In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II addresses the role of the Christian family in the modern world and helps us understand the vital role and challenges for the family:
“The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are.
Accordingly, the family must go back to the “beginning” of God’s creative act, if it is to attain self-knowledge and self-realization in accordance with the inner truth not only of what it is but also of what it does in history. And since in God’s plan it has been established as an “intimate community of life and love,” the family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love, in an effort that will find fulfillment, as will everything created and redeemed, in the Kingdom of God. Looking at it in such a way as to reach its very roots, we must say that the essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.
Every particular task of the family is an expressive and concrete actuation of that fundamental mission. We must therefore go deeper into the unique riches of the family’s mission and probe its contents, which are both manifold and unified (n. 17).”
Pope Francis shares about his family life:
I had the great blessing of growing up in a family in which faith was lived in a simple, practical way. However it was my paternal grandmother in particular who influenced my journey of faith. She was a woman who explained to us, who talked to us about Jesus, who taught us the Catechism. I always remember that on the evening of Good Friday she would take us to the candle-light procession, and at the end of this procession “the dead Christ” would arrive and our grandmother would make us — the children — kneel down and she would say to us: “Look, he is dead, but tomorrow he will rise”. This was how I received my first Christian proclamation, from this very woman, from my grandmother! This is really beautiful! The first proclamation at home, in the family! – Pope Francis
My parents did not say much about their Catholic faith; rather, they formed their children by the example of how they lived it in close union with the liturgy and parish life. Our home was filled with devotional images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts so we sensed that we lived on holy ground because of the outward signs reminding us of the Presence of God, saints and angels. On Fridays throughout the year, my mother walked her five children two miles to our parish church. She simply said, “let us make a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Upon arrival at the church she sat us down in the front pew as she knelt before the tabernacle to pray silently for a while. As a young girl, my observation of my mother was formative—I learned that it is good to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and that Fridays are memorials of the Lord’s Perfect Sacrifice. I noted that mother was peaceful, joyful and strengthened by her “visits” to Jesus. My prayer life as a child was the imitation of my mother and father’s prayer life. Nothing brought me more security than to see my father on his knees at his bedside praying!
Family Prayer: Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church
When a family prays together, a spiritual intimacy is created that strengthens the bonds of all family members. A deep sense of security develops that becomes foundational for each person. Prayer is the principal way that the family becomes what it is meant to be. The world and the Church, beginning with priests, need the first fruits of family prayer. It is an urgent call.
Through the example of her saintly parents, St. Thérèse of Lisieux opened herself up to God at a very young age and became the beautiful saint she was called to be. How many young people await the same destiny if only they too had the example of true prayerfulness and godliness within their homes. Every family has problems but with prayer, the problems become opportunities for grace and growth in holiness.
The Congregation for the Clergy, in its 2012 booklet Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity, highlights the role of holy families in fostering vocations:
We may pray the mysteries of the Rosary for various intentions: for the Holy Father, for cardinals, for bishops and missionaries, for priests and religious who are discouraged or at the point of giving up their priestly ministry or for all those who have placed their hand to the plough but then turned back, as well as for all deceased priests. Prayer is also necessary for the sanctification of families because it is there that vocations are born.
Families are referred to as the domestic church and this is a beautiful truth. The seeds of faith are passed on and nurtured amidst the family. As such, families are not only the recipients or consumers of God’s grace and the Church’s support, but are also called to be givers of life and grace. It is from the family that all vocations are essentially rooted because every single person passes through the family.
10 Ways to Foster Family Prayer, Especially for Priests & Vocations
- Create a sacred space in your home that will be warm, welcoming and conducive to family prayer. Simple settings that include a beautiful crucifix, statue of Jesus or Mary or favorite saints and angels, candles, flowers, holy cards are ideal. Let this be considered holy ground.
- If possible, gather together first thing in the morning to offer a short “morning offering” to God consisting of all your actions and prayers for the sanctification of priests.
- Attend Mass together as often as possible and offer your Holy Communion for priests who need the most spiritual assistance that day. Children often have a natural desire to help others.
- Pray a rosary together for seminarians and priests. Remind children that Jesus is the Eternal High Priest who loves them. To better establish the father as the spiritual head of the domestic church that is the family, FPP recommends he start the prayer session and invite each member to lead a decade of the rosary.
- Gather together to offer a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for priests at the 3 o’clock hour of mercy as often as possible—even if it’s in the car.
- Gather together to pray for one another before going to sleep each night. After your personal examination of conscience (a great spiritual exercise to teach children), remember to pray for a priest who may be exhausted and in need of spiritual fortification. The father and the mother can bless the children before going to bed and bless each other with a simple Sign of the Cross on the forehead. These simple spiritual exercises bring about torrents of grace!
- Teach your family to offer up their sufferings for priests who help countless families that need support in carrying their crosses gracefully.
- Teach your children about offering the 7 First Fridays or First Saturdays for priests, living and deceased, using a liturgical calendar. Children tend to have an affinity for rituals such as these.
- Keep a family prayer journal with a list of intentions and include the seminarians and priests that you pray for by name. Lift them up to the Lord in prayer as often as possible.
- Obtain from your diocesan directory (often available online) the names of the seminarians and/or priests in your diocese and pray for one or more by name. Children may also appreciate having a picture of a few priests whom the family spiritually adopts.
Editor’s Note: part of this article is an excerpt from the author’s book: Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization.