Dale and Bernie Mandrusiak gave a witness at this year’s Bishop’s Prayer Breakfast on the theme of The Vocation and Mission of Families Today. Dale and Bernie are parishioners of Saint Nicholas Parish, Edmonton. They are delegates on behalf of the Eparchy of Edmonton to attend this year’s World Meeting of Families, to take place from September 21-28 in Philadelphia. The other eparchial delegates are Glen and Charlene Kulak and family from Saint Stephen Parish, Calgary.
The Vocation and Mission of Families Today
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Your excellency Bishop David, honoured guests and friends,
This year, Pope Francis has invited the entire Church to pray for families, especially as he prepares to gather with families from around the world this September in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, then in October in Rome for the Papal Synod on the Theme of families and their role in evangelization. Pope Francis has called the family an image of the Holy Trinity in the world and the fundamental cell of society and the larger universal Church. The Church has always seen the family as integral within the church and in the Vatican II document – Gaudium et Spes it stated that each family is a domestic church. It is the place where the seeds of faith are sown.
I am sure many of us can recall the influence that our families had on us early on in our faith. This includes our extended families as well – grandparents, and perhaps a special aunt or uncle. When I was a child and I would stay at the farm during summer vacation I can still remember listening to my Baba praying at bedtime, and how important it was for her and Dido to go to Church on the Sunday that there was a scheduled Divine Liturgy in Chipman. Maybe I didn’t understand much about our faith back then as a kid but I did come to respect how important it was to Baba and Dido. These are the things that stick with you and plant those early seeds of faith.
The Church tells parents that it is their mission to educate their children and to cooperate with God the Creator to reveal the love of God to them. When you think about these descriptions of the family and the responsibilities that we have, you begin to realize that our little families really have a huge effect on the whole world. We have an enormous responsibility when you really come to think of it! (no pressure).
When a baby comes into the world it is totally dependent on its parents and as the child grows it watches and learns so much from them. That is where faith has an opportunity to develop. The parents and often the grandparents are the ones that introduce their child to Jesus. I’m sure you have all seen or probably are those Babas and Didos or Moms and Dads with small children in Church, showing them how to make the sign of the cross, leaning over with them in your arms teaching them to kiss and venerate the cross and the icons. That’s where it starts, with these small actions.
The clergy, catechists and teachers enter the picture later in the child’s development so it really is up to the family right from the beginning to fulfill the responsibility entrusted to it by our Lord; that is to pass on the basic teachings of the gospel and a love for Jesus. The Church calls us to evangelize and it is with these little guys that our work of evangelization begins.
The family as the image of the Trinity is a beautiful one. What is the Holy Trinity? It’s Love – Mutual, self-giving, completely unselfish love. The family is called to be that image of love.
Lately we have had some young parents with their new little babies spend some time with us at our house. It is such a blessing to see the love that God has implanted into the hearts of those parents. Those children are the centre of their world. I know when we became a parents, the love that we felt instantly for our child amazed us. I remember us even talking about it together each time we had a child. It is really a miracle.
As our children grow we are still called to keep that very first love alive and strong; To remember that these children are gifts from God. As our children experience the unconditional love from their parents they are getting only a tiny inkling of the perfect unconditional love that God has for them.
Let’s face it, yes our love as parents is unconditional but it may not appear unconditional all the time. I can say from personal experience that, for example, when you are sitting beside your grade twelve child in the vice – principal’s office, listening to how he and his friends thought it would be funny to buy 100 crickets and let them go in the grade ten hallway it is a little difficult to be loving.
Although I do have to say that those trying times can also be times of great prayer on both the child’s part and the parent’s part. The parent prays for patience and the child prays for mercy.
As we prepared for our presentation today Bernie and I reflected upon the image of the family as the domestic church. We thought ok, let’s look at the Universal Church. What is expected of its leaders, and of all of its faithful? What is its mission? If we do that we should be able to see more clearly what our mission as the domestic church is.
The Church as a whole brings the faithful together in united worship and prayer. So as the domestic church it is our responsibility to do the same. As a family we do this by (1) attending Divine Liturgy and (2) by praying together at home.
In our own family, it has always been important for us as we raised our children, to bring them to Divine Liturgy every Sunday to pray together with the larger Church community. However…..many of you would probably agree that this is not always easy. Getting four children up and dressed and to church was no small task and then truly sometimes after the liturgy as parents we would wonder…..so what was the gospel today? What was the sermon about? I don’t even know if there was a sermon! We would ask each other in the hopes that perhaps one of us heard something….
A friend of mine told me a long time ago. When you go to church when your kids are small don’t be disappointed if you kind of missed most of what was happening, you are still receiving graces and I believe that is true. I feel that we have received those graces and attending Liturgy together is still a time of blessing for us. Of course the reception of the Eucharist – that physical experience of Christ – is so renewing and fills us with many graces as well even if we may not have heard the message.
