My wife and I are the only members of our family to have moved away from our hometown, the rest of our siblings chose to make their home fairly close to our parents, but we moved a mere three hours west to a smaller city. So for the last 27 years we have raised our family and become a part of the community in Central Texas. We were always the ones who drove in from out of town to be with family during the holidays, and we felt bad, from time to time, asking our family to come visit us to attend our children’s birthday parties, recitals, musicals, first communion and confirmations, but we all knew that even though there were a few hours between us it was important to continue to be a part of each other’s lives. Family is important, when we only had one child, I had the opportunity to move across the country for a job, we seriously considered it, but ultimately we decided that we didn’t want to be that far away from our extended family.
We have never regretted that decision. Only a few years after we decided not to move, my mother passed away at the relatively young age of 54. She was admitted to the hospital complaining of back pain and the cause of her pain was determined to be complications from undiagnosed stage 4 breast cancer. She passed away within a week of the diagnosis and my wife and I and our young children got to see her shortly after she was admitted and diagnosed with cancer and all of us, minus the young children, were able to be at her side praying the rosary when she passed away. Despite living 3 hours away, we always took every opportunity to get together with our extended family. My mother would drive up to see us if we needed a babysitter, as long as as we gave her at least a few hours notice. We have lots of home videos of my parents and my in-laws on family vacations, at all those special family events both in our city as well as theirs.
I have often pondered what it is about extended family relationships that makes them so important. There is something about getting to know your relatives and even deceased ancestors that helps you to go beyond yourself and see your life from a new perspective. Knowing your family history allows you to know yourself better, it gives you a sense of belonging, an identity bigger than just yourself. Let me provide an example, my Mom and Dad did quite a bit of genealogy work prior to my Mother’s untimely death in 1999, and it literally saved their marriage. I will never know all the details and I doubt that either of my parents could put it into words, but I suspect that by researching the lives of their ancestors and hearing stories about them from older relatives who had not yet died, they were inspired by stories of those who caused them to come into existence.
Strong relationships with extended family members can be difficult, but also very rewarding. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. God chose them for you, for your salvation. Perhaps you have moved far away from your family members, what can you do? Ultimately it is all about priorities, when you are planning out your holidays, do you plan vacations around spending time with extended family? Do you keep in contact with your parents, brothers and sisters on a regular basis? Do you call just to see what is happening in their lives? Even though many people live far from their extended family, technology has made it easier to keep in touch, video calling is available to most anyone reading this post, social media helps you to share videos, photos and short tidbits about your life with family who may be across the country or the world. If you can’t be there in person, use your imagination and come up with ways that you can stay involved in the lives of your nieces, nephews and grandparents. The hardest part of doing this is making the decision that these relationships are important enough to be a priority in your life amongst the many activities and general business of family life.
This has been a rough year for our family and now during this time we find ourselves again facing the reality of losing another parent. Because we know the value of these relationships, we have chosen to uproot our family and temporarily live in the city of our relatives to be with them during my Father-in-Laws illness. We have had to make many sacrifices, it is not easy, but it is definitely the best gift we can give to our children and their grandparents. The opportunity to be present to one another and nourish those relationships we have built with our extended family is irreplaceable. These interactions with family members are more profoundly meaningful than any other interactions we can have in this life. These are the people God has given us to love and to cherish. Families are the design of God to pass on the knowledge of life, faith, and love.
“For the LORD sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. He who honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. He who reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys the LORD who brings comfort to his mother.” Sirach 3:2-7
For the last 4 years, my family and I have driven across the country (23 hours) to attend a week long family camp at Catholic Familyland near Steubenville Ohio. The question I initially asked myself is why and you may be wondering the same thing. As a Catholic Father, I want to raise my children to be strong in their faith, not only in head knowledge, but in a deep personal relationship with our Lord. To this end, we are very involved in our parish, are friends with many other good Catholic families and take every opportunity not only to meet the minimum requires of being Catholic (whatever that means), but also to integrate our faith into every aspect of our lives. Our faith is not something we do only on Sundays, but something that shapes our everyday lives. It is within this context that we decided that travelling to Ohio for a Catholic family camp was an important part of living out our Catholic faith within our family.
