That’s the average amount of time modern North American families spend together on a daily basis, according to Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak, presenters of the Wednesday, Sept. 23 morning breakout session “See How They Love One Another: The Family and the Faith” at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Gregory founded and runs, along with Lisa, the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides marriage, family and personal tele-counseling to Catholics globally. They both have written extensively on family, marriage and parenting issues and co-host a weekly show on the Ave Maria Radio network.
In their talk, the Popcaks offered the audience a way of “rediscovering the Catholic vision for family life”— an antidote to sobering trends like the decline of family time. They accomplished this in a down-to-earth, engaging manner as they outlined the divine lesson plan for family life; illustrated how that vision can help families fall “head over heels in love with each other and with Jesus Christ;” and offered concrete, daily habits to help create a joyful, faith-filled family life.
“Are you ready to have your family life set on fire by the Holy Spirit?” Greg Popcak asked the crowd several times. Each round, a more enthusiastic “yes” ensued as he urged the people to make themselves heard by Pope Francis all the way in Washington, D.C., where he was visiting that day.
Woven throughout the talk were Pope Francis’ own words, such as those exhorting families to “waste time with your children.” More specifically, the Popcaks suggested that families talk, play, work and pray together daily, allowing at least 10 minutes for each activity, plus additional time on a weekly basis.
As the Popcaks dug into the task of unpacking the divine lesson plan for family life, they explained, “the family is actually an icon of the Trinity,” adding that an icon serves as a window into heaven. Therefore, the Trinity reveals what the family should strive to mirror.
At the core of the Popcak’s talk were their “five marks of a Catholic family” or the audience’s “marching orders” to bring this vision of Catholic family life to reality.
First, Catholic families should worship together, making the experience of Mass as loving as possible, holding children in one’s lap, whispering in their ears during consecration of the Eucharist: “That’s Jesus.”
Despite the temptation to rush out the door separately to church without the children, going together as a family is essential. When a child sees the faith as the source of the home’s warmth, she is more likely to maintain that faith connection in adulthood.
Second, families need to pray together. This activity, too, should be loving and relational, the Popcaks explained. Family prayer could be something as simple putting on praise music for the littler children and dancing before the Lord as King David did, or praying a decade of the rosary with questions encouraging the children to think about how they would feel in the scene of a particular mystery.
Third, families are called to intimacy. This is where the Popcak’s repeated advice to work, pray, talk and play together on a daily basis comes to the forefront. It’s also where the heart of discipline lies, as parents can command obedience from their children by building up their relationships rather than dishing out punishments.
Fourth, the family should come first, because family life is its own ministry. Time for extracurriculars and sports should come after time carved out for the family to be together, as opposed to the modern tendency to prioritize activities out of the home first. Tell the coach you’re not going to be there because you’re going to Mass. The coach will eventually respond, the Popcaks assured.
Finally, the family should be a witness and sign by serving in the community and the parish. But the Popcaks recommend doing as much of this service as possible together as a family. For example, rather than all participating in liturgical ministries at different Masses, Greg and Lisa tell the schedulers that their kids can only serve at the Mass at which the parents are serving as lectors.
To conclude the discussion, the Popcaks explained that now was a “Joshua moment” for the participants. Like the Israelites who had just rediscovered their history and identity as God’s chosen people, the audience had a decision to make as to whom they would serve.
Karen Rueda is a freelance writer and a member of St. Bridget Parish in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.