OCEAN CITY, Md. — Parents are the first faith educators for their children, but they need the correct tools to create an effective family spirituality, according to a faith-formation expert who spoke at Convocation 150 on Nov. 3 at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Md. Sharing those tools was the goal of Dr. Patricia McCormack, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who led one of the breakout sessions entitled “Family Spirituality: Create a Year-Round Culture.”
Approximately 50 people took part in the first session with Sister McCormack, who is the director of the IHM Office of Formative Support for Parents and Teachers in Philadelphia.
The faith is not as prominent in families today for many reasons, she explained. One of those is the change in how Catholicism was practiced and taught in the years following the Second Vatican Council. But there are ways to fill a family with spirituality, which “flows out in every place we are,” she explained.
She recalled learning the Baltimore catechism with 120 students in a class taught by a single nun. The rote memorization sticks with her to this day, and she learned some valuable lessons that way.
“I have never questioned why I am on this earth,” she said. That is what we are trying to pass on to our children and families. She asked those in attendance how they create a sense of the holy in their homes and what they offered that others will carry with them.
“What kind of heirlooms do you want to leave with your children?” Sister McCormack asked before having the people break into small groups for a few minutes to discuss that question.
Sister McCormack gathered them back together and asked for a few responses.
“Immense love,” one woman said. “If I could give anything to my kids and my grandkids, that would be it.”
Another woman mentioned unspoken rituals. Sister McCormack presented four ways to transmit our Catholic faith to others.
The first is through our environment, or physical reminders. For example, she said, a family could have a prayer bowl into which they could place pieces of paper with their burdens on them and ask Jesus for assistance. Other examples are a prayer corner, table centerpieces and tabletop messages.
Second is customs and rituals. Sister McCormack used a “Jesus chair” as an example. It would be used only for quiet time with him. Parents could give their children blessings, or make the sign of the cross on their children’s foreheads.
“When those things become part and parcel of the family, this is what feeds us,” she said. “Money can’t buy these things, and they can’t be lost, and they can’t be stolen.”
Sister McCormack also suggested making noon to 3 p.m. on Good Friday a solemn period again and scheduling activities such as visiting the elderly or helping neighbors.
The third way is through the sacraments. She suggests parents prepare their children for the sacraments and participate at Mass on Sundays. Families should get to know the words and prayers surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist.
She embraces quiet time after communion. That is the perfect time to talk to Jesus.
“These are the things that fed Catholics for tons of years,” Sister McCormack said.
Lastly, parents should set personal examples for their children. Demonstrate your relationship with God, she encouraged the attendees.