Formative years with family – inestimable for life
One of the most inspiring churchmen today is Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Cardinal Sarah hails from the remote village of Ourous in the small West African country of Guinea, where he served as archbishop of Conakry before being called to Rome by Pope St. John Paul II to work in the Roman Curia. Cardinal Sarah has given two book-length interviews to French journalist Nicolas Diat: God or Nothing and The Power of Silence. They are commanding testimonies of faith and wisdom. He is not afraid to challenge with blunt words calling for repentance and renewal, and a return to sound spiritual practices and attitudes.
Regarding family life, he brings his rich personal experience into analysis of today’s challenges. In God or Nothing he states: “In Guinea, the family has remained the primordial cell of society, the place where we learn … to serve them unostentatiously. On my continent, the family is the melting pot of the values that irrigate the whole culture … where customs, wisdom, and moral principles are handed down, the cradle of unconditional love. Without this, neither society nor the Church exists anymore. In a family, the parents transmit the faith… they lay the foundations on which we build our life. The family is the little Church where we [first] encounter God, love Him, and form personal ties with Him.”
Cardinal Sarah’s parents were of great inspiration: “Like many villagers, my parents were farmers.… We were not rich; … our labor allowed us to be fed, clothed, and guaranteed a subsistence wage. My parents’… trust in God made a deep impression… I never saw them conflict with anyone.”
I recently heard a college professor say that when children play, they practice being adults.
Children, then, emulate the adults they spend time with and admire. Here we see the critical importance of parents’ external religious practices and attitudes, which they automatically communicate to children.
Cardinal Sarah recalls his youth: “My father taught me great love for the Virgin Mary. I can still see him kneeling down on the sand to pray the Angelus every day at noon and in the evening. I never forgot those moments … I imitated him and recited my prayers to the Mother of Jesus at his side.” When Cardinal Sarah entered minor seminary, he had to leave the village and travel a great distance. His return home in summers taught him the depths of his parents’ love for God and for their only son. Some of their friends tried to convince them that their son should not be allowed to pursue a priestly vocation. “I was very lucky, because my parents never opposed it. They understood the depth of my joy and did nothing to frustrate God’s plan for me. As Christians, they reflected that if my path was really leading me to the seminary, the Lord would guide me to the end.”
I, too, remember fondly the example of my own parents. As a youth, I was surprised to learn that my father went to daily Mass before work. My childish reaction was to say, “You only have to go to Mass on Sundays.” True, but Dad wanted to be at Mass every day. When I was older, my mother told me I, too, should attend morning Mass during Lent before class at the parish school. Those days were the seedbed of my priestly vocation.
Cardinal Sarah states what is obvious, but often forgotten: “Parents are man’s first educators. In a family, man learns to live and manifest the presence of God. If Christ is the bond that holds a family together, then it will have an indestructible solidity.”
The great challenge for parents is entrusting their children to God not simply at baptism, but every day. They do this by their prayers and sacrifices, by virtuous struggle to inspire children to love the Lord, by continuous example of humble dependence on God and His Church for strength and direction, by a simple way of life that treats Christian duties as opportunities to please the Lord and to grow in his grace.
Cardinal Sarah states: “Familial harmony can be the reflection of the harmony of heaven.” We all know when we feel touched by a heavenly blessing. Faith and love shared between parents and their children will produce abundant joys that are a foretaste of that heavenly harmony.
FATHER GERALD MURRAY is the pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY. He was ordained on December 1, 1984. He was awarded a doctorate in canon law in 1998 by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has appeared as a commentator on religious topics on various television and radio outlets, including EWTN, EWTN Spanish, Fox News, Fox Business News, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.