My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we continue our reflection on family life, coinciding with the Synod of the Family, the definition of family is probably most important for us to understand. Pope Francis recently said, “There is no future without children.”
In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II said, “When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God, ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.’”
Spouses becoming parents presents new challenges for married life. The shared responsibility for child rearing today is much different than it was in the past. Thank God that our culture has changed so that both mothers and fathers take responsibility for the care and rearing of their children.
I have two nieces and one nephew who are married, and between them there are nine children. Both of my nieces have a set of twins, one boy and one girl each. So I have been able to observe the development of these children having baptized my own five nieces and nephews and now these nine great-nieces and nephews.
Not only have I seen the challenges of family life but also the growth and love between the spouses and the bringing up of their own children. When we get together for family celebrations, it certainly is a lively gathering when nine children all under the age of 11, with the youngest being 1. There is a constant swirling of activity, but it all creates a happy atmosphere as it should in a family.
Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy the blessing of children. There are couples who struggle with the ability to conceive. And there are others who for some considerations desire not to have children, which can be for some against the very nature of marriage.
Family life is one that demands change for the spouses who initially only have each other with whom to be concerned. When children enter the family, the circle of love must open. The maintenance of their concern primarily should be for one another because when spouses maintain each other as their primary partner, then life and the focus of rearing their children seems to come much more easily.
Family life today entails a great responsibility for the religious education of the children. Since Catholic schools are out of reach for many and unavailable for some, more emphasis on the family communicating the faith is necessary. This begins in simple ways such as teaching children to say grace at meals, family prayer and, most especially, family attendance at the Sunday Eucharist, which are the best ways to begin religious education for children. Of course, a formal religious education is also necessary, and participation in the sacramental programs by parents for their children is also a basic requirement today. Truly, as St. John Paul II said in his Letter to Families, “Religious education and the catechesis of children makes the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church.”
Another area that is of concern in today’s world is multi-generational responsibilities that families carry today. As we are living longer, children become the caregivers for their elderly parents. While at the same time, sometimes elderly parents and grandparents help in the rearing and caring of their children. Naturally, this has occurred in the past; however, the geographical distances now between families sometimes makes this impossible. How the intergenerational rearing can be strengthened is the challenge before us today.
A new Catholic organization known as the Catholic Grandparents Association has been established in our own diocese. Deacon Armand D’Accordo, a grandfather himself, is the local coordinator of this most recent affiliation with the international Catholic Grandparents Association (catholicgrandparentsassocation.org). Hopefully, this organization will develop in Brooklyn and Queens giving grandparents a way to support themselves in the communication of the faith to their grandchildren.
Often it is the grandparents who somehow inherit the responsibility for communicating the faith to their grandchildren. It is always a concern today that the care of the elderly, as well as the care of the children, be our balanced concern and also serves as an indicator of the stability of our family life. Many families today juggle these numerous responsibilities. Remember, however, an old story told about the family who took in an elderly grandfather who, unfortunately, became more debilitated as the years went on and was unable to drink without constantly smashing the ceramic cup into pieces. The father of the family carved a wooden cup for his father so that the cup would not break; however, it was very difficult to keep clean. One day, the grandfather died, and the youngest grandson of about 6 years of age rescued the cup. When his father asked why he was keeping the old, dirty cup, the young boy replied, “I am keeping it for you when you get old.” It is a lesson for the way that we treat our own parents will be returned to us some day because example seems to be the most enduring teacher.
As the Synod in Rome tries to help us to understand how we can strengthen family life, we need to look into our own families where we truly put out into the deep understanding of what family life is about. Love and sacrifice are the essential elements that family life requires. Keep praying for our families that they will develop the needed virtues that will make our families strong and, as a consequence, strengthen our Church and Nation.