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Ever see a highway construction sign that reads, “Slow down! My daddy works here!”? It is just one of many reminders that each person is part of a particular family. Each of us comes from a mother, a father, an extended family, an ethnic group, and a parade of ancestors. Perhaps one of the most refreshing reminders of our deepest connections is a television show about family history (and even conversions of a sort) called, “Who Do You Think You Are?” sponsored by ancestry.com.
But how do we build on these family connections when we reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ? Whether you are involved in direct service to parent and child families, to couples seeking marriage, to fragments of grieving families, or whether you are just concerned about your loved ones, here are some important pastoral foundations, along with suggestion s for how to bring them into focus.
- God is present to families, not just to individuals. God intervenes in daily life. Jesus is meant to be the central person in the Christian family, and as we welcome Jesus together, there is new strength and a greater capacity for love. So our goal is to watch for God's presence and invite families to do the same. Towards this end, we can highlight tangible help from Jesus in real-life difficulties, through brief peer witnesses during parent sacramental meetings, potluck meals, wakes, and parish gatherings.
- Baptism ushers us into the spiritual dimension of family life. We can refer to this sacrament as a powerhouse for inner strength and as a foundation for experiencing interpersonal graces. Our goal is to point out the new life that God has already given, and will continue to give. Towards this end, we can incorporate the prayerful use of ordinary symbols like water, candles, and bread. We can help people pray with family photos, asking them to reflect on God's unfolding presence behind the scenes. We can share faith stories associated with family baptisms, First Communions, confirmations, marriages.
- Families approach the church for social rites of passage – marriage, birth, death, and childhood milestones. These are natural times to rethink a family's spiritual history and to connect with extended family. We can promote questioning, interviews, and sharing about a great-grandparent, uncle, spouse, or cousin who has been a model of faith. Ask, “Why is this person inspiring for me? What does his/her life say to me?” Perhaps a family member could create a video about a family ‘saint,’ or a family's relationship with a parish.
- Families are in a state of flux as they incorporate media preferences into their patterns of communication. Our goal is to assist families in human and spiritual networking in a wide variety of settings: email, texting, twitter, social networking websites, greeting cards, and even letter-writing. For example, in my family, it is not uncommon for a person to end a Facebook entry about a serious illness with a prayer. Then a few of us continue the prayer with just a few words like, “Yes, Jesus, take away Ellen's fears and help the doctor know what to do next.”
Therese Boucher, of the Diocese of Trenton, is a leader in catechetics and evagelization, especially in ministering to families and training other leaders. With her husband John, she teaches the PETI course, Keys to Reaching Inactive Catholics.
- Encourage family members to pray for each other and for the family as a whole. St. Paul prays, “I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name… and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:14-15, 17). For more about sharing faith across the generations, visit www.featurethat.com/faithsharing.html