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Family Life

Father Terry writes:

A friend in America recently sent me a kind of questionnaire about family life, not so much questions as observations. One of them went as follows:

Your car contains the cartons of at least four drive-thru restaurants but you haven't sat down for a meal as a family all week.

Well when I read that I made a mental note to clear the cartons and crisp packets out of my car. But it also set me thinking. The point, as you can see, was to say that we are under pressure. I am so aware of how much under pressure families are. You have obligations to work. You have commitments to do things for your children's school. The Church, of course, wants to see you at Mass, at least. You may want to keep in shape by going to the gym. You may be taking classes somewhere to improve your job prospects. Not only are you under pressure, but you spend more and more time in your car, not least because your children need to be, taken from A to B to C - I've noticed a number of cars with the sign hanging on them 'Mum's Taxi’, or 'Dad's taxi.'

The picture the Church presents today of the Holy Family is a rather idealised picture. Yet, we know that even they had to begin family life on the run, for no sooner had Jesus been born than Joseph had to bundle them all on the back of a donkey and flee to Egypt to protect them from Herod's insecure rage.

We are under pressure today. Parents especially are under pressure. Even single people like myself sometimes feel this pressure. The form this pressure takes is time. There are never enough hours in the day, never enough days in the week. We feel guilty if we don't do everything, and because we can never really do enough, we are left always feeling guilty.

And yet, part of the secret of family life is listening. Listening so well that you can hear the overtones and the undertones. Listening so that you hear what is spoken and what is unspoken. It takes practice. It takes love. It takes time. But unless there is a listening in family life, all of us are impoverished, not just you who live in families, but all of us. It means building up an atmosphere of trust. And unless you can make time for each other, it becomes so much harder to achieve. I so admire my Jewish friends for their sabbath meal on a Friday evening. Everybody is there. Even the teenage children, so far, have made it a commitment. It begins with prayer and becomes a leisurely meal, with a lot of laughter, a lot of catching up with each other's lives, a lot of listening, in fact, of one kind and another.

All of us are called to do this in one way or another. Single or in families, we are called by God to live in such a way that there is space in our lives. Space to listen to other people. Space to listen to God. Space so that we can even listen to our own fears, and bring these to God, so that they do not dominate us and make us shut our other people. If we can do these things, if we can make this space, then we will truly be on our way to fulfilling our opening prayer, 'help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love'.

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