that we can all use to reflect on our progress: As parents, do you take seriously your most awesome and holy vocation? Or do you bear with it because you have to? Is your home a place of peace and love, which are so great they radiate into every nook and corner?
Photo source: wikimedia.org. The Holy Family by James Collinson, 1850.