Four years ago, the cluster of parishes I served in St. Cloud celebrated a cluster mission around the theme, “The Gift That Is Our Family.” The title had an intentional double meaning: that each family is a gift from God to its members, and that each family is intended to be a gift to others as well. The family is a gift God gives us, and a gift we are to give to one another.
During the Year of St. Joseph and the Year of the Family in the Church, we are invited anew to live our families’ lives as stewards of the gifts we share in our homes, and evangelizers who share those gifts with others. Simply by being families, with all the joys and work and prayers and sometimes complications, we are living out our One In Christ ACC goals.
What routines and traditions do you remember about your family as a child? There are holiday customs, what you do on vacations and weekends, rules about chores and homework, what time to be home, how to get along with siblings and neighbors. There are favorite meals and things you learn to eat because “it’s good for you.” There are games and bedtimes and visits to relatives. And in different ways, there are customs of faith and prayer and knowing something about the love of God. Growing up on the north side of St. Cloud, I still vividly remember Da Vinci’s Last Supper that was on the wall by the kitchen table. The crucifix was over the doorway in the living room, and there was a smaller one in each bedroom.
A picture of Jesus as a child was in the hall, and the living room window was flanked by two shelves – one was a small statue of the Sacred Heart, the other of Mary. Flowers (well, plastic ones that never faded but had to be dusted) were always next to those statues, red for Jesus and blue for Mary. The manger scene was under each year’s Christmas tree, the Advent wreath was lit before supper, Stations prayed twice a week during Lent, or the day’s Scriptures read. The Rosary was prayed during May and October.
My parents did not present these signs of faith as something that needed an explanation or defense of their value – they were simply a part of our household. And even though for a child, the Rosary seemed to last several hours, I cannot thank them enough for making this part of our life together. It was, and remains, a gift.
Beyond these religious practices, we also learned about our gifts and talents, our limitations, the rules of courtesy and responsibility, forgiveness, loyalty … the list goes on and on of what simply being a family teaches us. Catholic faith recognizes the family is a “domestic Church,” a place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lived and handed on from generation to generation. Like the Church as a whole, each family has the mission to witness to the love of God and make it visible in the world.
Again, every family, with all of its routines as well as the unexpected joys and sorrows of life, becomes a key actor in the work of evangelization – sharing the Good News of God’s love and presence in the world. The family models the life of the Trinity: a communion of persons joined in love and life. Each family, just by being a family, is truly a gift from God to one another, and to the world. As the school year approaches and the dry, hot summer days are fleeting, take some minutes to thank those with whom you share family life, one by one, for who they are; pray for each and with one another, even if you are separated by miles and years across generations; and choose an act of charity to do on behalf of your family.
Even with all the struggles of our time, rejoice in what God is doing in our midst: The Gift That Is Our Family.