"Big Four" Highlights


Make Room for Family

A home is a place for love, no matter how small or large

By Bill Dodds

In the fall of 1978 my wife, Monica, and I were out house hunting when we came upon a simple 900-square-foot home a little north of Seattle. With some early financial help from family members, we were able to buy it.

Over the course of 30 years.

Here we raised two sons and a daughter, hosted countless family gatherings, and in later years, welcomed the frequent visits of a grandchildren. Here, in early 2013, Monica died of uterine cancer.

All that, and so much more, came to mind when I recently read the text of Pope Francis’ General Audience of December 17, 2014. A lot has slipped past me in the last two years, since my wife passed away, but the Holy Father’s encouraging words hit home.

From now through this fall, the theme of the pope’s weekly audiences is the family. He chose that topic in conjunction with the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family. At their October 2015 gathering, the bishops will be focusing on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.”

“I have therefore decided to reflect with you, this year, precisely on the family,” Pope Francis said, “on this great gift that the Lord has made to the world from the very beginning, when he entrusted Adam and Eve with the mission to multiply and fill the earth (cf. Gen 1:28); that gift that Jesus confirmed and sealed in his Gospel.”

The family is a great gift that’s also a vocation, and it has a mission.

In the words of the Holy Father:

“God chose to come into the world in a human family, which He himself formed. He formed it in a remote village on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. Not in Rome, which was the capital of the Empire, not in a big city, but on its nearly invisible outskirts, indeed, of little renown.”

A family home, your family’s home, doesn’t depend on its size. It doesn’t matter if it has only one bathroom. (Well, that matters some when you have three kids in the house but . . . patience is a virtue.) It doesn’t matter if it’s far from the swankier neighborhoods. As a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, the vocation and mission God has entrusted to you is right there. In that house—apartment, condominium, assisted living facility, nursing home—right now.

As Francis said, “[I]n Nazareth everything seemed to happen ‘normally’, according to the customs of a pious and hardworking Israelite family. . . . God works in mysterious ways. But what was important there was the family! And this was not a waste! They were great saints: Mary, the most holy woman, immaculate, and Joseph, a most righteous man. . . . The family.”

Mary may have kept all those things in her heart but for most of us parents there are times that, looking back, are a little blurry. Lack of sleep will do that. But those times weren’t “wasted.” They were periods of day-in and day-out perseverance and self-sacrifice, always two facets of parental love. That’s an important lesson for young people—for future parents themselves—to learn. And you taught it, you teach it, by example.

Francis continued, “In those 30 years, Jesus cultivated his vocation, for which the Father had sent him. And in that time, Jesus never became discouraged, but increased in courage in order to carry his mission forward.”

One of the many joys of parenthood is watching (and helping) as a child discovers his or her God-given vocation – as that young person develops talents and blessings, and then steps out into the world to share those gifts with others.

The pope added, “Each Christian family can first of all — as Mary and Joseph did — welcome Jesus, listen to Him, speak with Him, guard Him, protect Him, grow with Him; and in this way improve the world. . . . And this is the great mission of the family: to make room for Jesus who is coming, to welcome Jesus in the family, in each member: children, husband, wife, grandparents. . . . Jesus is there. Welcome Him there, in order that He grow spiritually in the family”

That idea of serving Jesus by serving others has a familiar ring to it, of course. In his parable on final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus tells us: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

As a family, it’s our vocation, our mission, our privilege to live out this teaching with the ones God has given us to live with.

Even in a 900-square-foot, one-bathroom house.

(The full text of Pope Francis’ audience can be found here.)

Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers.