I was reviewing the subtitle of this blog, “Thoughts from the heart on the new evangelization.” Something that I tend to take for granted, since it has been a part of our life for years, is the evangelizing power of a thoroughly Catholic, Christ-centered home. Through such a home, we not only remind ourselves in a thousand ways who we are and what our lives are about: we also evangelize our children, their friends, our relatives, and our friends. That one’s family is a committed Christian family should be obvious to anyone who spends even a small amount of time with us..
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses exhorts the Israelites to cling to their identity as the people of the covenant, and to teach their children to do likewise. He knew that the people of Israel would be surrounded by pagan nations, filled with idolatry and with abominable practices such as child sacrifice and ritual prostitution, and Moses knew the danger of adopting pagan ways. In order to retain their identity and their fidelity to the Lord, Israel developed a way of life that was imbued at every level with the worship of God and faithfulness to the Torah (a lifestyle we still see today among, for example, Hasidic Jews).
Catholics and other Christians live in a similar atmosphere today: the secular culture of death makes war on Christian beliefs and values at every level. It invades our homes and minds through much of the content of the Internet and popular music and movies, and most prime time TV programming. Any child educated in the public school system – as well as in many “Catholic” schools – is relentlessly evangelized with the gospel of political correctness from pre-school on. Long gone are the years when one could count on a Catholic school education, weekly Mass attendance, an occasional family rosary, and parish picnics to ensure one’s children would grow up committed Catholics; I doubt if such a situation ever existed.
So Moses’ exhortation applies just as surely to us as to the Israelites to whom he spoke:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut 6:4-9)
I offer the following as ways my wife and I have found helpful for building a thoroughly Catholic home atmosphere. First, have religious art in every room – not to make your home an art museum, but to convey visually that every space in your home is dedicated to the Lord. Let the art be truly beautiful – so that your family and your guests associate God, the Author of beauty, with beautiful objects. This doesn’t have to be expensive: my wife bought a lovely rendition of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for about $5 at a rummage sale. Besides the religious art, have a corner of a room, or if possible, an entire room of your home set aside for prayer. We have an antique crucifix with the abovementioned picture of Our Lady, with a candle on a stand, in one corner of our living room.
Second, make family prayer a habit. Regularly say grace before meals. Every morning, in some way pray with any available family members: to consecrate the family to the Lord, offer the day to the Lord, and ask for protection and guidance. Every night, gather the family for brief prayers: ours have been very simple, consisting of at least one thanksgiving and one prayer request per family member; other families say a decade of the Rosary, an entire Rosary, or read Scripture, for example. Finish up family prayer by signing each other’s foreheads with the Cross and saying a brief blessing (“God bless Michael”, for example.) Start longer family trips with a Rosary. If a family member is sick or having a tough time, pray with him/her briefly for healing or comfort, with your hand on his/her head or shoulder. Pray briefly with and bless your spouse just before going to sleep – spontaneously or with some memorized prayer. Have a regular prayer time yourself: at least 10 minutes a day, but a half hour or more is even better. Scripture is an essential part of that prayer time, and, if desired, a devotional meditation and some journaling.
Third, bless the house as a family on a regular basis – weekly worked well for us as our son was growing up. Walk through and consecrate each room to the Lord’s glory; ask the Lord to cleanse the house of anything not of Him, using holy water; ask the Lord to fill the home with His angels and Holy Spirit; ask Mary and Joseph’s prayers to make your home and your family holy. My wife and I have also found it to be invaluable to pray at length on a weekly basis for our marriage, family, relatives, and all those that the Lord puts on our hearts, as well as to thank and praise Him for our many blessings. It is a wonderful experience of spousal intimacy and of God’s goodness.
Fourth, talk about and practice the seasons of the Church year, as well as Sunday. Keep the Sabbath: avoid using Sunday as catchup day. Within reason, keep it free of work and make it a day for worship and family recreation. Talk about what you might give up or do extra for Lent, and why. Go to the special Triduum services – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, if the children are old enough. Use the Advent Wreath for nightly prayer. Midnight Mass, with post-toddler children, can be wonderful for conveying the beauty, peace, and special quality of Christmas. Have special family traditions for Sunday, feastdays, and holy seasons.
Fifth, strive to make your home a place of hospitality and peaceful joy. Make it open to friends or acquaintances who are in transition and need a place to stay. (The several times we’ve had longer-term guests have been a great blessing.) Teach and practice the value of having quiet times and time alone. Avoid the frantic pace that disrupts many families, ricocheting from one sports, school, social, or even church activity to another. In your relationships with each other as family, be truthful, courteous, slow to anger, quick to forgive, quick to apologize (I end up doing a lot of that!), and unashamed to express your love for and delight in each other.
As Moses exhorts, make praying to, loving like, and speaking about God as common and natural as breathing: not wedged in, but flowing into and out of everything you do. “Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do in in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him.” (Col 3:17) Let your home and family life be an unmistakable testimony that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) It won’t be perfect, of course, but it will be very, very good.