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What does it mean to be an American Catholic in the 21st century? The American bishops have published the new, 637-page United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. No time to read it? Catechism for US is an appetizer and a companion to the new catechism. Each month, learn more about your faith—and how to live it.

CATECHISM for US

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Love and Respect in Family

by Gerard F. Baumbach

“I just wish we had more time together.”

Both adults and children may experience a sense of loss over time not spent with one another. In such moments, slogans that suggest easy solutions to securing “quality time” together quickly lose their appeal.

When my oldest child was two, he would patiently stand on a sofa cushion, eyes glued to the window, awaiting my return home from work. I remember watching him gleefully greet me as I approached the driveway. I can still see him peering out through a clear-paned window.

Who knows how long he had waited? Children often may be our most effective teachers of the virtue of patience. And perhaps children know, from within the experience of loving and trusting innocence, something profound about the mystery of God and the call to holiness in family life.

Time together of almost any type can support a spirit of living holiness for the Christian family. But this is not some distant type of holiness, limited to people who are “better than I.”

What, my family holy?

“Living into holiness” can include regular episodes of family challenges: from the simplicity of spilled milk to missed homework, from sibling teasing to objections to family curfews, from the predictable uncertainty of teen driving to worry about seriously ill family members.

Perhaps holiness emerges more from living through the realities of life than from longed-for but rarely found opportunities to “get away from it all.”

What is one thing the Catholic family should not forget? Each family needs “to remember that a family is holy not because it is perfect, but because God’s grace is at work in it” (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 376).

The grace of God that is present in family life comes alive through family hands and hearts and through family members’ unspoken daily sacrifices. All of this marks them as faithful witnesses of Christian living.

The family is the first place of community, the first place of love, the first place of suffering, the first place of forgiveness. In other words, it is the place where holiness can come alive and where relationships can thrive.

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Wedded holiness

“What, me holy? What, my marriage holy?”

The married partners, united as one in Christ, live each moment in a loving relationship that “shows” itself to their children, neighbors, extended family members and strangers. Such couples carry within their hearts a union and a love born of Christ and the Church. For sure, the Sacrament of Marriage is one important way of living the call to holiness.

When couples are blessed with the gift of children, time seems to stand still even as it embraces new life. Through daily living of the Sacrament of Marriage, couples initiate within their children a living “handing on” of what they cherish as people of faith.

No wonder the Christian family is “called the domestic church. The Church lives in the daily life of families, in their faith and love, in their prayers and mutual care” (USCCA, p. 284).

To celebrate a special wedding anniversary of their parents some time ago, my children pored over hundreds of photographs to assemble a surprise electronic family album set to music. They selected timeless family moments as they became our storytellers. Family history and images of the domestic church come alive each time we view this treasured gift. I never tire of seeing this special story of family and friends as well as my children’s own childhood.

Parents are the first teachers of the old maxim, “Actions speak louder than words.” From within the daily moments of family experiences, often without the exchange of words, the gospel is both loved and lived.

To be called a child

When my mother died, eight years after my father, many people offered consoling words. The most poignant came from a longtime friend who said to me, “No one is there now to call you ‘child.’”

This was a conversation-stopping reminder of how important family and time are in this life. But it also triggered a comforting reminder of another sort: Life in the Church continues for my deceased parents as part of the communion of saints. Even today, when I give voice to the word child, I continue to do so as both parent and child, together with others as one family in Christ.

I am drawn to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, in which he reminds people who had embraced Christianity that “through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus” (3:26).

Family growth

We watch our children grow out of clothes that no longer fit. But when a parent laments that a child is growing too fast, this may be more than a comment about clothing sizes.

Children never need to grow out of faith or family. They need not grow out of learning to offer and seek forgiveness. But what happens when pressures mount?

For example, during the teen years young people may face never-before-imagined enticements tempting them to set aside fundamental values of faith and family. Tensions and stress levels may increase as family members learn to cope with one another amid rivers of uncertainty. When this happens, young people need to be assured that—no matter what—family and Church are there for them. They remain “God’s own child.”

Honoring family

Commandments are a welcome means of promoting both faith and fidelity.

The Fourth Commandment (“Honor your father and your mother”) encourages children as they love and respect parents, live harmoniously with siblings, and (as adults) care for older parents. It also challenges the state to promote and support family life.

Children learn about fidelity in many ways, for the lessons of daily life can be lessons of fidelity. For example, parents’ lives demonstrate endearing expressions of faithfulness. An adult child gives up a blossoming career to care for a needy parent. A single parent passes up a new job opportunity in order to enhance family time together. Extended family members gather periodically to ensure that their stories of life and faith are handed on from one generation to the next.

The Sixth Commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) is a great teacher of the call to live in faithfulness. We remember that through God’s gift of sexuality, “men and women participate in his saving plan and respond to his call to grow in holiness” (USCCA, p. 405). This commandment helps us to reject influences that promote violating the sacred marital bond, including suggestions that adultery is socially acceptable.

The Ninth Commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”) offers common-sense support for living in the joy of purity of heart. We do this as we resist pressures and tendencies to overlook the call to modesty and to living a virtuous life. Our own spiritual development is a powerful aid in this quest.

The virtue of chastity helps us to live as responsible persons made in the image of God. “Chastity unites our sexuality with our entire human nature” (USCCA, p. 405). We are “whole people,” worthy of respect. How blessed we are!

Family joy!

As we live in mutual support, love and respect, our commitments to one another are strengthened. Through daily prayer, alone or with others, we offer praise and thanks to the one who calls us to relationship.

I have a now-worn letter from one of my children, urging me to attend a math bee to cheer him on. He knew that I traveled frequently for work. But as a young child, what he really knew was the importance of loving support and mutual presence. Work waited that day. Family relationships did not.

Family joy in living in faithful relationship with others is not some naïve, simplistic hope. We rejoice in the reality that Christ lives within us—a people in relationship with one another, a people “living into holiness.”

Sustained and enlivened by the Spirit of God, we are, together, children of God.

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 21 (pp. 277- 292), 28 (pp. 373-385), 30 (pp. 403-416) and 33 (pp. 439- 446) of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

Gerard F. Baumbach is the director of the Center for Catechetical Initiatives and a concurrent professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He spent nearly 25 years at William H. Sadlier, Inc., working as an editor and as executive vice president and publisher. A former D.R.E., he holds a doctorate in religious education from New York University.

Next: Love, Respect and Justice for All

    

Questions

• How does your family “live into holiness” through its everyday encounters and sacrifices?

• Are most marriages and families you know reflections of God’s fidelity? What factors (individual and societal) challenge faithfulness in relationships today? What more could your parish do to support strong families?

• The Church calls the family the “domestic church”—where we first learn of community, love, suffering and forgiveness. What will you do within your marriage and/or family relationships to make a stronger response to this important mission?

 

 

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