February 25, 2005

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Christ's Passion is lived out in family life

I like to read books. I’ll read fiction and non-fiction books by authors as varied as John Feinstein and Jane Austen. Although I usually try to begin and end my day with prayer, I also find myself reading books at these times as well.

Now during this season of Lent, I have not chosen to forgo reading books. However, I have chosen to narrow the field of my literary choices. During these 40 days, I have decided to read books dealing only with the life of faith.

At present, I am reading Caryll House­lander’s The Way of the Cross.

This English woman was a popular Catholic writer in the 1940s and ’50s. She did not appear to have intended the book in question to be used in a devotional context, for in it she offers the reader extended reflections and prayers on each of the traditional 14 points of Jesus’ journey to Calvary.

In this book, Houselander showed her keen ability to apply the profound and eternal truths of Christ’s suffering and death to the most ordinary and mundane events of our everyday lives.

One recent morning during my breakfast, I was reading a prayer she composed that dealt with the second station, Jesus taking up his cross.

In it, she asks Jesus to help her (and presumably me as well) “realize that because You have made my suffering Yours and given it the power of Your love, it can reach everyone, everywhere—those in my own home, those who seem to be out of my reach—it can reach them all with Your healing and Your love.”

So often as I live my life with my wife and two sons, I try to avoid suffering if at all possible. After a hard day at work, it can be easy for me to seek to avoid doing the sometimes-tedious task of getting my son, Michael, ready for bed.

At times, I give into that temptation and let my wife, who has usually had a hard day of work caring for our sons, continue doing it by putting Michael to sleep.

What Houselander reminds me of, however, is that although I may feel more worn out when I embrace the tiring challenges of family life, I can perhaps be buoyed by the knowledge that Christ’s love—shown perfectly in his Passion—reaches through my own small trials to those whom I serve in the midst of them.

Maybe this knowledge is in the back of my head or at the bottom of my heart when I, by grace, overcome my inclinations and do chores around the house all the way up to my own bedtime.

Maybe another part of Houselander’s prayer is being fulfilled through me at those times.

“Make me patient to bear the burdens of those nearest at hand, to welcome inconvenience for them, frustration because of them. Let me accept their temperaments as they are, nurse them in sickness, share with them in poverty, enter into their sorrows with them.”

A belief deeply rooted in our faith is that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. Another is our conviction that the family is a microcosm of the life of the Church.

Looking at these two teachings together, we can say in faith that the life of the family is a sacrament of the life of Christ.

While this may seem to place difficult expectations on our mothers, fathers and children, it can also fill us with confidence. For we know that the new and unending life of Christ is there in our homes to pick us up when we take the weight of our everyday crosses upon our shoulders as we serve one another in love. †

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