Families: Being a Sign to the World is to Be Practical

From Cartoonstock.com
When my wife and I were preparing for marriage we were, fortunately, spared from the usual marriage preparation course. Allow my one complaint before I continue: Many marriage preparation courses, even when solid, have a proclivity to being directed by married couples who have made serious mistakes in life. For instance, marriage preparation often will have couples who lived together before marriage moderate discussions. "Don't do what we did," or, "Yeah, we regret doing that," replace what should be an opportunity for battle-tested husbands and wives teaching the reality of marriage. While there may be a place for couples who have made serious past mistakes to teach those preparing for marriage, I believe they should not be the exclusive teachers. "Do what I say, not what I did," does not actually prepare a couple for marriage the way something like the following would: "It was a challenge following the right path, but here are some important things we learned along the way which should help you..."

And so, while preparing for marriage one of the tasks my wife and I engaged in, pardon the pun, was to read Familiaris Consortio by Pope St. John Paul II. I cannot remember much from reading it. Probably I was too smitten with my future wife to pay attention. That or the document is rather lengthy. However, one aspect has always stuck with me from reading this great work: That the family is to participate in the mission of the Church and be a sign of hope for the world. "For it is He who, by virtue of the fact that marriage of baptized persons has been raised to a sacrament, confers upon Christian married couples a special mission as apostles, sending them as workers into His vineyard, and, in a very special way, into this field of the family" (par. 71).

How can a family, particularly a Catholic family open to life, be a sign of hope to the world? How can you be the Gospel for people when you are completely fatigued from wiping noses, cleaning food off walls, and bribing two year olds with Smarties for using the potty? You cannot give what you do not first have, and I think many Catholic families struggle with day-to-day life. "Lord make me a channel of Your peace" is replaced with "Lord, if that kid spits on me one more time! I swear I'm gonna..." Survival is the name of the game. Yet even the perpetual "survival mode" must be thought through, otherwise life is just chaos. In other words, even busy Catholic families, or should I say especially busy Catholic families, need to live practically and with common sense.

The speck in your eye/log in mine Gospel passage aside, permit me to offer some brief practical points for being a sign of hope for the world.

Silent prayer in the morning and at night.
There is nothing more practical than to tune into God-FM as often as you can. Having kids does not mean one can simply say: "Well, I guess I will pray again once the kids are out of the house... in twenty years." As sure as gardens need rain and momma needs coffee, the soul needs silent prayer. How much more so do parents? It is possible to get this much needed prayer in, though it may take some training. It is important to wake up before the children do. But even if the kids get up with you, or before you, all is not lost (“What’s this?” the two year old mumbles in her head. “Mom has momentarily left me alone in this nice warm bed… ALONE! I must cry savagely for help!”). It is possible to have children stay quiet in the morning. Older kids can pray and read. Younger kids can look at a book, or play with a quiet toy. People sleep train kids. They day-care train them to handle day after day in the care of others. I say, why not prayer-train them? Not every day will be perfect, just as not every day in prayer is an overwhelming success. But it can be done, and by God’s grace, done well. Only by silent mental prayer (in addition to family vocal prayer) can a family fulfill its mission to the world.

Keep an eye on your kids, for heaven’s sake!
We need not have kids on a leash, though surely that would help sometimes… with shock collars too. Yet we also need not leave our kids in public to do whatever they want. Children running around misbehaving (e.g. ripping a place apart) has a very negative impact on how families are perceived. You could be the second coming of the Martin family, yet if your kids are tearing down the lobby of the hockey rink then there are problems at hand. When attending events, be it an after-Mass coffee social, or swimming lessons, it is the responsibility of the parents to go check on their kids once in a while. Is this not just common sense? You would be surprised how often I see otherwise. There is no need to be overbearing, but there is a need to be a prudent parent. Check on the kids. Are they playing right? Who made that mess over there? Why is your son hiding under the table with a plate of cookies? Whose idea was it to build a tower of Babel out of stacked chairs? Indeed, families, especially Catholic families, need to do the world a favour by checking in on their kids in public settings.

Watch how you talk to your children in public.
Some parents will never contradict their children in public. As the saying goes, kids aren’t stupid. They will take advantage in these situations. Other parents make a point of being the boss and will loudly berate their children in front of the public. Both methods are unreasonable, and put others in awkward positions. It is unpleasant to hear a dad put on an Incredible Hulk impersonation over a child making a small mistake. Be kind. Be firm. Sometimes you need to leave places early. That is ok. Again, be prudent. And know that others are watching.

Show up on time.
Easier said than done. Period. There is nothing more heart-warming than rushing out the door to an event before realizing… the smell. Yes, a diaper needs changing, and you are now officially going to be late. Really though, being on time can be accomplished. Most of the time. Work at leaving earlier. It will eventually become a habit. Perhaps most importantly too, it will teach your children to do so when they are older as well. Do not frustrate others by showing up late when it is avoidable.

From learnenglish.britishcouncil.org

Other examples abound, though ultimately the main idea is that families need to carry themselves publicly in a proper and practical manner, and silent prayer is required for this mission. Being a sign to the world is to be practical too. In God all things are possible.


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