It is in the family that we learn what it is to love. Christ calls us not be perfectly happy, but to trust in him and be open to growth and grace.
Families can be wonderfully, and awfully, messy can’t they?
They may be the fundamental unit of society, but there’s no question that families can be terribly faulty at times, even the seemingly happiest and most cohesive family.
And yet maybe that is the whole point of a Christian family. That a Christian family is not one which is faultless and whose members are perfectly happy all of the time, but one which counts upon God for help with practical needs and for grace.
My Faulty Family
The word family can conjure up different things for different people, depending on their own experience of family life. For me it brings up an idea of emotional and physical security, and unconditional love and acceptance – along with the conflicting emotions that family life has not always felt that way to me and I even struggle to create that kind of family life today.
Our families are imperfect, some more so than others, but it’s encouraging to know that there is no such thing in this life as a perfectly happy family. Every family has its share of struggles or hardship or worry or pain.
For example, our eight year old sometimes behaves like a moody teenager, the almost two year old is yet to put two words together, and my husband and I can get discouraged over money or parenting issues and the lack of time and energy to do all that we need and want to do.
The Catholic Church holds up for our encouragement some families which have faced challenges to which many of us can relate. The ‘official’ saintly families were simply ordinary families. None of them looked the same as any other. None of them were perfectly happy. But deep faith in the Gospel is found in all of them. Here are just a few of them.
Zelie, a mother of five with her own small business making lace wrote this to her sister-in-law about her two-week old baby:
“My little one is not at all difficult during the day, but at night she often makes us pay dearly for her good day. Last night I held her until eleven thirty. I was exhausted and couldn’t do it anymore.”
She worried about her business. “It isn’t doing very well…but I think it would be foolish of me to leave it having five children to provide for.”
The couple struggled most with the death of a daughter at four years of age, and had problems with their daughter Leonie. Later they discovered that Leonie had been physically abused and emotionally manipulated by their live-in helper.
Gianna Beretta Molla, a paediatrician, and her husband Pietro, an engineer, together had four children before Gianna died aged 39 from a secondary infection after surgery to remove a large tumour from her uterus.
Refusing to have an abortion after the tumour was discovered early in her last pregnancy, she asked her doctors, if they were forced to choose between saving either her or the baby, to save the baby.
She considered her work in medicine as her Christian mission and enjoyed a full and balanced life, skiing and theatre, fashion and concerts.
She depended on prayer and the Eucharist, and showed joy in daily life as a mother with three young children while working part time in her general practice.
In his Confessions, St Augustine recalls his tumultuous relationship with his mother as a rebellious young man and the difficult marriage she endured.
He also recalls the feeling of being emotionally suffocated by his mother. He secretly took a ship away from her to Rome one night, “leaving her to her tears and her prayers.”
It was through that painful separation that her prayers for her son were eventually answered. While in Rome Augustine met St Ambrose and began his slow and winding journey towards Catholicism’s most famous conversion. He reconciled with his mother and she died at peace a year later.
Author: Marilyn Rodriuges
This article featured in the June 2012 edition of the CathFamily e-magaizine. For more, check out: