The family is the basic building block of society. It is of such great importance that the history of one’s country and civilization depends in large part upon the wholesome character of the family. In fact, world history has proven that powerful empires and civilizations crumble and disintegrate in direct proportion to the weakening of the family.
Many modern trends militantly oppose the stability of the family. It also must be specified that a truly authentic family as seen from the eyes of God consists of the union of man and woman blessed and sanctified through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. And the primary purpose of the union of man and woman through Holy Matrimony is the procreation of children.
Once children are conceived and born, it is the serious obligation of the father and mother to instill in these children the presence of God, starting with Holy Baptism. Then fathers and mothers must do all in their power to foster the growth of knowledge and love for God. This is done principally by teaching their children to pray. Also, parents must provide for the proper instruction and preparation for the reception of the Sacraments—especially Confession, Holy Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Confirmation.
To express the concept with the utmost clarity, the primary duty of parents on a supernatural plane is to pave the way so that their children will one day be permanent residents of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Therefore, we would like to offer a few, ten in number, concrete suggestions on how a husband and wife can grow in their love for God, their love for each other, their love for their children, and their ardent desire to form wholesome, holy and exemplary families from which their children can cross, as if it were a bridge, from earth to heaven. In fact, without clear guidelines, proper instruction and constant education, the formation of exemplary and holy families is very difficult. May these ten concrete suggestions be a positive springboard from which a husband and wife can ascend on high and bring their children on eagles’ wings to the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.
1. PRAYER. Pray for your spouse, as well as your family, on a daily basis. Offer Mass for your spouse at least twice a year: on their birthday and your anniversary. But the more Masses, the better. For the 25th Anniversary of my priesthood, my Mom had 25 Masses offered for my intentions. One Mass has greater value than the whole world. It is the Precious Blood of Jesus offered to the Father for the salvation of the world.
2. SPECIAL WORDS TO BE SAID CONSTANTLY TO YOUR SPOUSE. This is my advice that I very often give on their Wedding day: “I love you; forgive me; I forgive you!”
3. ANGER/RESENTMENT. The Bible admonishes us: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph. 4:26) If you have a quarrel, disagreement, discord with your spouse, make sure you never go to bed angry at each other. If you do, the anger turns into resentment, coldness and bitterness, and even at times into hatred. Remember what Jesus says: “If someone has something against you and you are about to offer your gift at the altar, leave your gift at the foot of the altar and go and be reconciled, then return to offer your gift.” (Mt. 5: 23-24) Jesus said: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36) and “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Mt. 6:12) The Catholic English poet, Alexander Pope, added: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
4. AN ACT OF CHARITY/KINDNESS EVERY DAY. Every night before retiring, plan that very night to do some little act of charity to make your spouse happy the following day. Here are some possible acts of charity or kindness that you might carry out…
a) SMILE. Sometimes a simple smile can radiate the sunshine of joy to the life of your spouse. One of the clearest signs of a true follower of Christ is joy manifested through a smile. Try it, the frown is contagious, but so also is the smile!
b) KISS. A kiss before leaving for work; then a kiss upon arriving home from work. I remember seeing this among my parents as a child. This was a concrete sign of a small gesture of love and concern.
c) A FLOWER. Giving a flower, maybe a rose, can brighten the day and emanate the fragrance of love. Saint Paul says: “You are the fragrance of Christ.” (2 Cor. 2:15)
d) A HOLY CARD/PICTURE. As Catholics, we all like holy cards, pictures of Jesus, Mary, the angels and saints.
e) CLEAN HOUSE. You might plan this for tomorrow: “I will clean the house for my spouse as a sign of love, concern and hospitality.”
f) JOKE BOOK. Learn a few good jokes and use them. It is hard to be angry at each other when there is wholesome, honest humor. Saint Philip Neri quipped these words: “Tristeza y melconcolia fuera de casa mia.” In English: “May sadness and a melancholy spirit get out of my house!”
5. INVITE YOUR SPOUSE TO GO OUT ONCE A MONTH: RENEW YOUR HONEYMOON. As spouses, you must work constantly on communication skills. Why not once a month go out to a Restaurant, leaving the kids with a baby-sitter, so that you will have time to talk, share, organize, and simply enjoy each other’s company. When I go out with a couple of friends for a meal, I usually end by saying: “The meal was great, but the company was even much better.”
6. FULTON SHEEN’S ADVICE. His Book: “THREE TO GET MARRIED”… The husband, the wife, and God! Never can we emphasize enough the importance of praying together as a couple and praying together as a family. The immortal words of Father Patrick Peyton, the famous Rosary-priest, resound so true: “The family that prays together, stays together.”
7. COMPLIMENT EACH OTHER OFTEN. We live in a world with constant negativism, constant criticism, constant attacks both physical and verbal. We must go in the opposite direction: try to offer words and expressions complimenting each other by pointing out the good qualities that are definitely present in your spouse. How easy it is to allow an excellent meal that the spouse has been preparing for hours without even one word of recognition. How easy it is for the husband to be working day and night, sweating and even suffering so as to pay the bills, and very rarely does he hear a word of compliment. In a word, how easy it is to take each other for granted. How easy it is to be blind to the good that the spouse is doing, is carrying out on a daily basis.
8. MONTHLY FAMILY DAY OF RETREAT. Why not set aside an evening once a month to recharge the spiritual batteries of the whole family. How you might ask??? Quite simply the following: set aside one day/evening with the following spiritual and then social activities. Line up for confession— the whole family, then Mass and Holy Communion, and afterwards pray the Holy Rosary together for family love and unity. After completing this family time of retreat, then the social part—off to POLLO LOCO!!! Try to kill two birds with one shot, the spiritual and the social—Sacraments and prayer, and then the meal time and conversation. (No cell phones!)
9. FAMILY MEETING TIME ONCE A MONTH. Another practice that I would warmly encourage, and it could possibly be done in the context of the monthly retreat (mentioned above), would be a family meeting. This might be hard but it is very efficacious for maintaining communication and understanding in the family unit. Here is the order or method perhaps to follow: Prayer, then the parents start by complimenting their children on the good they have done in the past month. Then the parents humbly ask the children what they think the parents should change to improve their family life. Next the parents intervene and point out areas that their children have to work on so as to improve in their personal and family life. This requires much humility, honesty and fortitude but it can be a very efficacious tool to improve communication and comprehension in the family. Many times suffering comes about for lack of communication and misinterpreting actions, as well as motives and intentions, of the family members.
10. BE A GOOD SAMARITAN TOWARDS YOUR SPOUSE AND OTHERS. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who lifts up and helps the man lying half-dead on the roadside. However, the real Good Samaritan right now must be both husband and wife, both of the spouses. Instead of always looking to be served, helped, the center of attention, you be the protagonist, the Good Samaritan, striving to be of help and service to your spouse and other family members. Indeed, a true GOOD SAMARITAN strives to live out the Last and Greatest Commandment of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34)
May the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, be a model for all families. May their example and inspiration motivate all who have chosen the vocation of Holy Matrimony and the raising of a family to strive for holiness in this life and the eternal goal of Heaven! Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, we entrust our families to your loving care.