7 Great Ways to Practice Your Faith with Your Family
Living as a Catholic family extends beyond the four walls of your home parish. Far too many of us were raised with the rote routine of attending Mass as a family, then exiting the church and entering the world without Jesus at the fore of our conscious thoughts and efforts. Like many cradle Catholics, I was raised in this somewhat lukewarm environment. It wasn’t that my parents weren’t fervent and devout in their personal practice of the Faith; it was that we didn’t consistently express our devotion through family prayer outside of Mass.
If you desire a closer union with the Lord and for your family to share a deeper bond with each other, consider implementing (or at least trying out) some of the following spiritual practices in your home. It’s true that God’s grace strengthens us in times of trial, tribulation, and trouble. With the assault on the sanctity of marriage and the family in our modern culture, wouldn’t it be a welcome blessing to know that we are making a conscious effort to serve the Lord within our marriages and families? He will bless those efforts indeed.
Keep the Sabbath Holy
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” ~ Ex. 20:8
When I was a little girl in the 80s, practically nothing was open on Sundays. It was always assumed that people spent Sundays for unwinding through worship, fun and fellowship with friends and family, and rest. On a recent Sunday, I was leisurely strolling through our local park with our dog, Lily, and I noticed how many people were out in their yards – mowing, weeding, cleaning, sweeping, and tidying up the garage. My heart sinks as I realize that Sundays are “just another day” to most of us, probably because Saturdays are an extension of our work weeks and sports practices.
Why not resolve to keep the Sabbath holy as a family? Do you know the rewards you will reap from this discipline? Ben and I sat down about a year ago and discussed the ways we were not honoring the Sabbath. For every family, it will be different. You have to discern through prayer and conversation with a spouse and/or spiritual director about your specific situation. For example, nurses and pharmacists have to work shifts on Sundays. That’s not breaking the Sabbath.
But is it really necessary to spend Sunday working, cleaning, running errands, or even shopping when we could arrange to do these things another time? For the most part, set aside Sundays – the whole day – for going to Mass, enjoying a meal with your family, and taking a nap. Spend some quiet time reading or reflecting. You will start your work week refreshed, and your family will grow stronger.
Observe the Litrugical Calendar
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” ~ Lk. 23:42
“O Happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” ~ Exultet from Paschal Proclamation
I love celebrating the changing seasons. When I was a child, my mom ostentatiously decorated for every sacred and secular holiday, beginning with New Year’s Day. We put up valentines in February, shamrocks in March, Easter eggs in April, flags in July, and so on. Celebrating was part and parcel of family life for me.
And as I grew older, I came to appreciate more deeply the value of accessing all of my senses during the very holy liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent. When I’d read the Exultet, I’d rejoice in my weaknesses because of God’s mercy. I’d find myself humming the verse from Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” These are basic segments from our Faith that somehow come alive in me each time I am more intentional in celebrating the liturgical calendar.
Today, as a mom of young girls, I see how festivity can be combined with prayer through Advent wreaths, sacrifice jars or beads, prayer chains, adopting a Christmas family, and putting up simple decorations before the actual feast commences.
Depending on the ages of your children, get creative and prepare before Advent begins this year. Select 3-6 activities you can do as a family that will be both fun and meaningful. Do this again for Lent.
Pray Together Every Evening
“The family that prays together stays together.” ~ Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.
Everyone’s heard Fr. Peyton’s famous quote, “The family that prays together stays together.” St. John Paul II often repeated it, and it’s been displayed on billboards throughout the country. As clichéd as the saying’s become, it rings true. We need to ask ourselves, Do we pray together as a family? This means more than just prayers before meals or attending Mass together.
Praying as a family can be as simple as gathering in the evening shortly before everyone is ready to retire for the day and offer spontaneous petitions or gratitude to God. It can be as formal as sharing a Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. You can come up with what works for you as a family, where you are in your state in life.
If you’re in the phase of toting everyone to and from sports or music practices, then pray in the car on the way home. Pop in a CD with an inspirational talk, maybe from Lighthouse Catholic Media or Catholic Answers. Then discuss it. There are many ways to pray. It’s mostly about making this a habit, that is, practicing communal prayer on a daily basis if possible.