I had heard about Catholic Familyland (CFL) before, and I figured it was like Disneyland, but with a religious foundation, and it was pretty far away and probably was not worth the effort to make the trip out there. And besides, we already did a lot of Catholic stuff in Texas, we attended Fullness of Truth Conferences, we were part of a vibrant homeschool community with lots of interactions with other families. and we have a great parish, what could CFL have to offer us that we couldn’t find locally? We put the trip to Ohio on hold for a number of years and forgot about it until I saw a post on our homeschool email list. A mother in another city wrote an email to her homeschool group answering the question about how she survived public school and became such a strong Catholic. Her story of the transformation within her family and extended family at Catholic familyland was almost unbelievable. After reading her story I felt compelled to see this place for myself.
We signed up for the next Holy Family Fest at Catholic Familyland. The drive from Texas is about 23 hours, so we planned to make a few stop along the way. By the time we arrived at Catholic Familyland we had already been on the road for a few weeks in our RV. As we pulled into Holy Family Park, we were greeted by colorful balloons, young adults bearing gifts of candy for the kids and warm smiles. This greeting was not an anomaly, but the norm. Everyone we met was happy to be there, genuinely interested in meeting you and getting to know you and your family and sharing the week with you. The week was filled with spiritual activities such as daily Mass, inspirational talks, Adoration, communal prayers and second to none programs for the kids. There was also no shortage of non-religious actives such as softball, volleyball, basketball and tennis tournaments, family olympics, the St. John the Baptist water slide, nature hikes, horseback rides and swimming.
What struck me about the holy family fest was not so much the amenities or activities available, but the environment that the Apostolate for Family Consecration staff is able to create for those families who attend. When speaking to the staff and reading through the literature, I discovered one of the goals of creating Catholic Familyland was to create the perfect Catholic parish for attendees to experience and then take back to their own communities and begin to transform them one family at a time. It is not enough to talk about what a Catholic community, centered around your parish, should look like, you need to experience it. I like to refer to it as the integrated Catholic life. We work, we study, we participate in the life of the Church and there it is all integrated together into one life. At Catholic Familyland, every day at 3pm in the midst of the sports tournaments, the hiking, the bike riding and swimming, all activity stops for 10 minutes to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. All afternoon there are priests hearing confession amongst the hustle and bustle of the camp and it is just considered a normal activity. The conversations between people range from topics related to the spiritual life, to raising kids, to your best cooking recipes or what is going on with your favorite sports teams. For us, even though we haven’t had any friends from our community who have joined us in Ohio, we feel very much at home when we are there and so do our kids. It may not be heaven, but it is close, you see people from all walks of life, with all sorts of abilities and physical and mental limitations, but everyone is accepted and loved for who they are.
After our first year of attendance, we asked the kids if they wanted to come back next year, and everyone one of them, all nine, said yes. They even went as far as saying that if we can only take one trip each year, that they wanted it to be to Catholic Familyland in Ohio. Our second oldest even gave up her summer this year to volunteer on the Service Core. I don’t think the attraction was just the kids programs, or the sports, or the religious activities, I think it was the love they experienced. This year was a little different for my wife and I, our youngest is now 5 and is fairly independent, so we had more of an opportunity to visit with other adults and get to know some of them. In the past we met people and started conversations but rarely finished them or developed any lasting bonds, but this year we met and visited with lots of people including Shiela and her husband. We usually have no problem finding common interests with other families, but I must say I was a bit surprised to find out that Shiela and I were both bloggers with Catholic Sistas. It truly is a small Catholic world.
::See Shiela’s companion post here::
What is respect?
Respect is defined as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important” and also as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” While these two definitions may seem to be two ways of saying the same thing, I feel that the first definition keys in on respect being given to those who have earned it by their physical or mental abilities, while the second one focuses more on respect being due to people simply because of their dignity as a human being.
Many people find the first definition more palatable and withhold their respect for someone unless they admire them or see something that is good valuable and important in them. Respect within the family, and indeed within a Christian Culture, should be more closely identified with the second definition in which people are viewed as important and should be treated in an appropriate way. By virtue of each of us being created in the image and likeness of God, we have an inherent dignity and since we are adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty, we have an inherent greatness that is not diminished by what we can or cannot do. Respect is nothing something that is earned, it is something that should be given out of love for one another. The child who throws temper-tantrums and the elderly who have lost touch with reality should be shown the same respect as we show to the able minded and physically capable person whom we interact with professionally on a daily basis. The difference between the two is that when we show respect to the young or the elderly we are being selfless and cannot expect much in return for our kindness.
Within the Context of the Family
There is a lot of talk about respect these days; people demand it, and I would propose that far less give it or perhaps even know what it is. When you think of respect within your family you probably think about how you desire it from your teenagers. Respect is an essential ingredient of a holy family, and therefore each family member must seek to understand it, expect it, and give it. This can only be done by example. Words like the ones I am writing may help communicate the essence of respect to our children, but will fall on deaf ears if we do not provide a good example of respect. Showing respect is difficult, especially within our own home, which is where our children will learn the most about what it means to be respectful. We can be perfectly respectful to our boss (if we work outside the home), to our pastor, the policeman, our co-workers, our friends, but our children will not often see these interactions. What our children will see is how we treat our spouse, our elderly family members and most importantly how we treat them.
Here are a couple of tips and tricks that may help you as you seek to be a consistent example of respect within your home. Dr. Ray Guardeni provides some great advice when he suggests that parents compare the way they speak to their children to the way they speak to their boss at work. His point is, if you wouldn’t talk to your boss, pastor or someone you hold in high esteem that way, they you shouldn’t talk to your children that way either. The problem is that often we treat the people that we are closest to with less respect primarily because we know that it would take quite a bit for them to stop loving us. Often we use that unconditional love as an opportunity for us to take out our frustrations on them and it has to stop.
Another helpful trick is to remember that we, too, have many flaws that we have tried to repair for many years and yet still struggle. Reflecting on this, we should give our children a little leeway as they struggle with keeping their room clean, doing their homework and chores without being asked, being nice to their siblings and speaking respectfully to their parents. It may take a while for them to get each of these important habits fully formed and they may fall often on their path towards full maturity. Our children are a great tool that God has given us to help us on our path to holiness. They will help us be more patient, more forgiving, more humble and more respectful. Some of us require more work in some of these areas, so don’t be surprised if you pray for patience and have a child that helps you work on that virtue several times a day. In a word, be humble and hopefully this increase in humility will help us to be a little less harsh and more respectful when helping our children to become mature adults.
Go Forth and Teach Respect
Remember our goal, we are seeking to form a holy family and the foundation of our family is love and mutual respect. It is not enough to demand respect from our children, we must also give it to them freely. Our children are born as empty slates and through their experiences in life, they become a fully formed human being, an adult. During these formative years our children encounter many people from whom they will learn what is right and wrong, how to treat each other and how to love one another. It was not enough for God to write a book for us to learn these things, He chose to send us His only Son to personally teach us these things, and Jesus chose to continue to teach the world with human beings through his Church. Holy men and women who have gone before us and some of whom are still alive today continue to inspire us to love and respect one another in a truly profound, godly manner. In a way that many of us may not fathom, we as parents have the ability to be this profound teacher of our children by our good example, but the opposite also holds true. Have you ever met a disrespectful child and wondered where he or she learned to be so disrespectful? Then you met that child’s parents and you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt where it came from.
With perseverance, respect can be taught within your family and not only will you enjoy respect within your home, but you will also be a light to those who come into contact with members of your family and are treated respectfully. Our world needs more respect and watching the nightly news and talk shows is not where people will learn it, in fact, they will many times be instructed in how to be disrespectful. Our world needs examples of respect for all human life, those unborn, those living and those nearing the end of their lives. The work we do within our families has a profound effect on the world in which we live, St. Josemaria Escriva said, “these world crises are crises of saints“. St. John Paul II that “The future of the world and the Church passes through the family” Familiaris Consortio #75. This task of creating an atmosphere of respect within our family will reach further than the walls of our homes, it will go out into our neighborhoods, our Churches, our cities and throughout our country. The family is mighty and has the ability to change the world.