In the Familiaris Consortio apostolic exhortation, St. Pope John Paul II notes that the role of the family is to “guard, reveal, and communicate love.” Home is where we can experience this love and where we can live out this mission.
These points were explored in a virtual session at the Called & Co-Responsible: Summer Seminars for Church Life Renewal through the McGrath Institute at Notre Dame this summer. One of the speakers, Caroline Murphy, considered how families can reflect the rich soil we hear about in the parable of the sower. Since the home is a sanctuary where one is loved and understood, it becomes the rich soil. She noted, “the Divine takes place where the child already experiences love.”
The home is the rich soil where the seed of God’s love is planted, nourished and grows. How can you make your home a place of rich soil? Each family is unique, but these are some things parents can do to help till the soil in their domestic Church.
Protect your children in prayer, regularly and publicly
Taking time to pray for your children, calling on their guardian angels, etc., is crucial, but it is also important that your children hear your prayers for them. This not only brings them comfort now but helps them build the habit of calling on God in times of need.
Protect them physically
From baby-proofing the house to making sure the transportation they use is safe, parents can take many measures to provide a safe environment for their children. This vigilance is needed in other areas, too, such as knowing who they hang out with and what they are exposed to with media — television, social media, and online. Tools such as accountability software or resources at Integrity Restored are great options.
Consider your words and actions
What you say and what you do matters to your children, whether they show it or not. This matters in times of both encouragement and criticism of your children and others. Thoughtfully choosing your words and your actions can demonstrate your attentiveness, help open the lines of communication and model for your children how to interact with others. It also paves the way for them to come to you with questions, concerns and an openness to listen.
Walking with your children through their life experiences helps address the needs they have and provides the opportunity to point to God working in their lives. While adults often describe their spiritual experiences verbally, children are not always able to put those into words. This does not mean that they are not encountering God, it just means that we have to be attuned to the nonverbal expressions such as art, movement, music and play.
The virtual session mentioned above brought up the concept of mirroring. This happens when a parent mimics a baby’s expression, which in turn helps the child feel more self-aware and supports their sense of belonging. It creates a relational connection between parent and child that encourages communication later in life as well. As parents talk to their child and mirror their emotions, the child feels included and understood. This needs to be done at all stages of a child’s life — from infancy into adulthood. Create these lines of communication by asking open-ended questions about their experiences of God and listen without judgement or an agenda. Being open to what they wonder about and receiving their honest expressions encourages them to share what is most important. Also, leave room for silence to allow for time to retreat from the everyday distractions to reflect and encounter God.
Nourish your faith life
Find a small group community or connect with your parish to make sure that you as a parent are experiencing care, concern and love. Your child will see you taking time to nourish your soul and recognize that it is important to you. This may help them see the parish as a place that cares about and values them as an individual as well.
“Love begins at home.” This quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that we have the ability and responsibility to live out this mission to “guard, reveal, and communicate love.” Our homes can be the rich soil where the seed “hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:23b)