July 26, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

In “Lumen Fidei,” Pope Francis sheds light on family life

Sean GallagherOn June 8, 2002, my wife, Cindy, and I stood up in St. Joseph Church in Shelbyville with our then-infant son, Michael, during a Mass in which he was to be baptized.

After we told Father John Fink, the parish’s pastor at the time, that we sought baptism for Michael, he read the following from the Church’s “Rite of Baptism for One Child”:

“You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training him in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”

At the time, I was serving as the director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish. So I suppose I had a keen awareness of the responsibilities that Father Fink was describing.

But it doesn’t take a degree in theology to listen to those words clearly and find that closing question sobering.

At the time, Cindy and I knew in principle what we were undertaking. But we had no experience at that point of training children in the practice of the faith or bringing them up to keep God’s commandments. The challenges and blessings of this sacred duty existed only in our imaginations.

Over the past 11 years, those mental images have given way to a good amount of lived experience. We’ve striven, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so, to form Michael’s faith and the faith of his three brothers. And with the grace that God gives us, we’ll do the same with their sibling who will, God willing, be born in September.

I’ve reflected recently on the duty that Cindy and I accepted 11 years ago as I’ve read Pope Francis’ first encyclical letter, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), which was released earlier this month.

He dedicated a section of the letter to the crucial role that families play in handing on the faith. This role, Pope Francis said, is important for society as a whole and not just for the Church, noting that when faith is “absorbed and deepened in the family, [it] becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society” (#54).

The challenge is to have faith absorbed and deepened in the family in the first place. The pope suggests that “shared expressions of faith … can help children gradually to mature in their own faith” (#53).

We try to do that in our home through family prayer at meals, at bedtime, in going together to Mass, reading stories about the saints, teaching them the faith at home and in regularly explaining how service given in our home and elsewhere is service given to God.

In this and in other ways, Cindy and I are trying to lead our boys—and ourselves as well—into an ongoing encounter with Christ. This encounter, Pope Francis says, will let our boys “be caught up in and guided by his love”; it “enlarges the horizons of existence [and] gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint” (#53).

Ultimately, the sacred striving that makes up so much of our days as parents will hopefully confirm our boys in their “vocation of love,” which will ultimately lead them to heaven (#53).

If all of this sounds like a tall task, it is.

That’s why we parents need the grace of the sacraments to accomplish it. It also wouldn’t hurt if we parents prayed regularly for each other that we all might lay the foundation for a better Church and world here and now, and pave the way for all of us to be one with God in the eternal wedding banquet. †

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