Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Keeping the Family Healthy and Holy

Odds are this time of year you’ve been seeing family more often. You’ve sent out the Christmas cards and received them to hear about loved ones. You’ve had family get-
togethers. And hopefully the Christmas Season has allowed you to reconnect.

Then there is of course the people you life with under the same roof that you see every
day. More than likely with vacation this time of year you’re spending more time together
too.

For the most part, that’s a good thing, as we love one another in our families. But we
also of course drive one another crazy at times. We can fight over petty things whether
we are kids or adults. We can hold grudges. And we can just kind of get on one
another’s nerves. But at the end of the day, hopefully love always wins out.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We know very little about the
time of Jesus birth to the time He begins His ministry. But many artists have depicted
the life of the holy family using the images that would be reflective of our own families;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph together as one under the same roof, working and spending
time together. Surely there must have been so many good things that happened under
the roof at Nazareth.

Holiness and the health of our families is something we all strive for. So how do we do
it?

I’ll preface this by saying I am not a family therapist (though I did see part of an episode
of “Dr. Phil” once). But I am a part of a family, and also as a priest come to know many
families. And there are some things that I truly believe can be very helpful.

Prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God. When a family prays together, it hits
home a very important point: God is at the center of our lives. Prayer is a reminder that
God is above school, the careers, the sports and everything else. When we pray
together, we ask God to strengthen our families, and we also pray for one another’s
needs.

Communication. On the one hand, we are more connected than ever with our smart
phones, social media, and talking and texting all the time. But I wonder if we are more
connected to our job or friends than the people under our own roof? There is no
substitute for face-to-face communication. When you sit down to a family meal, or have
a conversation together without the distractions of the TV or the phone, it can do so
much to help people to grow. It’s so important to know what’s going on in the lives of
one another.

Listening. Listening is hard. We are often quick to give advice, to correct someone, or
to talk, but listening can work wonders. It forces us to hear a person’s whole story. It
affirms them and says their opinion matters. And it also can help us pick up on things a person might not be saying such as stress with a teacher or at work. Forcing ourselves
to listen to others in the family and be engaged by looking at them in the eye, and not
“half listening” as we look at the TV or the phone is so important for us to deepen
relationships between one another. It’s amazing what we learn when we force ourselves
to be silent.

Downtime. I think sometimes families can be so overextended; each kid is in a few
sports leagues, and then you add homework, shopping, household chores and the time
is gone. I remember at a prior parish I was at though I was invited over to a family’s
home for dinner and invited to stay for “family game night.” It was a little something they
did each week. It was great to witness. I realize that might not be realistic for every
family, but I do think it is important to have periods of rest. Part of the joy I have in going
to visit my parents is I can just “be me” and unwind and engage in conversation as I
play a game of cribbage with mom or dad or we watch a show on television together.
When you think about our lives some of our best moments are when we are relaxing
with families on trips or at dinner together – it really allows us to connect.

Opening Up. At Christmas, I spoke about how when we come to Jesus, we need not
fear hiding anything from Him. After all, it’s not as if He does not know what we are
going through. But sometimes in families we can hide things from one another. If we
love one another though, our families should be people we can trust. It’s so important
spouses and kids and parents feel comfortable talking to one another about both the
good and the not-so-good. A loved one might not like what we have to say at times, but
we really love one another we have to remember family is there for us through thick and
thin.

The Straight Dope. Coupled with opening up though, it’s so important we are honest
when we see a problem. An unhealthy relationship is one that buries uncomfortable
things; or when a person fears the other’s reaction so they do not tell them what needs
to be said. We love our family members, but sometimes a person needs to hear not
what they want to hear but what they need to hear. A family member can struggle with
an addiction; or some sin that creeps into their lives that they don’t see; or maybe they
are becoming more distant or making a series of bad decisions. Whatever it might be,
we can’t avoid confrontation. But when we are willing to challenge someone (and also
be challenged ourselves) it can do so much for long-term growth for the individual and
the family.

Visiting Extended Family. So often we might only see extended family at the holidays,
or at weddings and funerals. Try to stay connected throughout the year. I think it’s really
important as well to try to visit elderly relatives who may not be as mobile or who may
have lost their spouses. Even just a phone call from time to time can do so much for a
person to remind them they are loved and part of a family.

I’m lucky in that I can see my parents quite often, and from them I’ve learned so much.
They taught me much of what our faith contains and I learned much from the theology books in seminary, but it’s in the domestic church of the family that I’ve learned so much
about how the faith is lived out.

May God bless you and your loved ones, and may you daily grow in love for one
another. Never forget what a precious gift family is. Yes, at times we may drive one
another crazy. But when we open ourselves up to the grace of God, we can also do so
much to bring one another closer to sainthood.

God bless!

Fr. Paul