The Family: The first school of Discipleship

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A family prays after arriving for Sunday Mass in 2011 at St. Joseph Parish in Alexandria, Va. (Nancy Phelan Wiechec/CNS)

Third in a Series

It was not, of course, an ideal environment for growing in the faith, and it was probably a different environment than most of you face, but, whatever the circumstances, God provides what we need, if we make good use of what He has made available. Today, most of you who are parents face a secularized society, a culture that breathes air that is partially poisoned, and in some places deeply so. In these times, it is difficult to keep the sense of prayer and relationship to God and others foremost in your homes. But it is not impossible. As St. Paul says (Rom 8:31), “If God is for us, who can be against us?”.

I want to offer four steps to assist parents to make their homes true domestic churches, places where Jesus is honored and followed intentionally. Making these four components of the family schedule and movements of the heart will bless you unimaginably and build a legacy of true discipleship for future generations.

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

Reclaim Sunday as the Sabbath

“As Sunday goes, so goes the week.” From the very creation of the world and forever, God knows our tendency to work instead of enjoying sacred rest. In addition to assuring that your family celebrates Mass on the Sabbath — for us Christians this is Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection and first day of the week — seek to make Sunday one of prayer, family fun and enjoyable time with friends and neighbors.

Prayer, the Oxygen of Family Life

The family that prays together, stays together;” these words of Venerable Patrick Peyton are true. Prayer is the oxygen of the soul and of the Christian home. Dads and Moms, make the decision to bring prayer into the daily life of your family. This needs to begin with you. Couples who learn to pray together each day, and who live their marital embrace in fidelity to its true meaning — open to life and a mutual gift of self — experience a peace the world cannot give. The word “divorce,” much less the reality of it, never enters their home!

The family Rosary I most highly recommend. One of my most wonderful memories of childhood is of Mom and Dad praying the Rosary with us children, as we all knelt before their bedroom dresser adorned with symbolic artwork of the Faith. Other devotional practices can be built into daily life, too, such as prayer before meals, Advent wreathes, Stations of the Cross during Lent and visits to the Blessed Sacrament at church. Meditatively reading the Bible, reciting the Liturgy of the Hours or praying with a resource like “Magnificat” are also good ways to listen to the Lord and surrender to His Plans. What matters is beginning the day by opening our hearts to God.

EN ESPAÑOL: La Familia: Primera escuela del discipulado

The Daily Family Meal

A reputable study in the 1990s concluded that among all of the habits in families where children were “successful” in school and in other social endeavors, the daily family meal was number one. This has been replicated in other studies since. While correlation does not prove causation, it would be foolish to ignore the overwhelming evidence and compelling common sense here. Whatever sacrifices are necessary to make this happen, I strongly encourage you to find the way to share meals together as a family. Eating together encourages natural bonding. This is one of the reasons so many cultures have distinctive foods which bless not only the body, but also the heart and soul.

A family prays together before a meal in 2012 at their Chicago home. A family that chooses to watch TV or play with their smartphones rather than talk at the dinner table is “hardly a family,” Pope Francis said. (Karen Callaway/CNS via Chicago Catholic)

Increase together time; Decrease technology time

Any critique of a tool requires a qualification — tools are not, in themselves, evil. However, some tools, while technically neutral in a moral sense, are increasingly problematic. Obsession with technological screens is clearly the addiction of our times. In a recent interview, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive once in charge of user growth, strikingly says, “I feel tremendous guilt …. Consumer internet businesses want to figure out how to psychologically manipulate you as fast as possible and give you back that dopamine hit. [Dopamine is the brain chemical that indicates pleasure in the brain.] It literally is at a point now where we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. People need to hard brake from some of these tools.”

The precious and irreplaceable nature of family time makes it a primary target of the evil one. What to do about this is a serious question we must face as a society. Parents, you have the ability and the responsibility to train your children up in the understanding and proper use of tools, and more importantly in living a truly human and Christian life. I urge you to place limits on the use of screens in all their forms and to increase “together time” as a family. Build times of prayer, family fun and new traditions as alternatives. Parents who do so construct a legacy of beautiful memories from which their children and grandchildren will find strength and joy.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” says Joshua at a moment in time where Israel was considering unfaithfulness (Jos 24:15). Dads and Moms, you are the leaders of your own home, the first teacher of your children; God has given you the grace and mission to disciple your children in the footsteps of Jesus.