Mom was right. Charity begins at home. Such sound advice that we grew up with is something that can continue to inspire and motivate us as we seek practical ways to raise our children well in the light of our Gospel mission. That mission begins at home. Since Jesus comes to save the whole person, so also we wish our children to be taught and formed for a life that feeds and grows not only their minds and bodies, but their whole human nature, of which their soul — their seat of their eternal destiny — is loved and cared for.

To be a disciple of Christ, we understand our mission is to ­follow him and to go where he sends us. Jesus remained at home for 30 years! The Incarnate Son of God prioritized his pre­sence on Earth to spend some 90 percent of it with his mother and, most probably, his extended family in Nazareth. Undoubtedly, he was preparing Mary for her mission, even as she and St. Joseph were forming him, for Scripture tells us that, after the incident in the temple, “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). 

Shortly after his public ministry began, Jesus chose 12 disciples and spent the next three years forming them for their eventual missionary commission to “(g)o, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). The early missionary activity of the Church, however, demonstrates that, long before the Apostles may have reached the outposts of civilization toward the end of their lives, the long and often tedious process of founding and building families of faith ensued. 

Acts, the Letters of Paul and the Book of Revelation contain narratives of a missionary church that is always about making personal connections, stoking the home fires, while seeking to share their resources. Yes, you guessed it, even as the local families of faith were growing, the Apostles (including Paul) were always making appeals and taking up collections to help the poor, the widowed and the communities on the margins that also needed material assistance to underwrite their spiritual mission. Such it is in a world where to be human is to be an incarnate spirit, neither body nor soul, but both inseparably. The whole person must be fed, and not by bread alone (Mt 4:4).

Home is where we learn our first prayers. My mother taught my four siblings and me the prayer to our Guardian Angel which I never forgot. My father always led us in prayer before meals. Both my parents took us to Mass on Sundays and sometimes I even accompanied my mother to 6:30 a.m. Mass on weekdays. Although we had the benefit of parochial school educations, my parents were full participants in our catechesis and, no doubt, their own learning was refreshed along with us, as we rehearsed the catechism lessons.

Today there are incredibly rich catechetical materials available in print and online by which engaged, truly missionary parents can accompany their children in their faith formation, whether or not they attend Catholic school, a parish program or even are home-schooled. Our diocesan Office of Faith Formation and Education and local parish teams are happy to assist families. Nothing, however, is more fundamental for the health and growth of our children than a holistic and ongoing process of human formation in the family that respects their incarnate spiritual nature. 

Children and young people have an inborn hunger for the transcendent God that loves them. Their imagination about God, the angels and the saints may be very concrete and conditioned by their developmental and cultural situations, but it always presses beyond. The Holy Spirit is leading them even amidst the secular wilderness that they are cast into (cf. Mk 1:12, where the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert).

It is not unusual for children to feel that God is talking to them personally, and parents introducing them to Jesus as a friend who is always with them is a beautiful way of focusing them on the One who wants to make our hearts his home for life and beyond. Accompanying our children to Jesus through Bible stories is also a way to strengthen that life-saving friendship.

I like to think of the Bible not so much as a book, but as heart-to-heart connection between us and the Holy Spirit. Much of the information we receive these days comes to us through electronic media. No real people live in our TV sets, let alone our iPhone or iPad screens. A real divine Person, however, lives in the Scriptures: the Holy Spirit wrote them! And the same Holy Spirit, living in the hearts of the baptized, is aching to open up the Word of God, just as he did in the hearts of the two on the road to Emmaus, when they discovered at the meal in the inn that it was Jesus who was accompanying them all along in their journey (cf. Lk 24:13-35).

The Mass is clearly THE privileged place for the personal sacramental encounter with Jesus Christ, but the family meal in the “domestic church,” as we might call the home, is the school from which a sense of communion emerges. We often speak of the Eucharistic presence of Christ as “Holy Communion.” By this we mean our union with God and one another in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is not just a symbol or memento of something Jesus did in the past, but of his ongoing presence to and among us until the end of time. 

To the extent that our experience of home represents for us moments and memories of family members who love one another, share their stories — their sorrows, joys and hopes — and eat and pray together, to that extent the experience of the parish Mass as a gathering of families and those not with family, will also take on its real meaning. We come together as God’s family to parish worship not just out of habit or duty but because it is what we are. 

Our memories of home life may not always contain such images of harmony and peace. Today many of our meals are distracted by the presence of other voices at our table than the person sitting beside or in front of it. How often, at Thanksgiving and other meals, or even out for dinner, the friend with us must compete with the image on the screen in one of our hands, or a TV screen on the wall or in another room!

To sum up, home is a place where an encounter with Jesus in word (Scripture), prayer and meals can be the conscious exercise of the mission of parents and family members to bring the Gospel to one another as co-missionaries. To take this to the next level, the family, inspired by these practices, might be led to contemplate the works of mercy that the Gospel calls us to. Finding ways to reach out to neighbors or even strangers — at home or in the community — is to discover our mission to the world that Jesus invites us to. The Holy Spirit will reveal in these encounters those in our midst who most need to be included in our prayers and in our activities.

Jesus had some very specific and challenging things to say about inviting to our tables those in the margins: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (Lk 14:13-23). Physical and economic poverty are not the only kinds of penury that can disfigure our human dignity. So many souls suffer from emotional and spiritual neglect, starving for a companion who will just listen to them. The isolation and loneliness that festers even among familiars living under the same roof is itself a cry from the heart for the hope and healing that are not beyond a prayer, if we will only take the initiative to utter it. That prayer that cries out, like charity itself, which is the heart of God, must begin at home.

Give God a voice in your home. Let your home become a mission! In the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), canonized a saint just this past Sunday: “If we follow the Voice of God, we shall be brought on, step by step, into a new world, of which, before, we had no idea.” Get ready to be surprised.

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You didn’t cause it.
Can’t control it.
Can’t cure it.
Let go and let God.
— 12 Steps for families