The feast of the Holy Family reminds us that our families are called to be holy, too.
Concluding World Meeting of Families 2015, Pope Francis said, “Holiness is always tied to little gestures. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life and life to become faith.”
So how can a family grow in holiness in daily life?
Do works of mercy. “That’s something the Pope stressed for the jubilee year,” said Father Jeffrey Kirby, author and vocation director for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C. “In terms of the spiritual works of mercy,” we can show works of “mercy in the home, asking for forgiveness, telling other family members they are forgiven when there is an offense.”
“Lead a life of faith by doing faith-based things,” added Father Dwight Longenecker, frequent Register contributor and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, S.C. The family can help at a local food pantry or soup kitchen or attend the March for Life, for example, always “standing up for the faith in small ways.”
“Parents can take their children to nursing homes,” Father Kirby said. One family he knows who enjoys singing brings joy to nursing homes through song.
Eat meals together. In his Nov. 11, 2015, general audience, Pope Francis said, “A family that almost never eats together, or that never speaks at the table, but looks at the television or the smartphone, is hardly a family.”
He added that family dinnertime and other time spent together is a lesson for the littlest family members: “In family life, we learn about togetherness from a young age, which is a very beautiful virtue: The family teaches us to share, with joy, the blessings of life.”
“Make it a point to eat together,” Father Kirby explained. “The family dinner table is a table of gathering, the altar of the domestic church.”
For parents to live their Christian vocation, “they have to make time to be with their children,” counseled Father Kirby, by carving out family time amid other activities and duties.
Pray. Father Kirby pointed out the need to seek out times throughout the day for prayer.
“If a parent is dropping a child off at a sport or school event, before the child gets out of the car, they should say a prayer together, especially if the child is nervous about the sport or the event,” he said. “Pray, ‘I want God to bless you so that you will be successful.’”
He cited a mother who listened to her daughter tell of breaking up with her boyfriend and then said, “Let’s pray now for God to heal your broken heart.”
Praying in the midst of daily life shows “it’s very important to realize God is involved in everything we do, and everything we do in life is important,” Father Kirby explained.
Steve and Kim Platte know the importance and value of daily prayer in their own family. In their Aiken, S.C., home, the Plattes, who have six girls and five boys, ages 2 to 19, start their day by reading about the saint of the day and the readings for daily Mass, as well as praying the Morning Offering, guardian angel prayer and a Hail Mary for the eldest daughter, 19, who entered a Carmelite convent, and their eldest son in college; they then pray for the intercession of their patron saints. The Plattes close the day with night prayer.
The family celebrates liturgical seasons, Steve Platte added. “We’ll say the Rosary in October; throughout the year, we do the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Stations of the Cross. That variety really helps our younger children, and they learn something new.”
Bless your children. “Parents should bless their children every evening,” advised Father Kirby. “Trace a Sign of the Cross on their foreheads. It’s so important and a powerful exercise of the parents’ vocation. The children know that their parents are asking God to bless them and that they love them. The awareness of the children that their parents can bless them, do bless them and want to bless them is powerful.”
The Plattes do so. “They do look forward to the blessing,” Steve said of their children. “If we forget for some reason, they come back and ask that we do that for them. Oftentimes, they’ll trace the Sign of the Cross back on our foreheads.”
Tithe. Father Longenecker points out that one of the most important things to foster holiness in family life is for parents to consistently witness their faith and practice what they preach. “One of the most concrete ways children can see their parents acting out faith is putting their money” toward the Church, he said.
Enthrone the Sacred Heart. “The Sacred Heart has a powerful place in the home,” Father Kirby said, “a symbol of love, warmth and acceptance.” Families should try to have a priest or deacon do the enthronement.
Encourage Christian living. The Plattes seek out ways to spark interest in and teach the faith, through use of quality media and life in the parish.
Practicing faith outside the home in the Christian community is essential. Said Kim, “We have them be part of the parish life so they learn to help others.” The boys are altar servers and involved in scouting, and their 16-year-old daughter teaches second-grade CCD. “They also help with Francis, Clare and Companions — a group of second- to fifth-graders who are taught by our Secular Franciscan,” promoting faith and fellowship, Kim said. They also help with a Little Flowers group and join in church activities to help the poor.
“Our goal is to try to get them to do what God wants them to do, whether they might have a vocation to the religious life or not,” Steve said of exposing their children to a variety of faith-filled activities.
He reflected, “We try to provide an environment of faith that also represents the Church. It’s really our responsibility to teach them the catechism and to grow up to be strong Catholics in their faith and be able to live out their faith in the way the Church tells us to.”
Remember our Blessed Mother. As Pope Francis said upon opening the Jubilee of Mercy, look on the Immaculate Conception “with trusting love, to contemplate her in all her splendor (and imitate) her faith.” One practical way to do so, besides time-honored prayers like the Rosary and Memorare, is to practice St. John Paul II’s prayer in Familiaris Consortio: “May the Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, also be the Mother of ‘the church of the home.’ Thanks to her motherly aid, may each Christian family really become a ‘little Church.’”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.