Where did you learn the Hail Mary? the story of Christmas? to go to Mass? that you should share your toys with others? that hitting someone is wrong? Undoubtedly, in your family. In view of the focus on the family this month in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and in the upcoming Synod on Families in Rome next month, for the next few blogs, I plan to write about families, in particular, about nurturing the faith in families. The posts will include some wise advice from Pope Francis.
Dick van Dyke tells the story of a boy who was asked, “Why do you believe in God?” The boy thought a moment and then said, “I guess it’s just something that runs in our family.” If we reflect on it, the boy was right. For the vast majority of people, faith is acquired from the family. The faith of Jesus was nurtured by Mary and Joseph. They taught him the psalms and took him to the Temple. Jesus made a statement about the importance of family by spending most of his life with his family: 30 years! The faith of saints like Therese of Lisieux was forged in the heart of their families. (By the way, this October 18, Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, will be canonized. This will be the first time a couple is canonized together.) Chances are, your faith began and was fostered at home too. And now your child or children first experienced God at home. They learned love in your arms, and God is love.
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (#11) we read: “The family is the domestic Church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” Pope John Paul II exhorted, “Families, become what you are!”
I’ve calculated that most children today during one year spend 21 hours in religion class, but even not counting the time they are sleeping, they are at home with their families 4,903 hours a year. Consider too that the first five years of a child’s life, the most formative years, the child is at home.
The Declaration on Christian Education (#3) states: “Parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and men that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children . . . . Let parents then clearly recognize how vital a truly Christian family is for the life and development of God’s own people.”
More than ever the Church is recognizing that the basic cell of the church is not the convent and rectories, not the offices in the Vatican, not even our church buildings—but the home. The family is holy. Family life is sacred. Parents are the first apostles to their children. They tell them the Good News of God’s love and show them the love of God. Through parents children come to know that they are called to have a special relationship with God. They learn to live Christ’s way of love. In the family they learn how to come in touch with God through prayer.
No family is ideal. Look at the very first family. The parents disobeyed God and lost their home. One of their sons killed his brother. We all struggle along, doing the best we can. Even the Holy Family had problems. Joseph almost divorced Mary. As a preteen, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem at the Passover, and his parents searched for him for three days (and nights!) frantic with worry.
Pope Francis pinpointed a problem in families today: living in a hurry. He said that some parents are so busy that their children are orphans. Parents need to take time to play with their children, to talk with them, and to pray with them.
What is your earliest memory of Church? Mine is of being at a high Mass at St. Vitus with my paternal grandmother. The incense made me cry, and she and her friends were trying to quiet me. I also remember reciting Baltimore Catechism answers to my mother as she sat at the kitchen table and I swung on the basement stairs railing.