A call for contemplative families

posted in: Homeschool & Parenting | 39
File:Prière avant la récolte par Félix de Vigne.jpg
Prayer for the Harvest by Felix de Vigne (Wikimedia Commons).

On Sunday, October 4, the Synod on the Family convened in Rome. As we pray, with trust in the Lord, for real help for the family from the Fathers of our Church, we should do something else as well. The strengthening of the Catholic family must come not just from new directives from Rome, but also from families themselves. You and I, together with our families, can help change the outlook of the Catholic family for centuries to come. Today I issue a call that is the call of Pope John Paul II, “Family, become what you are!” (Familiaris consortio no. 17). I issue a call for contemplative families.

God has been putting this on my heart more and more. I hear from mothers who want to teach their children to pray, but don’t know how. From women whose husbands have abandoned the family and who are trying to raise godly children on their own. From grandparents who grieve that their grandchildren are not being raised in the faith. I do not need to tell you the challenges that face the family in the twenty-first century. You are the very ones who are facing them.

My dream is to see a renewal of the authentically Catholic contemplative life, but not just in monasteries. I dream to see it in families.

A new model for families

Portrait of Bl. Louis Martin from the Basilica of St. Therese (Wikipedia).

In the Middle Ages, the contemplative life was found among the hermits, monks, and nuns. This tradition reached its height in the teaching of St. Teresa of Avila. Then with the seventeenth century came St. Francis de Sales. He brought the contemplative life out into the world, directing individual lay men and women to immerse themselves in the Gospel, even while living out their vocation.

In the nineteenth century, Blessed Louis Martin sought to enter a monastery and was turned away. Separately, Azelie Guerin, as she was then, sought to enter a convent and was also turned away. The two later married and established something new. They established a contemplative family.

I know many lay men and women who desire a more contemplative life for their families. Some of them have moved near monasteries. Others have joined communities that seek to spread a monastic spirit to those living in the world. I myself was part of the Secular Order for Discalced Carmelites for seventeen years, starting when I was single.

As I married and had children, I found that the Rule that I had been able to follow as a single person became increasingly difficult to fulfill. It conflicted with the duties and obligations of my vocation as wife and mother. I began to understand why most of my Carmelite brothers and sisters were men and women whose children were grown. Eventually I had to leave Carmel. But my desire for a contemplative life did not wane. I thought then, as I do now, that the contemplative life should be available to parents of young children as well as to singles and older adults.

How can we live this out? How can families live the contemplative life as families, not trying to copy the life of cloistered religious, which would place on their shoulders obligations they could not fulfill without neglecting the duties of their vocations? This is the question I wish to explore, the question I would ask you to help me answer.

Religious communities are built on the model of the family with a father and brothers or mother and sisters. Should we build the family in turn on the model of the cloister? Can we not instead build up our own model of contemplative life, a life that flows from and supports the vocation of marriage, rather than adding unrealistic obligations to the ones God has already given us?

My house shall be a house of prayer

Fr. Peyton famously said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” With Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin as our models and patrons, let us begin with praying as a family. Let us pray the family Rosary, not just teaching our children the words of the prayer, but teaching them to meditate on the mysteries and to say each word with love and attention. Let us teach them to sanctify their meals with the Table Blessing. Let us pray as a family every morning or evening or both.

This is the beginning. But if this is all we do, I fear that we may become like the one in the proverb who gives a man a fish. We feed our children for the day. We pray with them and nourish them while they are with us. But what happens when they leave our homes, when they live on their own, with no family to support them in a daily Rosary? What then?

We must teach them to fish. Teach them to find their own nourishment to sustain them throughout their lives. We must teach them to pray. And by this I mean especially to teach them mental prayer.

The Church has a long tradition of mental prayer. If it is not passed down from one generation to the next, it risks being lost. We can teach our children to prayerfully read the Scriptures, listening to the voice of God speaking through His Word and responding to it with love. We can also teach them to practice the presence of God. Through these two practices, as well as growth in virtue, we can help them prepare for the gift of supernatural contemplation, an ever-deepening intimacy with God. This is the meaning of the contemplative family.

