by Albert Rossi, Ph.D.
As a parent, I need to be exquisitely clear about the primary church I am called to pastor. I must first and foremost pastor my own body, psyche, and spirit, pastoring the temple of the living God. The vigilance, caretaking, and love energy I expend must be to quiet, simplify, and love myself so that I might be able to develop and active spirituality for my family. This is often much more arduous than establishing a program for the family to follow.
Pastoring my family is a fruit of my own growth into sanity and sanctity. Pastoring myself means being rigorously honest with myself about my feelings and motives, dark as they sometimes might be, especially as pastor of the family. Then my family's spirituality will be alive, changing in direct proportion to my own interior healing. The ever-present message is, "Healing for me begins now." I am continually being healed in the present moment. My family's spirituality will then be understood as a free gift of the Holy Spirit working through me and my healing.
Perhaps a solid organizing principle for a spirituality of the family is the concept of respect - respect for God through respect for family members. After some shabby treatment by my thirteen-year-old son recently, I asked him why he treated me so. He said, "You deserved it." I was stunned and, to my credit, said nothing. After prayer and reflection, I went back to him and said, "I respect you enough to allow us to have different opinions. You believe I deserved the treatment you gave me. I have a different opinion. I really don' believe I deserved that treatment. I deserve respect." He said nothing. He didn't apologize, but his behavior drastically improved. As a parent I must respectfully demand respect as the basis of a spirituality which demands respect for God.
Respect for family members means respect for all family members, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles. One way to respect these persons is to include them more by tapping into their oral histories. When a relative visits, I encourage the children to ask for stories. Children love to hear about when relatives - especially grandparents and parents - were children. My own children never seem to tire of stories, even the same story with a new twist.
Particularly poignant are stories about God's activity in the family history - family faith stories. These are often, but not always, stories about going to Church, experiencing sacred moments of healing, finding lost precious treasures, or receiving special grace. Grandparents have usually come by some wisdom regarding all this.
Developing a spirituality in the family means sanctifying time and space. I know no better way to do this than to cultivate family traditions. At the heart of such a spirituality is the sign of Christ, the sign of the Cross. Perhaps each meal can begin and end with the sign of the Cross [being] made slowly and reverently, followed by a short prayer. Other events, such as embarking upon a trip, can be bracketed by the same tradition.
Many other beautiful traditions are possible. my family, for example, takes a quiet hour on Christmas eve, reading a bit of the Bible and discussing what Christmas means to each of us this year. Another tradition is giving one another name's day gifts [on the feast of the person's patron saint]. We also make a point to refer to and discuss "how we do things in our family.
"The liturgy of bedtime for little ones becomes a venerable family tradition. This often includes brushing of teeth, a bedtime story, a prayer, a kiss on the cheek, a night-light, and a loving "good night."
I have a special family bedtime ritual I treasure. Before the children come to their bedrooms, I make the sign of the Cross, using a small bottle of Holy Water, at the corner of their pillows. My nineteen-year-old, Beth, was visibly moved when I told her that I go into her vacant room every night to bless her pillow, even though she's 150 miles away at college. I think she felt missed, remembered, and blessed daily. As the father in the household, I particularly cherish the idea of blessing my children by blessing their pillows at night.
A spirituality of the family begins with a focus on my own spiritual development, organizes around the principle of respect, spans generations, and is cultivated through unique family traditions. This spirituality is not within my power to create. this spirituality is a gift from God which I pray ardently to be able to receive.
Originally published in the Liguorian magazine's great "Parent to Parent" column, April 1994, and reprinted with permission from Liguorian, One Liguori Drive, Liguori, MO 63057.