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December 7, 2004
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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The Holy Family
The feast of the Holy Family (the Sunday following Christmas) celebrates the first community that blessed Jesus and was blessed by him. It would be easy to miss this quiet feast this year because it is celebrated the day after Christmas. One way of making sure this doesn’t happen is to make a special effort to invite the parish to reflect on the Holy Family all through Advent or the Christmas season.
Include the Scripture From Scratch (January 2003) issue that focused on Jesus’ family in one of your Sunday bulletins. Make sure you also include some focus questions to help families and individuals in their reflection and discussion.
The newsletter offers a lot of information about the family and town that raised Jesus. Did you know that family members of Jesus were the leaders of the Christian Jerusalem community until 135 A.D.? Did you know Joseph, and presumably Jesus, were not just carpenters but master builders? Did you know that there were about 120 inhabitants of Nazareth when Jesus lived there? (Click here to read more from this issue of Scripture from Scratch.)
If you don’t want to insert the newsletter in your bulletins, make up your own Q & A page as an insert. Read over the Scripture from Scratch newsletter yourself and/or do some additional research at Put together your own series of interesting tidbits about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as well as the relatives that preceded and followed them.
Celebrating Our Own Holy Families
Often we neglect the feast of the Holy Family because of its close proximity to Christmas. This year shine a spotlight on the feast by having a parish Christmas party to celebrate families.
Announce the date of the party during Advent (perhaps the Sunday after New Year’s Day). Ask families to bring Christmas cookies or favorite desserts, along with an album of family pictures taken during 2004 (no more than 20 pictures). Let families know they will have a chance to meet other parish families by sharing memories and highlight of their year.
Family Albums – Ask participants to make this a family project. Mom or dad can choose a variety of pictures, but make sure all family members have a say about which 20 pictures make the cut for the album. Also make sure they know that hand-drawn pictures can be used for those events that weren’t recorded on film.
At the Party – After singing a few Christmas carols find a creative way to break into small groups of three families each. Ask families to introduce themselves by answering two or three questions about their family. (For example: How long they have been in the parish or what is their favorite parish event?) Following introductions have them share memory albums. After about 30 minutes ask them to form new groups. (One family stays put, second family joins the group to the right, third family joins group to the left.) Repeat introductions and memory sharing. After another 30 minutes of sharing, gather for a closing prayer service to give thanks for families and for all the blessings of the last year. Finally, end the evening sharing cookies/desserts and hot cocoa. (Click here for more family ideas for the feast of the Holy Family from Jeanne Hunt’s book, Holy Bells and Wonderful Smells.)
Video Updates on the Holy Family
As I sit down to write, my daughter has just returned to school after a week of illness. So bear in mind as you read this that my reflections on the Holy Family will be colored by my own “holy” family’s recent realities. But I think that’s what we as catechetical leaders are about anyway: A big part of our job is helping real people connect the messiness of their ordinary lives to the riches of our faith tradition.
A lot of times the Holy Family is depicted as so perfect or so separate from our realities that we fail to recognize them as real. Okay, they did have some unusual characteristics: 1) Mom didn’t sin, 2) kid didn’t sin, 3) kid was both human and divine—whatever that meant in the everyday, and 4) Mom and Dad didn’t have sexual intercourse. Aside from these things, we believe they led fairly common lives for people of their time and culture—at least their life in Nazareth before the start of Jesus’ public ministry.
When I was a child, it was difficult for me to connect the serene woman in blue with my own mother—a very hardworking and harried farmwife with eight children. And I expect that the home shared by Jesus, Mary and Joseph was pretty quiet and peaceful compared to the chaos in my own. I came to a new appreciation of Mary when I became a mother myself. I’ve often found myself turning to our Blessed Mother at times when parenting has been particularly challenging or heartwarming. I expect that many fathers have a similar experience with St. Joseph.
I believe that the way we speak about the Holy Family to the young people and adults in our communities may have a significant effect on their relationships with its members. If we can offer the Holy Family as more “real” people in a real family setting, perhaps more of our parishioners will turn to them for help with the challenges of family life.
Our Advent-Christmas season is an ideal time to consider the ways we portray the Holy Family to the families in our parishes. Does the Holy Family inspire them to grow in their own style of holiness or discourage them because of their failings? Are we sending the message that every family is the “domestic church” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #11), that every family can be a “holy” family?
I’ve selected two products that I think may be useful as you celebrate the Holy Family later this month and seek to support the growth of more “holy” families all year long.
  • The Birth of Jesus: A Spiritual Pilgrimage with Stephen Doyle, O.F.M., can help make the Holy Family even more real to viewers by taking them on a video pilgrimage to the places that Joseph and Mary lived and traveled as they first learned of, then anticipated and finally celebrated the birth of Jesus. Click here (RealMedia | Windows Media) to see a clip from this video.
  • Another resource to which I must call your attention is our Home Meal Prayers card. I have no doubt that Jesus first came to his understanding of the value of table fellowship through the experience around his own family’s table. So many families struggle to find or make the time for regular family meals these days. If they’re not eating together, they’re probably not praying together either (at least not at mealtime). If the dinner hour seems impossible for some schedules, encourage families to eat breakfast together. Every family needs some “face time” at least once a week. Here’s a prayer card that will help families start that time off right. I’m slipping one inside each of my Christmas cards this year. At just 30 cents a piece ($14.95 for a pack of 50), I figure it’s a great investment in the Christian families on my list!
May you experience God’s grace and peace in your own holy families this Advent-Christmas season and into the new year!
A Little Something for Everyone
It’s that time of year when we find ourselves looking for last-minute gift ideas. Here are a couple of ideas from St. Anthony Messenger Press and Servant Books.
For the guys in your life, here’s a great little book: White Water, Bears, Dry Flies and Other Ways God Speaks to Guys by Randy Cirner. As the title suggests, this is a book to help guys reflect on the spiritual dimension of their life. Cirner takes an engaging look at how ordinary events can become moments of encounter in which God reveals himself to those who are ready to discover his presence. This is a great collection of stories and reflections that any man of faith can relate to.
Among our new audiobooks, one that stands out is Robert Ellsberg’s The Saints’ Guide to Happiness: Everyday Wisdom From the Lives of the Saints . Ellsberg offers a series of “lessons” in the life of the spirit, with the saints as our guide. Historical figures like Augustine, Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila, as well as moderns such as Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor and Henri J.M. Nouwen, show us not only the way of holy piety, but also of “life in abundance.” Great listening for that commute to and from work!
Finally, a gift idea for your Catholic school teachers: Judith Dunlap’s When You Teach in a Catholic School. An inspirational and practical little book for anyone who witnesses to his or her faith as a teacher in a Catholic school.
Study guides from St. Anthony Messenger magazine
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