Mary taught Jesus to pray

The Catechism tells us that Jesus learned to pray from his Mother (2599). As fathers and mothers, it is our responsibility to teach our children to pray. We cannot abdicate. We cannot depend on schools or religious education programs to do this most important work for us. We must be active in teaching our children the way to intimacy with God.

Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. He had disciples, students. He taught them to pray by His example, by going aside regularly to spend time alone with His Father. We too must take time alone with God each day and let our children know how important this time is for us. He taught His disciples the Our Father. We must teach our children vocal prayer. He taught them to gather together in prayer in His name. We must gather in prayer as a family. He offered Himself as the supreme sacrifice to God, and invited us to share in that sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. We must teach our children the importance of the Mass and reverence for the Eucharist.

I would like to begin to join together with other families pursuing the contemplative life as families. God alone knows where this will lead. If you would like to join me, please pledge your participation in a comment below. And if you have a blog that is focused on holiness for families, please provide the link. I may want to share some of your posts with my readers in the future. I hope to begin allowing guests to post on this topic. Then spread the word, so that other families may become what God made them to be.

God bless you and your family!

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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39 Responses

  1. Marilyn

    I pledge my participation as well, although I am just a beginner as far as contemplative prayer goes. I want to learn to pray and teach my family. I have 6 children and I know that prayer is the backbone of the christian life. Thanks for doing this.

  2. ljfrasier

    I too am interested in the contemplative life but find it a challenge with 2 grandchildren in the home. I live with my daughter/son-in-law and their 2 1/2 and 5 year olds. Early morning prayer happens at 5 am so I have time with God before the kids get up at 7 am. Afternoon prayer is nearly impossible. Evening prayer finds me exhausted. Keeping God in remembrance with loving glances through the day maintains a sense of God’s presence…

    • Connie Rossini

      In some ways you are facing the same challenges as a young mom. The practice of the presence of God is key to combining the contemplative and active lives. I think we need to learn to work with the situation God has given us, instead of working against it towards an unrealistic ideal. So that’s the kind of thing I want to explore, and I welcome suggestions from any reader.

  3. iciareedicia

    I have been following your articles for a couple of months. God reward you for your holy efforts. After fifteen years of homeschooling, I am revamping and delving deeper into our faith in our school. We studied our Faith before but, we have restructured our day to include several times where we regroup and go back to our faith and prayer. It was something I felt the Lord was calling me to do. So, your articles seems to fall into my lap by Divine Providence at just the right time. I look forward to future articles and will try as far as I am able to incorporate your ideas. I have six children, one has graduated and is getting married very soon. The other kids range in age from 2 to 15. I am 47 years old and married. We are chasing after the dream of a holy contemplative family outside of a monestary setting. It is hard with fatigue, toddlers and teens, but God willing, we’ll get there.

    • Connie Rossini

      Wonderful! I am the same age as you. Don’t overwhelm yourself by too many activities. Do what works best for you. It may not be the same as what works for my family, and it may change as your families grows up. I hope we can begin to see common threads or principles behind different contemplative practices, which we can then each customize to our situation.

  4. Anthony Pecora

    My wife and I have been blessed by your writings and insights. They have encouraged me to grow in my prayer life and reinforced the importance of a strong prayer life. Like you, I have struggled with advice that seems more geared towards people who are not raising a young family. I appreciate your quest to consider ways for families to live out their vocations together in holiness and prayerfully. I am interested in participating in this quest as well.

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks, Anthony! I’m especially glad to see a dad chiming in. You can help us see things from a man’s perspective. Always feel free to share any insights you have.

  5. Amanda Rose

    I’m not sure how “in” I am, but I have felt the desire to teach my teenage daughter how to pray – really pray, mental prayer – and hadn’t been sure of how to start, then been too fatigued/brain injured, etc, etc, busy, excuses, excuses. It was wonderful when we prayed Night Prayer during Lent. This is the area I most feel I’ve let down my children, and the most important in enabling to not only hold onto their faith as adults, but to grow in faith throughout their lives. It’s a challenge living it out in a home split by divorce, but it’s certainly not impossible.

    I do want to encourage the families who feel called to this to persevere, even though you have young children. And even when you think your children aren’t learning a thing. They learn when you least expect it. (I have two young adult children. I speak from experience!)

