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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.untitled-42
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.

Presence

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.
FFD-45I 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.

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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, FFD-44-2and 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.
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How to Bind Your Family to Heaven Without Using Duct Tape

 

You think I’m kidding?

Sometimes as a parent you look back with regret at a childhood gone by because you finally understand how deeply some poor choices you made affected your child, but it is too late to change it. You try to do better, only to realize that as the child enters young adulthood the more you try to hang on, the more you have to let go, and all your trembling in fear at what lays ahead in the Big Bad World doesn’t stop time. You know said child is at a point in life where the only way said child will learn some lessons – some really tough lessons – is to let said child experience the natural consequences of said child’s choices for said child’s self. What do you do?

Ground her until she’s 30? Sit on her? Duct tape her butt to the sofa until she listens?

You think I’m kidding? Wait until you’ve got a fearless young adult staring at you blankly as you lecture mightily, only to tap her foot until you’re finished and walk away with a shrug because you’re so freaky and boring, and can’t just just be a normal person and chit-chat about fun stuff. I’ve come to regard this exasperation as the “painting-the-porch-while-the-house-is-burning” syndrome. How do you have pretty small talk when she’s about to burn her life away? Ah, but I digress.

During a particularly difficult time in our family, the advice in the self-help book Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager wasn’t really working for us, and I wanted to pray more. I also wanted a way to teach our smaller children about the prayers of the Rosary. I was having difficulty completing the whole prayer each day (“said child” stuff), and to make it worse, trying to weave “Stop hitting your sister!” in between Hail Mary’s was causing my prayers to sound more like screeching. Then one day, like a little flower from Heaven, I found a prayer card in my bag after I made a purchase at a Catholic gift shop. It was the following devotion, and I showed it to my husband. Take a look, particularly the fifth grace.

 

Devotion to the Drops of Blood

Lost by our Lord Jesus Christ
on His Way to Calvary

St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, with St. Matilda and St. Bridget, wishing to know something of the Passion of Jesus Christ, offered fervent and special prayers, upon which Our Lord revealed to them:

To all the faithful who shall recite for 3 years, each day, 2 “Our Fathers”, 2 “Hail Marys” and 2 “Glory Bes”, in honor of the drops of Blood I lost, I will concede the following 5 graces:

1st – The plenary indulgence and remittance of your sins.
2nd – You will be free from the pains of Purgatory.
3rd – If you die before completing the said 3 years, for you it will be the same as if you had completed them.
4th – It will be upon your death the same as if you had shed all your blood for the Holy Faith.
5th – I will descend from Heaven to take your soul and that of your relatives, until the fourth generation.

Blessed by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII in Rome, April 5, 1890.

Please keep this prayer card with others that you say daily to remind you to recite these prayers.
Please record the date you started:

____/____/____
Mo   Day  Year

 

If you search around the internet for this devotion you will find some controversy about it. Traditional websites feature it, other websites question the veracity of the promises since it is a private revelation. Here I was, a convert mom trying, learning, and loving all the things Catholic, the unity, the One-Body, and I had no idea that there was discord among traditionalists and liberals. To a newcomer it looks about as smart as slapping your own face with your own hand. Anyway, I just knew that Catholics are supposed to be one family, and likewise my own family needed to be whole too. I asked my husband (a cradle-Catholic) about it and he answered with his typical manly wisdom.

“Just pray, honey.”

Together we began the devotion on July 7, 2009, and we told the children that we are praying for our family to always be together, and I explained about the devotion’s meaning and history. Now, I don’t fully understand what indulgences are; I can’t fully grasp what Purgatory will be; I won’t ever figure out how it’s possible for four generations of my family to be bound to Heaven like that, but I trust that this prayer will bear many fruits. God’s perfect, loving and merciful will be done.

Guess what? We have already been blessed because our family has developed a habit of prayer for the salvation of souls and we will continue it even after the three year mark, July 7, 2012. In fact, any time I feel anxious about my children, or any brother or sister in Christ, I take a few minutes to say an extra set of these six prayers. Sometimes I pray them throughout the day. I pray for Christian unity.

Further, three years is a significant portion of a small child’s life, and hopefully this firmly formed family habit will carry into our children’s adulthood. Conceivably it could carry on into the next four generations, and even beyond. Christians are people of faith, hope, and prayer. We don’t need to have all the answers; we need to pray, trust, love, and keep on working hard every day even if life seems difficult. There is an intense peace in that. In the interim “said child” has also matured into a pretty cool young adult who is just amazed at how much wiser Mom has gotten in only three years – and I don’t even consider using duct tape to get her to listen now.

Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. Matthew 18:18