Recently, we heard the gospel where the disciples who encountered Jesus on the Road to Emmaus return to Jerusalem to tell what happened. In the middle of their story, Jesus appears again, terrifying everyone. The disciples think he is a ghost. They still can’t quite understand that something amazing is occurring in their midst.
How like them we are. Too many Catholic families struggle to encounter the resurrected Christ in our homes. A 2015 study by CARA found that only 17% of Catholic families pray together. A more recent study, also by CARA, found that 74% of Catholic youth stopped identifying themselves as Catholic between the age of 10 and 20. The reason for all of this is simple. We, as a church, are not teaching Catholic families how to experience Jesus in family life. Instead we settle for households that are vaguely haunted by the ghost of Jesus. A cross on the wall here. A picture there. A dusty bible on the shelf. And of course, a few more rules than the neighbors have. In such homes, Christ is always hiding on the margins but never really present.
We can do better. Here are some ways your family can experience Christ on the road back home.
1) A Sacramental View of Family Life
The Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC used to say that “The family that prays together stays together” but it is also true that a family can’t pray together unless it makes time to stay together. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can’t see Jesus when our minds are focused on all the places we have to go and things we have to do instead of being present in this moment.
Families must recognize that family life, itself, is an activity that requires a real investment of time. We must prioritize family rituals such as meal times, game night, a family day, family worship, family service. We must treat all other extra-curricular activities (sports, clubs, hobbies, etc) as fine things to do if we have the time for them after giving family life its due. We must reclaim a sacramental view of family life that celebrates family rituals–regular times to work, play, talk, pray and serve together–as sacred rites of the domestic church where we are given the opportunity to encounter and share Christ’s love.
2) A Family Spirituality
Building on this, we need to cultivate a family spirituality. My wife and I offer many ideas for creating a dynamic family spirituality in our book, Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids but you can start by simply praying together—especially at meals, at bedtime, or in the morning before you all start getting ready, or all of the above. Before scattering to the four winds, gather together and pray. It doesn’t have to be long, Just make sure it’s personal and meaningful. When you pray as a family, gently encourage everyone to take turns thanking God for recent blessings and answered prayers, asking God for help with the problems of that day, and praying for the grace to be a faithful witness to Jesus’ love to everyone you meet throughout the day.
Of course, formal prayers, like the rosary, are a wonderful way to meditate on the life of Christ, but don’t just speed-mutter the words and check off the family-prayer box. Take an extra minute before each decade and ask everyone to imagine what it must have been like for one of the people featured in the particular mystery (Jesus, Mary, a disciple, etc). Ask everyone to reflect on a time when they felt something similar. How did they experience God in that time? How might they do a better job experiencing him in the future? Then pray the decade.
However you pray as a family, don’t just say words at God. Bring him your heart and your lives.
3) Be a Family On A Mission
Consider how your family can make a difference in the lives of others. Start by asking what your family’s passions are. Music? Sports? Baking? The Outdoors? Find a way to use these gifts to benefit others. For instance, your musical family might do a concert at the local nursing home once-a-month. Your sports-loving family might think about ways to inspire good sportsmanship and team-spirit before each game. Your baking family might make cookies for the lonely people in your parish or neighborhood, or invite some people over for cake and a family bible study. Your outdoorsy family might volunteer to do regular yard work for ailing or elderly neighbors. What is your mission? Let God use your family’s gifts to make a difference.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This Easter season, let the resurrected Christ enliven your family with his love and teach you to experience your Catholic faith as the source of the warmth in your home.