And you do learn certain ways to make your attendance at church more beneficial for all. For examples: We have always sat up front with our children so that they could see and feel and be part of the Divine Liturgy. I just can’t imagine what children get from attending Divine Liturgy looking at the backs of peoples’ coats. Sitting near the front, they see what’s going on. They see the icons, they smell the incense, and they see the movement of the priest and the altar servers. They are in the thick of it.
Wardrobe is also very important when they are little. We found overalls to be particularly helpful. They are the perfect clothing item to grab as your two year old is making a bee line for the tetrapod or iconostas…….You just scoop them up and you are back in your pew before you know it!
As the kids get older especially in their mid to late teen years they are dealing with so many distractions. They get pulled indifferent directions and they have all kinds of influences. Then the questions about why we have to go to church at all “I will just go next week” or “none of my friends go” – the challenges of the domestic church move to a different level. You have to pray for guidance so that you know when to push things, when to have discussions, and when to let go.
As a father I often wouldn’t know what more I could do to develop their faith and love for Jesus. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to say we have given them the basics and they will have to choose their direction and all we can do is pray, but we can do more than pray, we can also live as a good role model. The truth is our children often learn by our example more than by what we say to them. So, understanding this, living our lives according to our Christian teachings and living a life of prayer and making our attendance at Divine Liturgy a priority no matter how much we have going on becomes all the more vital.
Then there is family prayer at home. When the kids were little we prayed with them at night before bed, and before meals as I think many families do. When they started going to school we had a special morning prayer that we would pray in the car on the way. As the children got older and everyone was going to bed a different times – this one was still at dancing – that one was at hockey practice, we drifted away from the practice of praying at night together. Then, we weren’t driving the kids to school anymore so we also weren’t saying the Morning Prayer together. And then, with everyone’s schedules, we often would attend different services on Sunday so even then we weren’t praying together. We got to a point that we were only praying together at meal time. We know that it is very important not only to pray but to pray together. Matthew 18.20 says: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ So in our family we started focussing on praying together in different ways. Given the crazy busyness of life today it isn’t necessarily easy. We started bringing short prayers based on the liturgical time of the year to the meal time prayer – This doesn’t require a lot of work because Fr. Julian often puts things in the bulletin in this regard and we choose a few sentences to read or some scripture to meditate on. Does this happen as often as we would like it to? No. We forget, we get busy, we get lazy, but we are in the process of growing and getting better and that’s a good thing.
For the past number of years we have chosen one night a week during Advent / Phillipian fast and then again during Lent to gather as a family. Not everyone can make it all the time but that’s ok. What we do is read parts from a spiritual book, or watch a Christian based movie (many of which are available to borrow from the Catechetical Resource centre) and then follow that with prayer, and reflection……although sometime the reflection is about a minute long….but you know it’s a start. These evenings also provide us as parents with opportunities to learn. As head of this domestic church we do have a responsibility to continue learning our faith. You can’t pass it on to your children or grandchildren if you don’t know it. As they grow their questions get more complicated. There are so many opportunities to for us to learn in our parishes, throughout our eparchy and there are a number of reputable Catholic and Eastern Christian websites and even phone apps that one can access that there is no excuse for us not to be continually learning.
Another aspect of the universal Church that we are to mirror in our families is the way the Church sees all of life and all of creation interwoven with faith – our professional life, our everyday life, our social life. In this perspective everything is done for the glory of God. But our society tells us that faith and secular life should be kept in separate compartments that have nothing to do with each other – that is not how the Church asks us to live. So within our family, what can we do or are we doing to enforce this understanding?
Together we reflected on this question. We thought about discussions we have had with our children about their futures. When they are questioning what they should do in their life we encourage them to discern what God is calling them to do. – or to think about – How could you live your faith within this profession or that profession?
We have tried to encourage prayer in all life situations – e.g. Praying for bullies at school – in times of need, when we hear of events in the news etc. It’s our human nature to kind of jump into problem solving mode when there is a crisis….but we should always remind ourselves and our children and grandchildren that we and they are not alone ever. Prayer should always precede action.
In the end Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes) stated this about the Church:
The Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.
It is interesting that there are parents who will direct their children towards certain sports, certain careers, certain schools but then will say that they don’t want to force faith on their children so they don’t even give them the basics to start with. No one can force the faith on anyone else. Faith is God’s gift to us, but we are called to present it to our children and show them the joy that can stem from living the faith and cooperating with God in bringing His kingdom to fulfillment. This is more important than any school or sports team. For those of us who have experienced the joy, peace and love that can be realized by growing in a relationship with God it seems that it wouldn’t be fair not to present our children with what we have.
We all want to give our children the best……There is nothing better that we can give them.