Fractured families date as far back as the early days of Christianity; just consider the warring brothers Cain and Abel and their dysfunctional relationship. Still, God tells us that there is hope through Him in Jeremiah 29:11-12: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
No family experiences a happy life without the messiness of interpersonal relationships, says Michael P. Donaldson, director of the Office of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages.
“I grew up in a messy situation that was not conducive to peacefulness,” explains Donaldson, whose parents divorced when he was a child. In enduring the heartache and disorder of his fractured family he found strength, purpose and direction from his Catholic faith. “For me and my part, I found hope and strength through faith. Christ was who led me.”
The power of faith can pull families together even if they are torn, agrees Patricia Wenskunas, founder of Irvine-based Crime Survivors, who deals every day with families in crisis due to domestic violence.
“With faith there is hope,” Wenskunas says. “We’re so busy we forget to pray, but we need faith now more than ever. Families have lost direction and don’t know where to turn to or whom to trust. When walking this journey, you will find guidance and strength if you turn to the Church.” The power of prayer brings families together without drama or politics but with faith, she adds.
Families in crisis are such a worry for the Catholic Church and other religious traditions worldwide that the topic prompted a joint declaration by the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. The declaration says that the secularization of society and its alienation from the spiritual and divine is a common concern in the crisis of the family.
“Faith is essential to the purpose of the family,” Donaldson says. “It is the cell or the center point of society. Faith is the anchor that provides hope when life is challenging.”
Even though Sunday Mass requires merely an hour or so, it is a central part of our Catholic faith and the Eucharist is the summit of our faith, he notes. “When we practice going to Sunday Mass, Christ’s graces allow us to stay focused on our journey here on Earth.”
Evening prayers and blessings before meals recognize that the family dinner table is the altar of the domestic Church, Donaldson says. “We’ve found that the tradition of evening meals, when we break bread together and share our lives, is passing. Outside activities can make us forget the importance of meals together.”
Ideally, faith-based activities including Sunday Mass and daily prayers would be initiated by one parent or the other, he advises. “But children’s faith is so innocent that it can inspire and support parents.” In any case, he says, parents are the key central force to instill faith in the family.
One mother Donaldson remembers remained connected to the Church despite her divorce and made certain each of her children were involved in youth ministry, leadership teams and other Church activities. Years later, all her grown children are still active in the life of the parish.
“Mom was the anchor,” Donaldson declares. “The children could easily have said that God rejected them and gone astray. But because of their mother’s faith they are doing well and remain active in the Church.”
Young people lift their arms in prayer as Catholic musician Matt Maher performs July 3 during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations gathered for the July 1-4 convocation.