Our spiritual GPS instructs us to help others find their way as we keep family life holy
By Marian Christiana
In May I participated in a webinar hosted by the Center for Ministry Development called You Gotta Love Them: Insights into Welcoming, Accompanying and Empowering Families. The webinar was based on the writings of Pope Francis regarding the family, and in particular his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
The basic premise of the online seminar was that family life is holy and we are all called by our baptism to help others on our faith journey. While the webinar was directed at people who already were working in family ministry, it had great messages for all of us in the pews, too.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said that family life is holy. Traditional marriage vows actually describe what family life is going to be all about. A couple promises to love each other in good times and in bad, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.
The wording of the vows pretty much guarantees that there will be struggles in married life. The struggles may be small at times and very complex at others. Each stage of marriage can bring its own set of challenges.
Sometimes it is hard to see the holy during the difficult times. It’s also true that sometimes it’s in the daily struggles that we are better able to see the presence of God in our life. We may, however, need the help of others to see that God is in our midst.
Pope Francis encourages all of us to meet people where they are, accompany them on their faith journey, and help them see the holiness of family life that will bring us all closer to Christ. The webinar used the Road to Emmaus as our model of accompaniment. This model does not push or pull people. This model asks us to walk side by side with other families engaging in conversation because we are all on the same road walking toward Christ.
How can we, the people in the pew, begin to implement the Road to Emmaus model that asks us to accompany and listen to others? First, we need to acknowledge the holiness of family life, everyone’s family life. Family is where we first meet God and is therefore holy. Every family deserves our respect. After all, our Church family is made up of many families coming together. Once we acknowledge the basic holiness of the family then we can take small steps toward fully interacting with others.
One way we can all reach out to others is very simple. Smile! Look people in the eye and smile. You can never tell where that smile may lead.
I recently walked into a salon appointment, and the person who had the appointment before mine was still there. She had been late for her appointment. Her tardiness was becoming an imposition on my day and my time. I was pretty irritated and spent a few minutes looking at my phone. I think everyone in the salon knew that I wasn’t happy.
I eventually looked up, and the woman was nervously looking at me. I had cooled off and realized that there wasn’t anything that I could do about the situation so I decided to smile at her. The woman gave me a big smile in return and we began to have a wonderful conversation.
I learned that she was getting ready to help her sister and brother-in-law celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary and the couple was renewing their marriage vows that weekend. This woman had been their maid of honor and was going to stand up with them again as they reaffirmed the promises they had made 44 years ago. She was so excited and wanted to share her excitement.
If I hadn’t smiled I would have missed out on that joyful encounter. A smile is an easy way to start on the Road to Emmaus.
The next step also is easy. Engage others in conversation. You don’t have to be a great conversationalist. The conversation doesn’t have to be long, but it might lead to a deeper conversation in the future.
The Road to Emmaus model asks us to acknowledge others so we create an environment where those we engage feel free to share their stories. Once we share our stories we all are better equipped to understand any issues that might surface during the conversation and offer any assistance that might be helpful.
Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them. Conversations also help us identify the interests of the family. The encounter may provide us with an opportunity to invite them into further involvement within parish life.
The last simple step I want to share with you is to pray. OK, we always are asked to pray, but this time pray for a particular family that you see at Mass and may not know or know much about. Pick a family and keep them in your prayers for a week, month or year. Pray that they will recognize God’s presence in their lives and truly understand that the work of family life is holy work. Smile at them when you see them. Who knows, maybe they are praying for you. Maybe they will start the conversation with you, and together you can continue on your Roads to Emmaus. ■