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September 19, 1997     The Message
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September 19, 1997

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestem Indiana September 19, 1997 I Home improvement: Workable steps for families By ANNE HANSEN Catholic News Service Politicians loved using the term "fam- ily values" as often as possible in the months preceding the recent U.S. nation- al elections. Car companies and fast-food chains also love the term, realizing that when they create advertising around "family values" they can sell their goods at a much faster pace. The belief that the fam- ily is society's basic unit prevails. But we see evidence every day of the consequences of hostile family relation- ships. The O.J. Simpson trials have been the most sensational examples. Day after day we were subjected to the most inti- mate details of a family in trouble. It's easy to comment on the dramatic cases of troubled families we see on the nightly news. It's obvious that their val- ues become skewed at some point, and the results are tragic. But what about the rest of us, the reg- ular families trying to keep things together? Years ago columnist Dolores Curran came up with 15 traits of a healthy fam- ily. Recently the Search Institute pub- lished a study on adolescents that offered some of the same traits, and John Roberto of the Center for Ministry Devel- opment, in his comprehensive manual Family Works, offers similar advice for families. Common threads run through these writings. All stress that spiritual beliefs are a major presence in strong families. It might be said, "The family that prays together, stays together." Many would agree this is easier said than done. But when my brother was dying of AIDS, my children saw firsthand at the hospice how the family's belief in God kept us together and gave meaning to their uncle's difficult death. Praying together may include an inter- cession in the car each morning asking God to help everyone through their tasks, whether those tasks be social stud- ies tests, soccer matches or business meetings. Blessing the children as they leave home for school is another way to pray together. My grandfather; who lived until he was 96, always ended his evening conversations with me by say- ing, "Good night and God bless you." It almost blended into one word. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a simple but powerful way of rein- forcing the spiritual side of life. There are countless ways to remind our families of God's presence. A subtle approach often works best with children or teen-agers. Using the seasons of the year is effec- tive. Christmas and Easter are obvious teaching times, but let's not forget feast days. Do our children know about the saint they were named after? Compar- ing these saints to some good people our children hear about in the news can make God real to them. Involving the family in service to others works wonders for unifying everybody. The opportunities are endless: homeless shelters, AIDS hospices, migrant workers' camps, walk-a-thons, maternity homes and dty dean-ups are a few. To gently remind children that God created all people and that these people deserve respect and help goes a long way in promoting positive family spiri- tuality. Healthy, happy families make com- munication a priority. They talk and they listen to each other. We who are parents need to talk and listen more to our chil- dren. We need to stifle the impulse to offer advice at every turn or fix all the prob- lems children experience. We often do better to listen and gently guide children through a decision-making process. It is natural for parents to want to pro- tect a child from pain. But we have to allow our children to make some mis- takes. Of course, if real trouble is brew- ing, the responsible parent steps in and offers critical advice. "Healthy, happy families make communication a priority. They talk and they listen to each other. We who are parents need to talk and listen more to our children," says Anne Hansen. She offers workable steps for families seeking to improve their homelife. -- CNS photo by Bill Wittman To improve home-life, it helps also to remember the value of affection -- love without words. A quick kiss, a hug or just a pat on the shoulder creates a spe- cial type of communication. Big kids need it just as much as little ones. When words don't come easily or there has been yelling and crying, it can be the hug that brings the family mem- bers together. It diffuses the tension even if it doesn't fix the problem. The realization that playing together and sharing a sense of humor are impor- tant is another quality that eases family life. Ours is sometimes a grim world. Parents work hard to provide for their children, and children face pressures with schoolwork and friends. Lighten up! Let the housework go, and take a day trip to the beach or moun- Biblical history is family history By FATHER JOHN J. CASTELOT C, al News Service The story of Cain and Abel is a horri- fying story precisely because it involves the violent killing of one's own brother. It is a particularly terrifying story because it strikes at the very foundation of soci- ety, the family. When family ties are violated, all rela- tionships are strained. The story of Cain and Abel is a caution- ary tale, a dramatic reminder of the evil that lurks in human hearts. The story's flip side reminds us how basic and important it is that family members love and respect each other. When these qualities are lack- ing, the family becomes dysfunctional, fails of its Gc-intended purpose. No wonder the Bible is so interested in promoting healthy family life. In fact, biblical history is largely family history. For example: The disrespect of Noah's sons for their father is shown to be potentially disastrous. And Abraham, the father of God's family, is portrayed as a sensitive father of an extended family. When a decision has to be made about the division of the land to which God has led them, Abraham unselfishly gives his nephew, Lot, the freedom to choose the more attractive territory. Abraham's sensitive treatment of his wife, Sarah, is exemplary, even if at times it strikes us as slzange, since it is so "patri- archal." We do get the idea in Scripture that the authority of parents is vitally important. After all, someone has to be the adult at home and act in ways that genuinely serve the family's welfare. This task tends to fall to the parents. So it is not surprising that the first com- mandment dealing with human rela- tionships is the fourth: "Honor your father and mother." Honor was a highly prized value in ancient society. It was both a sacred and civic duty to honor one's parents, to respect them and to do nothing to bring shame on the family. (Which is not to deny how serious it is when some par- ents cruelly and destructively abuse their authority.) The letter to the Colossians gives beau- tiful expression to the principles that con- tribute to healthy and happy family life. "Put on, then, heartfelt compassion, kind- hess, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another .... And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection." If wives are urged to be supportive toward their husbands, husbands are urged to love their wivc., to help them realize their full potential as human beings. tains. Pack a simple picnic and absolutely nothing but swim or hike look for special rocks. Leisure time has taken a backseat hard work, and in the process lives have suffered. We need more together! Children grow up. When they their own families and get together reminisce, they won't talk about how lawn was always mowed or if the was taken out on time. They may recall how the house they grew up was decorated. They will, however, look back at the times the family relaxed laughed together. Hansen is a parent education and free-lance writer in Camarilla, Calif. And children are told to obey fathers, but fathers are warned not abuse their authority: "Fathers, do not provoke your dren, so that they may not become couraged" (Colossians 3:12-14, 18-21). Father Castelot is a Scripture author, teacher and lecturer.