“What does it mean to be a holy family?” I asked my second grade First Communion class. Most of the eager young hands in the room went up.
“Obey your parents.”
“Do the 10 Commandments.”
“Good answers,” I encouraged them, “but you’re missing one very important point.” Quizzical faces stared back at me. After a few hints, more hands went up in the air.
“Go to church!”
This past Saturday’s class was all about the Holy Family. As usual, the class participated well, taking turns reading from the textbook, answering questions, participating in the discussion; however, I didn’t want to keep the discussion to the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Nazareth. I wanted the class to think about how our families can strive for holiness too. I explained that the Holy Family is our model for a Christian, Catholic family. I was curious to know how the Faith is nurtured at home so I asked some very direct questions.
“How many of you say prayers with your family before bedtime?” Of the twenty children in the class, only two put up their hands.
“How many of you say the Grace Before Meals?” No show of hands.
“Do you ever pray the Rosary with your family?” Again, no hands.
“Who goes to church every Sunday?” This question was met with a greater show of hands, but it wasn’t unanimous.
It’s no surprise that our society is becoming increasingly secular. The God of Truth, in large part, has been replaced by the gods of convenience, acquisition, power, prestige, sex. The Lord’s Day has become one more day in which to shop and family time has been replaced with overly-scheduled children’s sports practices and music lessons, as well as parents’ pursuit of self-actualization. Is it any wonder that so few of the children in my class have any time for prayer at all?
There is nothing wrong with extra-curricular activities. My own children continue to benefit from them. What is worrisome is that worldly goals have become more important, more valuable than forming our families into a holy family. Many families value the outward signs of success more than the inner peace of holiness.
It’s not the biggest house or the most trophies or the fattest bank account that is going to get our families into heaven. We would be fooling ourselves if we think that showing up for one hour at Mass on Sundays, Christmas and Easter will guarantee eternal life. Striving for holiness in ourselves and in our families requires perseverance, commitment and recognition that conversion is an ongoing process. It all starts with prayer for and with our families.
Trying to be a holy family is challenging, especially with powerful distractions from the secular world. Some of our older or adult children, by their own free will, may choose to deny their Catholic faith for what mistakenly seems to be a more fulfilling way to live. For a faithful Catholic parent, that is heartbreaking. My pastor has observed that if we have been diligent in handing on the teachings and joy of the Faith, our wandering children have a greater likelihood of eventually finding their way back into the Church.
From the family will emerge the future defenders of the faith and the leaders of the Catholic Church. In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, (John Paul II, 25 March, 1995) Bl. John-Paul II admonishes the family to “Fulfill its mission to proclaim the Gospel of Life.” He states that “parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self, and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift.” Parents are called upon to teach our children the “true meaning of suffering and death” by “fostering attitudes of closeness, assistance and sharing towards sick or elderly members of the family.” Family life is a “life of love and self-giving.”
Now more than ever, it’s time to bring back sanctity in the family by building up the domestic church: the family that prays and endeavors to live the Gospel together. More important than any earthly reward is the everlasting reward of Heaven. Our holy-families-in-the-making ought to be setting our hearts and minds on the ultimate praise, “well done good and trustworthy servant.” Matthew 25:23