A year ago, my only sister Ana died after a lengthy battle with cancer. She died the evening before Palm Sunday. As I entered that Holy Week, she was very present to me in her beautiful spirit.
This year on Holy Thursday, I was struck by something. At my parish of Sacred Heart, Camden, as the church is being emptied of candles, flowers and other items, the Holy Eucharist is carried out in procession and into the repository below the church for benediction. All the congregation files out into the dark night, around the church building and down into the basement. At the rear of the procession is the sacred bread and wine, the Body and Blood of our Lord.
Surrounding the Holy Eucharist were four torches. My wife and I and two of our four children were those four torch bearers. In this the Year of the Family, a family was surrounding and honoring the Holy Eucharist. Or maybe the Holy Eucharist was at the center of this family, protecting and blessing us.
What makes a family strong is strong faith, centered on the Eucharist.
In addition to prayer and worshipping together, what else makes families stronger? Here are four suggestions.
Strong families eat together. I’m Hispanic and married to an Italian. For both of our cultures, food is so important and whenever Hispanics or Italians gather, there is bound to be plenty of food. Dinner time is especially important.
Now, I have four children and my wife and I are fully aware of busy, hectic schedules. But as much as possible, to wait for one another and to eat dinner together makes that time holy. The conversation around the dinner table strengthens the family.
Strong families play together. Laughter and frivolity are wonderful anti-depressants, and levity and humor are strong virtues. As much as possible my family engages in “Family Night” one day a week. One person picks an activity, whether it is a card game, a board game, an appropriate family movie or a night out. The more families laugh together, the stronger they become.
Strong families support one another. Strong families have firm and lasting bonds. I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around instances in which there is discord and animosity in families. Siblings don’t talk to siblings. Children don’t talk to adults. How does that happen? How could that possibly happen? St. Paul in Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rooted in faith, with Jesus, strong families are never separated from one another.
Strong families support one another not just in good times but in bad. Strong families embrace and accept the differences there are. If one is odd or quirky or radically “out there,” that’s fine because strong families will love one another no matter what.
Strong families work together. It might be working together at a soup kitchen or delivering Christmas baskets. It might be house cleaning—raking leaves, washing windows, cleaning bathrooms, sorting through neglected items scattered throughout our bedrooms. Common goals make for stronger families.
And it comes back to the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. Either my family was protecting the Holy Eucharist in that procession, or the Body and Blood of our Lord was blessing my family. Families who pray together often, who worship together, who come to the Holy Eucharist with humble hearts are strengthened by so much grace.
May our loving God strengthen and bless all families!
Rod J. Herrera is director, Office of Child & Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.