When there’s a crisis, catechesis begins at home

By Becky Aubut
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — When Beth Mahoney, the president-elect of the Fall River Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, heard about the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, she began to explore it from the perspective of the family: “I wanted to give something substantial to the family that they could relate to in today’s world and today’s time; knowing that families are in need of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing.”

The words from Pope Francis equating the Church as a field hospital stayed in her mind, and she understood the pope was giving her a blueprint to follow.

“I started to look at Pope Francis’ words about the Church and the domestic Church as a field hospital,” she said. “The pope said that when [people] come to you when they’re hurting, you don’t check for cholesterol or test for sugar, you heal the wound. I thought how realistic is that with families in our Church today?” 

Understanding families needed to see how they live in their own life, and how they can apply mercy as individuals and as a family, Mahoney realized there was a family that everyone knew and could relate to, and that was the Holy Family.

Mahoney incorporated the Holy Family with the pope’s idea of the Church as a field hospital into a presentation entitled, “The Home: First Aid Station for Mercy, Forgiveness and Healing,” at last year’s Faith Formation Ministry Convention.

She highlighted three events between Mary and her Son Jesus to help use as guideposts for families to follow.

“I talked about the first one, the finding in the temple,” said Mahoney. “In that event of the Holy Family, Jesus was learning and understanding the will of His Heavenly Father, but at the same time He was learning how to respect His earthly father.” 

In today’s world, many children explore options to find their own path, which sometimes deviates from the path his or her parents have — with the best of intentions — laid out for them. 

“I started to think about all the times I was in parish ministry, that parents would come to me and say, ‘We just spent thousands of dollars on education and now [my child] doesn’t want to go into the family business like we wanted them to do, but want to go into missionary work,’ or another area of work they didn’t expect them to go into,” she said. “Families live that in today’s society. They have to learn to allow their children to listen to the call of God within them, but the children also have to learn to respect their earthly parents, and that’s that reconciliation that happens within families.”

A second example that Mahoney shared was the Wedding in Cana when Mary turned to her Son and said there was no wine, and “Mary had such confidence in her Son that she just said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ I thought, how often in families do we struggle to find this healing presence of children seeing the confidence that the parents have in them, and the parent having that freedom to share that confidence with them. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and there’s a breakdown in communication.”

Mahoney’s third example was the Pentecost: “I looked at the example of how the Apostles were upstairs and frightened because Jesus left. In that encounter, Mary was present with them and the Spirit came and descended on them, and gave them the energy and the confidence, and the fortitude they needed to carry on the mission that Jesus left them with.

“Within families, we have that same example; we have loved ones who leave us, whether they die or move away, and we wonder how are we going to continue? How are we going to make it? The Apostles experienced that after the Ascension of Jesus. We read in Scripture they were lost, and fighting, and they didn’t know what to do; they lost their belief in themselves. The Spirit gave them that confidence, and how often do we do that in families?”

People often don’t think about Jesus and Mary in that way, and by humanizing the Holy Family and understanding their own struggles at home, families understand they are not alone.

“Sometimes we have this aspect that the Holy Family was perfect,” said Mahoney. “They had their moments, but when we put it into the concrete reality of our everyday life, it did raise an awareness of it. A couple of people said to me after the workshop, I never thought about it that way. There’s so much we can learn through the interaction from the Holy Family.”

The Year of Mercy offers a chance for people to be open to communicating more, showing understanding and mercy, and creating a stronger bond through healing and reconciliation. When there is someone going through the grieving process, or even when families have children go away to college or get married, parents are happy for them but it changes their lives. 

“It’s that reminder of the presence of God in each one of us and in our families to give us that strength,” said Mahoney

Mahoney paraphrased John Paul II’s apostolic letter, (Rosarium Virginis Mariae) “The Most Holy Rosary,” saying, “When family members gather together to pray, it’s the opportunity to look each other in the eye to embrace that, to look at reconciliation and forgiveness, and to be a moment of Sacredness within the family.”

To help families to understand this in this Year of Mercy, she offered easy-to-follow activities that would unite the family through sharing and prayer. Place a bowl on the kitchen table, said Mahoney, and ask family members to jot down something they would like to pray for, like a sick family member, an upcoming test or a problem at work. When the family leaves to start his or her day, each member will reach in the bowl and grab one of the prayer intentions and carry it with them all day.

“They may not have the time to sit down at the table to pray,” said Mahoney, “but they’re unified in that they are praying for one member of their family who has a situation that needs attention, and some prayer and guidance.”

Another unifying idea to help open up communication within the family is for them to create a Sacred space in the home, be it a chair in the living room or at the kitchen table; someplace where if a family member goes there, the other members know there is a need to pay attention to that person, and to reach out to see what they need to share with the family.

“What I’ve heard over the years is, sometimes there is a lack of communication,” said Mahoney. “They want to do it [to share an issue with the family] but they don’t know how to do it. So this example of having a Sacred space in the home, they know if they see someone sitting there, the others need to pay attention.” 

Mahoney wants people to recognize the home is the first stop, the true “first aid station” for hurting family members. 

“Often when there’s a problem in the home, we go outside the home” to fix it, she said. “We have the tools in the family to help each other. Oftentimes we go to someone else outside the family, and we don’t go within to strengthen the family.” 

Many people don’t recognize how much we have within the family, she added. Culture and current media have guided people away from the family in the sense that it’s become normal to complain to friends and simply not embrace familial communication, but instead reach out to others. 

“I think for many years we lost the aspect that the family is our first place for catechesis,” said Mahoney. “For a long time, we’ve put that on the parish or Religious Education or Catholic schools, and we’ve lost the sense the true Spirituality of the family. Our faith journey starts within the family and is rooted within the family.” 

She then highlighted the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and “put it in the context of, we live these within our family.” 

Mahoney then shared a story of her father who had been hospitalized while ill. Upon his release, her brother came to visit and mentioned he was hungry. Her father immediately rose from the couch and went into the kitchen to cook her brother something to eat.

“I went into the kitchen,” said Mahoney, “and said to my dad, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘As long as I’m capable of feeding my children, I will feed my children. I am going to feed my son.’

“I looked at that and realized he showed me what it is to live the Corporal Works of Mercy. He was feeding the hungry. Families live those every day. It can go both ways on how families witness to each other; children can witness this to their parents, as well as parents to their children. This is not something new. These are basic necessities that people have in life, and families try to live this and they struggle with it. It’s now easy, but we’re called to live the Works of Mercy in the family.”

The home is the domestic Church, said Mahoney, and during the workshop she raised the question, “Do you believe your family is holy?”

Many responded no way, recalled Mahoney, as they began to state that just getting the children up, fed and ready for school; it’s chaos. Mahoney then countered with her next question, “How do you think the Holy Family lived?” They had stress, disappointments, struggles, moments where they had to reconcile and forgive each other. They had their own hurtful moments where they had to heal.

“That was a real awakening for people and that helped put the human aspect on the Holy Family, and I think it did the reverse, too, and brought Spirituality to their families,” said Mahoney. “I tell them your family is holy, and just because you have a crisis or there’s a struggle or lack of communication, that there isn’t that Sacredness within the family. I think we’ve lost that as a society and we need to get back to that, to the roots of our faith and the roots of our faith within the family.”

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