Create a Sacred Space in the Home
“Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends.” ~ St. Alphonsus Liguori
Our family recently made a major move from a little rural Mayberry town to a larger metropolitan area. Once we were somewhat settled, I resolved to set aside a particular part of our new home for prayer, quiet reading, and reflection. It became a wall in our living room that dons icons and framed images of our favorite saints, chief among them the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We have a holy water font with the image of the Immaculate Conception on it right underneath this mélange of pictures.
Ben and I found ourselves walking past this little space each day and pausing, however briefly, for a quick blessing with holy water and prayer. I started blessing the girls each morning, too, and then in the evening I encouraged them to spend a few moments before bed just telling Jesus about their day.
You’ll be amazed at how setting aside a small portion of your home will transform the atmosphere in the house and in your family!
Practice the Works of Mercy
“God’s love is never idle; for wherever it is it does great works.” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas
Once you start creating small, simple steps toward prayerful habits and attitudes in your marriage and family, you will notice that one or more of you feels a nudge of sorts to “do more.” What is this restlessness to do more? It’s usually a call from the Holy Spirit to works of mercy.
As a family, you can sit down and discuss together what ideas might fit in with your particular lifestyle, means, and particular mission as a family. Are you drawn to assuage the suffering of the poor? Do you long to rescue abused animals? Foster children? Participate in a city clean-up? Whatever it is, do it as a family.
I’ll never forget growing up in a home where my parents so generously responded to the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. As president of our parish’s chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, my dad often took my brother and me on calls to people’s homes, delivering meals or groceries or a check to cover their rent. We saw the suffering poor, and we knew ways we could help them. My father often invited some of these people to dine with us at Thanksgiving, particularly if they were lonely, widowed, or homeless.
It might seem outrageous, but those are the memories carved in my heart that have largely shaped why I care so much about alleviating other people’s suffering. Consider how similar gestures will impact your children one day, too.
Teach and Model the Seven Virtues
“All of us can attain to Christian virtue and holiness, no matter in what condition in life we live and no matter what our life work may be.” ~ St. Francis de Sales
As a mom, I’ve become fascinated with understanding and implementing the seven virtues (cardinal and theological) in our family. It all started with a desire to grow in holiness myself, particularly in humility, and when I learned that the theological virtues build upon one another from its foundation – charity – I knew there must be a way to foster these in our children.
I think the seven virtues can be taught in more basic ways for children. For example, patience, kindness, and respect can be incorporated into virtue education. Reinforcing the truth that patience is related to humility and fortitude or kindness is related to charity will become a natural way that your children will come to understand and actually live what they will learn through catechesis.
Above all, we have to model the virtues as best as we can as parents. For me, that’s the hardest part. But it’s immensely valuable and significant in my personal formation and the formation of my daughters’ souls.
Tithe to Church and Charities
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” ~ Mt. 6:21
The concept of tithing often makes people cringe, or at the very least become uncomfortable. We don’t like the idea of discussing or sharing our finances. It seems too personal, almost like discussing family planning. Indeed, our financial state is personal, because it is often a reflection of deeper habits – perhaps fear (fear of scarcity manifested in hoarding money) or selfishness (spending too much carelessly).
That’s probably why Jesus wanted to be involved with our finances – because everything ultimately belongs to Him. Start by taking a personal inventory of what comes in and what goes out of your account. You can start small with tithing, but what really matters is that you give something and do so consistently.
My parents taught my brother and me about tithing through our weekly allowances when we were in grade school. A portion of what we earned was to be given to our charity of choice. It could be in the collection basket at church or a charitable cause that we cared about, or maybe a combination of both. The point is that we gave something. And that’s what matters most.
I think we need to strive to be like the simple widow who gave two small coins – all she had – rather than the Pharisee or scribe who lavishly displays the riches he donates. God wants what is in our hearts, whether it is a large or small contribution. Giving should stretch us and should hurt a bit; otherwise, it isn’t truly the gift of the widow.