Family Faith Snapshots: Tamara Pandolfo
“We believe that our family life is a type of mission field — a place to teach our children to know, love, and serve God”
Who are you?
I am a Catholic wife, mother, and missionary. I grew up in the Church but I have definitely been having a continual conversion to Christ throughout my life. Thankfully, grace builds upon grace! I first decided to live my faith while attending a junior high youth retreat. After that, I began to read the Bible and attend Mass more frequently. I was very involved in retreat ministry throughout high school and college and eventually served in youth ministry at the parish and diocesan level. I am a proud alumnus of NET Ministries and a graduate of the Augustine Institute. I am currently home educating our children, using mostly living books and play-based learning.
Tell me a little about your family.
My husband Alex and I have been married for ten and a half years. We have five lively children between the ages of nine and 18 months. Alex is a full-time FOCUS missionary, serving on campus in Omaha, Nebraska. We are a quirky little family, far from perfect but choosing to love one another anyway. Alex and I feel strongly convicted in our missionary call and the role of the family in the education of children. We believe that our family life is a type of mission field- a place to teach our children to know, love, and serve God and to live the life of the Church. I hope and pray that we will fulfill that call and that “our way of life would shine out to others” (RM 26).
What is your family prayer routine like on an average day?
Alex and I are both committed to daily personal prayer, which includes Scripture and sharing our thoughts, feelings, and desires with the Lord. Alex is able to pray a Holy Hour on most days of the week. We also pray individually and with our children throughout the day, as our personal experiences lead us to turn to the Lord for grace. In the evenings, our family prayer consists of thanksgivings and intercessions. We have also recently added a Rosary to that, though the little ones are usually asleep by then. Lastly, Alex and I are striving to grow in the practice of praying more personally together- sharing our hearts with each other and then interceding for one another daily. We can definitely feel the grace of this practice whenever we do pray in this way. (More on this type of prayer can be found in the book Spousal Prayer: A Way to Marital Happiness by Deacon James Keating of the Institute for Priestly Formation.)
Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you as a family?
Our family is particularly devoted to the Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. John Paul II. We often ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven us, to pour out His grace on us. We are learning to ask Him boldly to transform our hearts and the hearts of others. We pray for his healing on us and on this world. Jesus did say that “whatever we ask in His name would be given” so we put our trust in Him.
In the beginning of our marriage, we suffered miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. We became very concerned that we would not be able to have children. A priest friend (then seminarian) carried our intention with him on pilgrimage to Mexico City. When we found out that I was pregnant, another priest prayed over me under the intercession of Our Lady. I truly believe that her powerful intercession has led to our most cherished gifts- our children.
St. John Paul II, in his life, his writings, and his witness of missionary discipleship, has had a real impact on both Alex and I. We can see his guidance in our family life, and we love being able to ask for his intercession.
Do you do anything to enhance your Sunday Mass experience as a family? If so, what?
A wise mother once encouraged me to sit in the front row at Mass. At the time, I had a child who was all over the place in the pews and had never made it past the homily without me taking her out to the foyer. But we gathered up our courage and it was a great success. I highly recommend the front row! I know that won’t work for everybody, so for the rest of you, I want to say only this: the most helpful thing for me is to remember that what we are asking of our children is actually a monumental task for their age and stage of development. We need to give them grace to be children while still guiding them to learn appropriate behavior in Mass. In the [tough moments during Mass], I remind myself that Jesus said to let the children come to Him and that His grace is sufficient for me. He knows the struggle it can be and He is glad we are there.
How do your children inspire you to grow in faith?
My children inspire me in more ways than I can possibly recount. They are each such beautiful, unique, unrepeatable souls. I am tremendously blessed to be ttheir mother. Just by being who they are, I am inspired to try to live a life that is worthy of the calling that we have received. (Eph 4:1) In the challenging times, also, when daily crosses feel too hard to bear, they inspire us to turn to Jesus for the Grace we need. Family life continually teaches me that I can do nothing on my own, but I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13)
Is there a particular book or resource that has been especially helpful in your effort to raise a holy family or have a faith-filled home?
In my opinion, the best resource out there has been available to Christians for hundreds of years but is not very well-known. It is called the Rules for Discernment of Spirits given by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Fortunately for us, the Rules have been made very accessible by Fr. Timothy Gallagher OMV and a ministry called Discerning Hearts. Discerning Hearts (which has a website and an app) features detailed talks by Fr. Gallagher explaining the Rules in depth. When I first heard these talks, I could not believe that I had been living as a Christian for nearly 20 years and had never heard of this. They are so helpful that I think they should be considered part of a Christianity 101 course for new Catholics. In all seriousness, these rules are essential to the Christian life. I also recommend Fr. Scott Traynor’s talks, which can be found on Discerning Hearts, as well as on Formed.org.
What is your family's favorite Catholic tradition or celebration?
Our very favorite family tradition is attending Midnight Mass on Christmas. Our children love being woken up in the middle of the night to go see the baby Jesus. The Mass begins our festivity. We then go home to Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and presents, celebrating until the wee hours of the morning. It is the best. We also love to celebrate the liturgical year in simple, but meaningful ways. Throughout the year, we reserve most treats for special days, like Sundays, feast days, and Baptism anniversaries. We read about our special saints on their feast days and visit the cemetery for All Souls’ Day. We attend the Triduum services each evening and then rejoice together as we go to Mass and fly kites on Easter Sunday. Our faith is full of beautiful traditions. We do what we can to pass them along to our children.
What are some of your DOs and DON'Ts when it comes to technology and media?
I am very conscientious of how formative media can be to young minds and hearts. Our family rule is that children are not allowed to use any screen without permission. We permit only shows and/or movies that at least one parent has already watched, unless it is recommended by a highly trusted source.
Can you share a word of wisdom that has been particularly beneficial to you in your Catholic family life?
The word of wisdom that has been most been beneficial to me is this: “The most practical thing you can do in any situation is to pray” (Fr. Scott Traynor). I am limited in my abilities, knowledge, and wisdom. In my humanity, I am limited even in my love for my spouse and children. God is not. He can do all things, and He desires that we would share in His own blessed life (CCC 1). This is why He created us! Prayer is effective in bringing about His grace in our lives. What more do we need?