Friday 30th December, this year was the Feast of the Holy Family. The readings from the Office highlighted the important nature of the family:

“The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus- the school of the Gospel”

“…there is a lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communi0n of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. Let us learn from Nazareth that the formation received at home is gentle and irreplaceable. Let us learn the prime importance of the role of the family in the social order.” Pope Paul VI

Of course family life doesn’t always feel like a communion of love. There is quite a lot of “Why aren’t you ready? I told you to be ready and you STILL haven’t got your shoes on!!” and, “I hate you! You don’t understand meeeeee!” accompanied by slamming doors. There are times when there is noise and mess and arguments and dirty washing and flooded bathrooms.

Both these sides are part of family life. Love and arguments, cuddles and chaos, laughter and mess. And still family life is sacred, a place for us to experience God’s love. After all God didn’t beam down to Earth a ready made human, clean and tidy. Jesus was born into the mess and danger of a refugee’s life, into poverty. He learnt to speak and walk. He fell over, grazed knees and hands. He learnt skills from his mother, father, aunts, uncles and friends. He climbed trees and helped with the harvest. He experienced hunger, pain, thirst, grief, tiredness, jokes, exhilaration and joy. In the end he suffered injustice and torture and death. All the variety of human experience, assumed into the God by the Incarnation. I have found Caroline Farrow’s reflection on having a new born very helpful this year.

For those of us who have children there is a tension here. We live in the chaos of family life with all its ups and downs. And yet what we do is a sacred calling. We have a responsibility to provide a formation for our children that will help them to discover the wonder of a relationship with the God who loves them. This is the only way they can fully enter into Life and have it in all its fullness. Yet this is so hard sometimes. It is important to remember this.

In our time as parents we have discovered some things that help:
Being part of a strong faith community and surrounding ourselves with people who support us. Family, friends, Godparents, people with older children, people with younger children all can pray and support in practical ways. Of course this does mean us being involved in the hard work of being part of a community as well. Faith communities don’t just happen by themselves. Our own contribution is important both to us and our children.
Finding other families to spend time with. Taking our turn in sharing the laughs and tears is important. Listening to the experiences of others and sharing our own acts as support.
When things get serious, plan something fun. Of course this can go wrong but we find the need as a family to do something fun when the going gets tough, often towards the end of term when the school/ homework routine becomes a lot like drudgery. A walk in the woods, a DVD together, a game of cards (‘Pig’ works for making people laugh), hot chocolate before bed; whatever it is it helps to lighten the load.
Reading the experiences of other parents, in books or on the Internet can help us get a different perspective on our own parenting.
Remember the work is God’s. We have been given our children as a gift and we have a responsibility to bring them up in the faith, however, ultimately our children are in God’s hands. Some times people interpret this as “It doesn’t matter what I do, God will pick up the pieces.” This is not what I mean. We cannot shirk our jobs as parents to love our children and bring them up but their faith in brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit. He loves them far more than we do and we are co-operating with Him in this work.

Being a family is a calling. It is about co-operating with God in our children’s lives and is also about our own faith. In Ignatian spirituality there is a principle about ‘Finding God in all things,’ described very well on the Loyola Press website. Having children is about us discovering aspects of God in the nitty gritty of our own lives. Here we are the domestic church and therefore we pray ‘Holy Family, pray for us.’