Praying together, staying together

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, encourages families to form “discipleship groups,” learning and praying together while growing and providing a model of faith for their children.
Nancy Phelan Wiechec | CNS Photo

Berkley — If one were to go to an hour of Eucharistic adoration, Mass and a parish function in the same weekend, they could feasibly spend four hours a week at a parish.

Considering there are 168 hours in a week, one thing is clear: Parishes need to assist Catholic families in living life as Catholic Christians outside the confines of Mass.

In his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron charged parishes to evaluate and better develop family discipleship groups to accompany families in living a Catholic lifestyle.

The Archdiocese of Detroit already offers various ministries and guidance to families for various situations, but Archbishop Vigneron wants parishes to assess how they are building up the “domestic church.”

Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley is trying to build family discipleship throughout the week by focusing on the one day when families are already on parish grounds: Sunday.

Following the Amazing Parish Conference in the spring of 2016, Bro. Al Mascia, OFM, coordinator of faith formation at Our Lady of La Salette, said the parish began to take Sunday as an opportunity for the whole family to learn more about living a life of faith together.

“What we’re really excited about is the Sunday Experience, the name we’ve given to our faith formation program,” Bro. Mascia told The Michigan Catholic. “We’re reimagining the model of catechism to a family-centered model.”

Bro. Mascia said the Sunday Experience includes the entire family in the catechism process.

After the 9:30 a.m. Mass on the first and third Sundays of the month, all of the children in catechism, along with their parents, godparents and volunteers, come forward and are dismissed across the street to the parish center to begin a day of family, fellowship and prayer.

“We enjoy hospitality as an entire group, with the older children serving the younger children; adults and parents sharing food and drink together,” Bro. Mascia said. “Then we all move to the chapel space and sing songs, watch a video related to the topic for the day and do some type of activity the whole family can get involved with.”

The children then go to their individual classes for more formal lessons, while the parents socialize with one another and discuss the talk given in the chapel.

“Once the lesson for the week is all unpacked, we give them a small refrigerator magnet with a bit of catechism teaching on it,” Bro. Mascia said. “I joke that once we’re done this year, everything you need to know about the Church will be on the fridge.”

On the other side of Interstate 75, St. Malachy Parish in Sterling Heights has its own family faith sharing program. Once a month, children in grades 1-5 who are in the catechism program, along with their families, meet at the parish center to discuss what the children are learning.

The “brush-up” lessons for parents give them a chance to learn alongside their child, better equipping them to answer questions and incorporate lessons from RCIA into the home.

“When we give children their workbook, we explain to parents they don’t have to sit and do the book work,” said Diana Tomsha, director of religious education at St. Malachy. “So if they are learning about creation, when they are driving they can point out that God made the flowers, the stars.”

Having parents learn with their child reinforces the important role they play in teaching the faith, which in turns strengthens the faith of the family, Tomsha said.

“Parents are called upon to rise up and teach their children, but the parish is here to help with anything,” Tomsha said. “We give them suggestions. Their initial reaction is maybe that they feel unqualified, but they are learning, too. When the family learns together, prays together, spends more time together, that’s building the domestic church.”

Tomsha said St. Malachy encourages parents to help out during spaghetti dinners and fundraisers for the middle and high school youth groups and just about any other parish function that gets parents and children together.

“This year, we’ve scheduled speakers to come speak to our middle school students and parents, along with having some family opportunities during holy days and Stations of the Cross during Lent. We’re really looking at doing more things that bring the family together; praying together.”

For parishes reading the pastoral letter, thinking of ways to better form “family discipleship groups,” Bro. Mascia suggests keeping it simple.

“The best place to begin in family discipleship is to begin at a very human level,” Bro. Mascia said. “When we come to church, we live in church as humans. So things as simple as meals together with other families, having conversations about the homily with your fellow parishioners, or just having families participate in the Mass and parish outings with each other, these are critical pieces to building the domestic church at home, which in turn builds the Church at the parish.”