How family life can enrich parish life

by Thomas A. Quinlan, OSV

“Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families — Philadelphia 2015, points out that St. Augustine called the love between husband and wife the “seedbed” of society. Indeed, we could call fruitful love in marriage the most basic element in God’s plan for social order. From this marital love comes the foundational building block of society: family.

The next level of social structure, in a Catholic context, would be the parish.

The similarity between family and parish is striking. Parish can be understood as a large family of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. And the family, as noted in “Love is Our Mission,” is like a small parish — the domestic church. When I have the privilege, as a diocesan catechetical director, to work with parish families preparing for their children’s first Communion, I like to point out the connection between their life as a family and the life of their parish community. For me, the first and most obvious similarity is the Mass.

Although it may be increasingly uncommon to gather for a big Sunday supper, hopefully it still happens in your family on occasion. The joining together of generations, the traditions and rituals, the food and the storytelling. What a grace-filled celebration of family life!

The celebration of the Eucharist is much the same. Families come from their particular homes to gather in the larger home that is their parish church. As one family in Christ, we tell again the stories of our faith, of our history, of our lives as revealed in sacred Scripture. And we then turn to the altar, to the table of our parish family, for our most sacred of meals, to feed on eucharistic food that is lovingly set before us by God. In word, sacrament and community, we leave this Sunday family gathering renewed in grace and amply nourished for our lives, knowing that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves and our own family. We belong to a parish community and to the universal Church. How beautiful, how powerful!

We are so blessed. God invites us to feast on his love and joy in our homes, in our family relationships. And God calls upon us to gather to likewise be fed in and through Jesus, as one body, one family in Christ. For us Catholics, it’s all connected.

In any family system, there should be mutuality. In other words, both giving and receiving are at the core of the relational dynamics. (A family of takers wouldn’t really be much of a family.) Often, we first think of our parish in terms of what it has to offer us. We think about our experience at Mass, the quality of the ministries provided to meet our temporal and spiritual needs.

However, I’d like to invite you to also consider how God has gifted you and your family and is inviting you to share this giftedness to enrich the life of the parish community. The Holy Spirit blesses each baptized person with gifts that are meant to be shared. Our challenge is to discover these gifts and find ways to activate them.

The parish should be able to help us on both counts, to help surface what we are called to be for our Catholic faith community (and the world), and to help us find meaningful ways to use our gifts in service to others. Parishes exist, much like each family, to give glory to God and reflect the love of God in difference-making ways for society. The ultimate mission of the Church, which we all must participate in, is the building of the kingdom of God, where all social structures are rooted in the prevailing peace, justice and love of God.

So yes, parish is a place for giving of yourself. It should also be a community where you receive, where friendships and small communities can form, where ministries and resources enrich you and your family. Connect with parish leaders and other parishioners to find out what is there to bless your family.

If the parish is supposed to be your spiritual home, I encourage you to be engaged and assertive. Sunday Mass is the central act of the Catholic community, but parish can and should be so much more. If you have needs, don’t be afraid to let them be known. And if you have gifts you feel called to share, let this be known, too. Maybe God is calling you to name the need for a moms group or to help create an evangelizing baptismal ministry.

Parishes are dynamic systems, much like families. Each of us is called to give and receive in the building up of the community. In the receiving, we are enriched. In the giving, as Pope Francis points out, we find joy.

Thomas A. Quinlan is the director of the Religious Education Office in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

This article comes to you from (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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