A friend just called me to ask for prayers for a sister who is having problems with her teenage son. We talked about many things including the challenge of being there as family members struggle through issues and challenges in today’s society. The fabric of our relationships stretch and strain to absorb so many challenges today—big and small! The good news of the Gospel is that being born into a family is being born into a community.
Particularly as Catholics we have an inescapable connection to community. Think about it: in Baptism we are given the gift of sanctifying grace. Through no merit of our own, God shares his very life with us, inviting us into communion with him. In other words, God shares his own self-giving love with us. In our day-to-day experience we learn from what we have received from God the art of self-giving—the art of inviting others into the embrace of our love. God himself teaches us how to live as a community of persons in our families.
Family is so important to God that he made sure that when the Savior of the World was born, he was born into a family that God himself had brought together: Mary and Joseph were his parents. Jesus didn’t just drop out of the sky one day and deliver the Sermon on the Mount! No, he was born into a family, a community. When he started his public ministry, Jesus gathered a group of disciples (see Mark 1:16 and following). The Church dates her “birthday” to the feast of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit to the community of men and women believers gathered in Jerusalem (see Acts 2:1-4). Family and community are part of the DNA of how God is and how God works.
Community life sounds great in theory. Even in the early Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles we read the glowing description: “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). But the author of the Acts goes on in a few short verses to narrate stories of a community beset by internal disputes among the leadership as well as members. If community is a great school of love, it is also a place of frustration, anger, petty rivalries, betrayal, and failure. People do not always live up to their end of the bargain. Community does not always “make sense”—at least not on a human level!
Sometimes when we talk about marriage and family, we get caught up not in the language of community and self-giving love, but in the language of contract and duty: by “who does what” and “who gets what.” In a family there is created a communion of persons where the members no longer say: “your freedom ends where my freedom begins…it’s either your way or my way,” but instead “we grow together in freedom, offering ourselves to each other through our togetherness, walking side by side in holiness.”
Here are five things your family can do to live as community:
- Celebrate your family. Families struggle with so many challenges today. Find reasons to bring at least some of your family members together for feasts, celebrations, picnics, or just a cup of coffee shared together.
- Forgive family members. Community has never been easy for Christians or for anybody. Yet community is our salvation. Learn to overlook, to hold your breath or walk away when angry or upset, and to find solutions that respond to the needs of everyone.
- Listen to family members. Despite the endless hours we spend on social media and talking on cell phones, so many feel alone or isolated. Something as simple as taking a moment to stop what you are doing and engage with a family member can bring greater peace and communion in your home. Wounded hearts blossom when they feel safe.
- Learn to laugh. Keep it light and see the humorous (or at least the hopeful) side even in something or someone that aggravates you with their decisions and actions. Everyone takes time to grow.
- Pray together and pray for one another. Perhaps gone are the days when your family would be willing to pray together in the same room, or maybe your family is scattered across the country or the world, but you can still pray for one another. Maybe you have only one other family member that would join you in prayer for something special your family needs. Pray together on the phone or via a webcam. Maybe there’s no one else who would pray with you. Even if you pray alone, remember to bring each member of your family into your heart when you pray. Then you will be praying together as you can. Prayer works wonders.
by Sr. Sean Mayer, FSP