    And thank you to Connie for stepping out in faith with this!

    • Connie Rossini

      God bless you and your kids, Amanda! The Lord knows how difficult it has been. The great thing about teenagers is that they can catch on to things quickly, so it may not take too much instruction with your daughter. Then she can just start practicing it.

  6. Amanda Pena

    I am interested as well. I have been praying about this for some time-the desire of raising a holy family. I have 5 children ages 3 to 14. I started to homeschool my 2nd grader this year and am considering bringing my other children home next year-God willing. We do struggle with family prayer and I would be interested also in how to incorporate the bible in our daily life. Thanks for your insights!

  7. Jessica Fahy

    This is beautiful and has been so much on my heart too. Thank you Connie for gearing up these efforts to connect us all in struggling to raise holy, prayerful families. We are definitely in. I do have a little blog and I’ve written a few reflections recently on setting little children on the path to deeper prayer since I feel the Lord drawing me to focus on more of this with my own children and in what I share on my little blog. I truly am convicted that a renewal of faith in the Church must begin within the family!

    These are the links for those interested in reading:

    “10 ways to to gently encourage young children to pray”

    “Praying to purposely be seen”

    “Paving the way for deeper prayer in little children”

    I hope they help people; they’re just things I learn along the way. I’m a young mom with young children (4 children ages 5 & under) and have MUCH to learn and grow in, but I’m happy to share these.

    Also, is there such thing as a regular “Catholic mom” podcast on the internet right now? I’ve just been wondering this because I’d love to listen to something like this where other moms share what they’re doing and how they’re struggling to raise holy families. Just curious if you know of any that focuses particularly on this? Thank you.

    • Connie Rossini

      Sorry, this one was stuck in my spam folder. Thanks for the links. Catholicmom.com has a podcast. i don’t know how regular it is or how deep, but I’d check out their website.

  8. Jessica Fahy

    This is a beautiful idea. I am always inspired learning from others and how they’re cultivating prayer and holiness. I am definitely in. I’m truly convicted that our world and our Church will not be renewed in this crisis of Faith if it doesn’t begun in the family. So let us, by God’s grace, raise prayerful and holy families! I have written a few reflections on young children and prayer on my little blog as I learn things and would be more than happy to share them.

  9. Pat Pearson

    I have 6 kids… Two of them have Cystic Fibrosis. We’re in!! And I do not have a blog but I do some writing.

    • Connie Rossini

      Welcome, Pat. Feel free to comment at any point with ideas on how to adapt things for kids with special needs of whatever kind. I’m sure many other parents need the help and encouragement.

  10. Valerie

    Connie, what a wonderful goal: holiness in daily life! I can definitely use some of that! Have you come across the writings of St Josemaria? He founded Opus Dei to help people put prayer first in their busy lives in order to help them be contemplative in the middle of the world and to lead a holier life.

    • Connie Rossini

      Long ago my husband had an Opus Dei priest as a spiritual director, and I have read some books published by Opus Dei. I think I started reading a book of sayings of St. Josemaria once–a free review copy my husband received through his work at the diocesan newspaper. But as you can see, it’s been spotty. I would love to see different perspectives from different saints. My focus is always on the Carmelites and on St. Francis de Sales. So if you have any insights as we explore this together, please share them.

  11. Kristine M.

    Hi Connie,

    I would love to join in the quest for a contemplative home (and homeschool too!) I have 2 kids 14 and 16. I’m hoping to delve more and more into contemplative prayer with them. My husband and I have always been drawn to Carmelite spirituality. We looked into becoming Third Order Carmelites several years ago, but we too found that it was too difficult with younger children. I am so excited to have found your blog!
    God bless you for your work here!

    • Connie Rossini

      Kristine, yes it is very difficult with young children. I tried it, but even though I had been a committed Carmelite for years, I could not continue to make it to monthly meetings consistently. (We had also moved more than 100 miles away.) Ever since I left I have longed for an alternative that works for families. I don’t know if this will become anything more than posts on the internet and prayers for each other, but I am open to the Spirit’s direction on this.

  12. Calena

    Praise the Lord! Mental prayer especially with the scriptures is essential for keeping the relationship with Jesus alive.

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