Raising a Holy Family
The importance of being engaged in family life is key to raising a holy family. Our goal as parents should be to raise saints, also known as holy people, that will one day make it to heaven. On a more practical/secular level, we want to raise children that make good moral decisions, make good grades, and lead successful lives. Like it or not, we as parents are the people who have the most influence over our children. No one can take the place of a child’s parents, even in cases where, through no fault of their own, one or more parent is no longer involved in a child’s life, the effects on that child are indisputable.
The task of raising well balanced, holy children is not complicated, but it does require a lot of hard work. Through prayer, play, and being engaged in the life of our children, we will be more successful, guaranteed. During one of our family retreats, Michael Gormley spoke eloquently about the importance and mechanics of family prayer, and I agree that personal and family prayer is an essential ingredient in raising saints. Family play is also a key component in this quest, but even if you pray all the time for your kids, lead them in a daily rosary, and play games with them from time to time, unless you really participate and engage in their lives, you will fail to reach your goal.
I asked a priest friend of mine who was recently a campus minister at a university what it was like after being an associate at a large urban parish. He said it was easy ministering to college students because it was simply a ministry of presence. If you knew this priest you would understand why he considered this an easy job. He is one of the most personable, friendly people I know. He really cares about everyone to which he ministers. He is laid back and has no problem giving a gratuitous amount of time to an individual. He truly lives in the present and doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about the future.
I was struck by this idea of a ministry of presence. I immediately thought about the advice we give to families about how to raise a holy family. Youth ministry and college ministry are just an extension of what should have already been started within the family. The family should be a place of prayer, a place of joy and a place of community. It is within this aspect of community that this ministry of presence falls. Our children are usually people that we created with the help of God, they are the most like us of anyone in the world. We should love them more than anyone else after God and our spouse. This is where our families model the love of God represented in the Holy Trinity.
This ministry of presence is simple to explain, but extremely difficult to actually do. If you want to know how to do it, watch a young child. They only care about being with you, if they are putting a puzzle together, they want you to watch them; if they are reading the same book for the 10th time, they don’t care, as long as you are reading it to them and giving your time to them. While it is easy to see this ministry of presence at work in our younger children, it really doesn’t change in our older children, they still desire our time and our interest. The difference is that they realize that they may be rejected if they ask for it. Little children trust you completely and they will ask for things without worrying about being told no. But teenagers and young adults know that rejection is a real possibility and so they tread lightly and if they perceive that you may reject their request for your presence, they may not take the risk.
Our teenagers and young adults are looking for acceptance, they are looking for mentors, they are looking for friendship. There is no one better to meet these needs than someone who has known them for their whole lives, who is made up of the same DNA, who looks similar, who has a similar worldview and loves them unconditionally. The challenge for us as parents is to make the time to be present to them when they need us. In our family this often results in less sleep due to early mornings with the little ones, and late nights with the older ones. It involves being interested in things that are not high on our list of interests, talking through decisions that would be easy for us but difficult for our children, and it involves giving of our precious time in a scandalously gratuitous way. Our time is valuable. Our sleep is valuable. Do we value our relationship with our children more than these? This doesn’t mean that we have to entertain every request for attention, but we may need to give until it hurts initially to build up a level of trust and prove that we really care about our children. Our children are a precious gift from God, one that cannot be replaced, they are entrusted to us for a short time, before we know it they will be on their own, giving generously to their spouse and to their children, hopefully we have given them a good example.
What are the main obstacles to being present to our children? Being too busy, even with good things like volunteerism or excessive work commitments, TV, Internet, Social Media, and keeping your kids too busy with outside activities that take them away from spending time with you and the family. We don’t always need to be busy; being too busy makes it hard to give your time to your children, because you have less time to give and when your children are too busy as well, your relationship suffers.