November 13, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We’re grateful to belong in many kinds of families

Cynthia DewesWe know that we all belong to the family of God. But narrowing down the scope of that, we come to the family we call our parish. This community of fellow believers is truly a family when we follow the example of the larger spiritual family.

Any family depends upon mutual love and support, including constructive criticism when necessary. It involves unity of purpose, and it produces joy and comfort. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” begins here. And sometimes that is not an easy task.

People who participate actively in parish life are often the leaders of what goes on there. They make decisions and take action, which sometimes makes other parishioners angry. These leaders include the pastor, who’s like the big brother in the family. He’s usually the one who interprets the parent’s (God’s) wishes and directs everyone’s response.

The parish is a human community, and thus is open to human failings. We find every human quality, from envy to perseverance to sloth to meanness displayed there. With prayer, both private and communal, we learn to tolerate differences and work together for the common good. Compromise becomes a given.

A truly functional parish family offers support and instruction to its members through many ministries. It teaches young and old about the values they share, and demonstrates them with efforts like food pantries, clothing distributions and visits to the sick. It makes the elderly feel welcome and valuable, and helps share the burden of those who are grieving. It’s a place where one’s inmost hopes and needs are met with God’s grace.

This is not just a Catholic phenomenon. Other Christians share the concept of a family of believers; our dear friends who belong to Roberts Park Methodist Church in Indianapolis often tell us about these same qualities in their congregation. And we hear about these values shared by other religious and non-religious folks as well.

In our immediate families, the same things apply. The parents can’t be God, but they can try to be forgiving, loving and responsible at all times, as God is. The children can return the love they are given and share it with each other and their friends at school and at play. They can all carry loving cooperation into the workplace, supporting their co-workers both professionally and personally.

The family scenarios I’ve described sound wonderful because they’re the ideal. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and our human failings seem to have really damaged modern families of all kinds. And families are the glue that holds a community together: healthy families result in a healthy society.

Many families are split by divorce or separations of cohabiting couples, often with children involved. The result may be poverty, spousal or child abuse, or losing the kids to drugs and other destructive behavior. More traditional families have problems too, but they can deal with them with more success because God is a partner in the marriage.

In a sacramental marriage, there is physical attraction between a male and a female and careful selection of partners beforehand. Afterward, children are expected and welcomed. One or both parents work to support the family, and their expectation is to live a comfortable life within their means. They put education and service on a level with fun in their lives, and selfishness has no place in their plans.

These attitudes spill over into the workplace and the parish and the nation. And that’s the charm of “doing the right thing”: It works.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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