By Mario and Paola Martinez
Being a parent can be an overwhelming responsibility, especially in today’s world. Dealing with challenges such as consumerism, technology, the media, and many other issues can leave us feeling powerless at times.
As parents, we are responsible for the moral and faith formation of our children, yet some parents are unaware of their duties as teachers and models of faith within their homes. Many parents minimize their role in the faith formation of their children, thinking it only involves taking their children to church for the Sacraments of Initiation -- Baptism, Communion and Confirmation — and hand over their responsibility to the priest, the religious sister, and the catechists who instruct their children on basic doctrine. However, absolutely nothing and no one can replace the influence of the example of the parents on the spiritual life of a child, specifically cultivating a marriage according to God’s design.
The foundation of the Christian family, thus, can be found in the sacraments, particularly in the Sacrament of Marriage. The sanctuary of our home, our “Domestic Church,” the Church tells us, is essentially a school of holiness for the family. There are countless opportunities in our ordinary everyday family life, to grow in holiness. Often times we must leave our mile-long to-do lists aside to hug a crying child or ask for forgiveness when in frustration we have raised our voices at each other, or when we help each other with household chores even when we would much prefer to be watching our favorite TV show. All of these moments have the capacity to move us forward in our journey to holiness. As Pope Francis shares with us in Amoris Laetitia #316, “…spirituality becomes incarnate in the communion of the family. Hence, those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union.”
We have everything we need in our ordinary family life to achieve holiness, Praise God for this gift!
As parents then, our main goal should be to make God’s unconditional and infinite love present in our Domestic Church, especially in the way we seek the good of our spouse and our children, modeling the self-sacrificing love that God has for each one of us, The Church. Pope Francis tells us that “in the family we learn how to love, to forgive, to be generous and open, not closed and selfish…we learn to move beyond our own needs, to encounter others and share our lives with them.” A practical way to be families who transmit God’s immense Love is to take up Pope Francis’s advice and think of family as something we do, not something we have. He invites us to spend time with our family, setting up regular “family date nights,” where the focus is on the richness of time and attention rather than destination or activity.
One way to share time as a family is to celebrate the Eucharist together each Sunday. We recently heard a wise priest of our Diocese emphasize during his homily that going to Mass as a family is not negotiable. We could not agree more. As families, we can negotiate what time we go to Mass, and even what language we go to Mass in, but going to Mass should not be negotiable. This is our privileged opportunity to experience God’s love in a concrete way! No prayer surpasses the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sunday Mass communicates the message that we are worth more than our failures, that we have a Savior who wants to come to us and give us something we can get from nowhere else: authentic love, total forgiving mercy, and eternal life.
Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of San Bernardino.