One of the most common questions we encounter in evangelization work is: “How can I bring up my children Catholic?” or “How can we strengthen our family’s faith?”
When my husband and I were married, we were determined to establish a Catholic household — a household in which the Catholic faith is seamlessly integrated into daily life. I’ve attempted to capture some of our guiding principles in this alphabetical list. What are your suggestions?
“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo
ADORATION – Adore God, individually and together.
We often ask God for favors, and forget to adore. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2096) Take time to lift your mind and heart to God, without asking anything. When you take this time, your children will notice! I remember often walking in on my mom during her prayer. Consider taking a trip to a local parish for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever you do, develop your relationship with God as an individual and as a family.
BIBLE – Incorporate the Bible into your home life.
Many adults have told me that they remember a large Bible in their grandparents’ home that was displayed in a place of honor…but never seemed to be read! Do keep your family Bible in a central location, but make sure to read from it. This is easier when you develop a habit and have time set aside to do so. My husband and I established a time to read Scripture together when we come home from work, before preparing dinner.
COLORS – Use liturgical colors to decorate.
This is a fun and easy way to remain united with the Church around the world. Is today a martyr’s day? Wear red! I like to use green place mats on our dining room table during Ordinary Time. These are simple things, but they are visible ways to bridge our time in church with our time at home. See the calendar with liturgical colors at the U.S. Bishops’ website.
DINE TOGETHER – Make meal time family time.
Sharing a meal together means sitting down at the table together, face-to-face. This helps naturally develop relationships among family members. Research has shown that your family will reap many benefits.
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE – Encourage family members to regularly examine their conscience.
Generally, we do so in silence for a few minutes, at the beginning of Night Prayer before bedtime. My husband will simply prompt, “Let’s pause for an examination of conscience.” Click here for one of my preferred examination methods.
FEAST DAYS – Celebrate feast days.
For example, on one of the apostles’ feast days we might make a special meal (pot roast with wine). You could also consider using special place settings for meals, having a dessert, or playing a game together.
GRACE – Say ‘grace’ before meals.
Speaking of meals, always pray before your meal! We like to thank God for our food and all involved in preparing it (farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.). We ask Him to help us remain grateful for what we have been given, and to help us to share our resources with others. Praying before meals helps cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in each family member.
HOLY FATHER – Love and pray for the Pope.
Keeping a picture of the Pope in your home as a reminder of his spiritual leadership, as well as a reminder to pray for him. Keeping a photo of the Pope in your home can also help educate children about your family’s unity with all Catholics under the “shepherding” of the Holy Father.
IMAGES / ICONS – Have sacred images or icons in your home.
We enjoy having Eastern Christian icons in our home, especially ones that have particular meaning to us: The Last Supper, the Wedding at Cana, the Holy Family, etc. Each one invites us to contemplate the subject matter. Christian / Catholic artwork in your home will help remind family members that our faith is important to us, and that it is beautiful!
JUSTICE – Discern how your family should live Catholic social teachings.
How much does your family know about the Church’s social teachings? My husband and I try to challenge ourselves to attend occasional presentations on topics like immigration, war, homelessness, etc. When we clean out our closets, we donate to St. Vincent de Paul instead of selling those items. We also contribute to charities that assist individuals in difficult situations. What can your family do? There are so many options, you can find a way that suits your family. Look into ministry or charity programs / activities in your area. Let prayer guide your decisions.
KNOWLEDGE – Grow in knowledge of Church teachings.
Our Faith has always encouraged individuals who seek to understand. Encourage one another to ask questions about Church teaching. Keep reference books in your home, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the YOUCat (youth catechism), subject-specific books, etc. Attend presentations together at your parish or diocese. Watch or listen to Catholic programming. One of the greatest lessons you can teach your children is having the humility to say, “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”
LOVE – Foster a loving environment in your home.
Learn to communicate lovingly with one another. If you need help, don’t be ashamed to seek out resources or counseling; communicating well with your family is your calling from God! Families reflect God (Love) to the world.
MASS – Attend Mass Together.
If it’s possible for your entire family to attend Mass together, do so. Mass is the most important ‘moment’ in our lives. Try to prepare by reading the Mass readings beforehand, so you can listen to them more prayerfully during Mass. Ask each other, “What struck you about the homily?” Stay a few minutes after Mass to thank God for this special time with him.
NATURE – Practice good stewardship of nature.
God has entrusted Creation to us. We need to practice good stewardship habits, like reducing our food / water waste, re-using materials, and recycling whatever we can.
OBEDIENCE – Practice healthy and holy obedience.
This is a doozie! Obedience is a ‘bad word’ in modern society, but in Scripture and our faith Tradition it’s a healthy virtue. Obedience is not to be mistaken for condoning abuse of power. Rather, it means that each family member has a specific role, and we maintain peace in our homes by honoring the natural structure of those roles. Family members with the most authority are responsible for loving as Christ loves. See a reflection on this by Father Chris Rengers, OFM.
PRAYER – Pray all ways. Pray always!
When and how can families pray together? Maybe we should ask: “When can we not pray together??” Use any opportunity to pray; all it takes is saying, “Can we take a moment to pray?” or, “Let’s offer this time (ex: stuck in traffic) as a prayer. Who can we pray for?” Learn the Guardian Angel prayer. Pray the three expressions of prayer: Vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
QUIET – Build quiet times into your family life.
Not all noise is bad. In fact, some noises are very good! But generally speaking, our society tends toward “productivity” and if we’re always busy, we will miss God’s “still, small voice” whispering to us. Our Catholic faith has a long history of appreciating silence, so let’s keep it alive in our family life. I know of families with small children that designate a few hours on Sunday as “unplugged” time: no electronics! Family members are encouraged to read, pray, take a walk, etc.
RECONCILIATION – Schedule times to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and reconcile with one another at home.
Confession can be scary, but it’s important that we make it a part of our lives. Adults can teach youth about the wonders of this sacrament by making it a priority and a regular habit. Go to the church as a family. Encourage (but do not force) children to participate in this sacrament. Demonstrate God’s mercy at home: When husband and wife have a conflict, work to reconcile as soon as possible. Teach children to apologize. Don’t be afraid of apologizing to children when you’re out of line; modeling humility and love is crucial. “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2223)
SACRAMENTALS – Use sacramentals.
Sacramentals are small signs and instruments of grace, like a blessed Rosary, Holy Water, blessed Holy Medal, or Blessed Salt. My husband and I started a ritual in which we bless each other with Holy Water every morning before heading out the door, and every evening before bedtime. We also have many other sacramentals that help us remain close to our faith during prayer, in times of difficulty, or in everyday life.
TITHE – Give to the Church and charity before everything else.
Tithing is a Biblical practice based in ancient Jewish life that continues in Christian life. Traditionally, tithing is giving 10 percent of one’s income to God. This requires prayerful discernment for each family. For us, that 10 percent equals 1 percent to our Archbishop’s annual appeal, 5 percent to our parish, and 4 percent to other charitable causes. Tithing may seem challenging at first, but we have found it to be a freeing practice. It keeps us accountable to contributing to our community’s well-being, and reminds us of the proper ordering of our priorities.
UNION – Live as members of the Communion of Saints.
Keep pictures of the saints in your home. We have them all over; the refrigerator, living room, bedroom. They are family members, role models, and prayer intercessors for us. Read the lives of the Saints with your children, and talk about your favorite saints. Ask the saints for their prayers.
VIRGIN MARY – Practice devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
Jesus entrusted Mary to Saint John, the “beloved disciple.” She is the Mother of Christ and our spiritual mother. Have a special picture of Mary in your home. Teach children the Rosary prayers, and pray together. Perhaps they would like to learn the Angelus prayer, or the Salve Regina – like this little boy!
WHIMSY – Enjoy life!
Pope Francis and many of the saints have reminded us to live joyfully as Christ’s followers. Sing, dance, play, laugh, tell stories… enjoy the good things of life in moderation.
CRUCIFIX – Have a Crucifix in your home.
Saint Paul spoke on the importance of preaching Christ crucified, and Catholic tradition has long used the crucifix to remind us of God’s love. The crucifix is a powerful sacramental that, when honored and matched with a Christian life, can help our family fight temptation.
YES, LORD – Encourage each member of the family to live their vocation.
Introduce your children to priests, religious sisters, nuns, brothers, consecrated people, and other families. Share a meal with them. Help children understand that God calls each of us to a certain life; the life for which we’re best suited. During family prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help each family member discover and “say yes” to this calling.
ZEAL – Demonstrate authentic enthusiasm for your faith.
Zeal is not “nice feelings” or “warm fuzzies” about being Catholic. It’s the fire that burns within us; the Holy Spirit’s work, that drives us to live as Catholics no matter what situation we find ourselves in. How can we live this in family life? Discuss what you appreciate most about our Faith, or what motivates you to do what’s right. When you make a decision, explain to children how our Catholic faith has affected your decision. Tell them why you are glad to be Catholic, even when you don’t “feel” excited. Children (and adults!) need to learn that our experience as Catholics will include times of strong emotions and other, more challenging times; but we maintain a zeal for faith thanks to our relationship with the Holy Spirit.