Opening the Door to Sacraments for Families

Sacraments and families are intimately connected in varied ways. The sacrament of baptism is all about joining the family of God. Reconciliation rejoins us to family; through grace we experience the freshness of right relationships. Eucharist calls us to the table to be joined with Christ as brothers and sisters.

My grandson will be baptized next month which makes these connections all the more personal. I was talking with my daughter about how she will connect the family to this special moment. Four generations will be joined together in prayer to renew our faith as little Javier is immersed in water and baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This conversation was in my heart as I participated in a meeting this past week. Joan Weber and I are privileged at this moment to be shepherding a special project for the Archdiocese of Seattle that is funded by the Our Sunday Visitor Foundation. This project intends to support parishes in implementing new methods for engaging families in the sacramental preparation for Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Recently, we had the chance to meet with the leaders in the Faith Formation Advisory board to continue planning this project.

One of the images that guided this conversation was an open door.

The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. …Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason… Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

Pope Francis – Evangelii Gaudium, #47

This directive is clear: the sacraments are a source of grace that should be made available to all. The doors should be open for us to bring our problems and our gifts to the table to be transformed by the immense love and mercy of God. As leaders in ministry, we should prepare the way, unblock the path, and open the doors.

As we live out this directive, we can feel caught in a tension between making the sacraments more available and holding recipients to higher standards of preparation. Catechetical leaders are often frustrated by the lack of commitment and participation of families in catechesis and Sunday liturgy. We see a hunger and an urgency in parents to have their children receive the sacraments. The source of this urgency in many cases comes from grandparents. As catechists, we have a responsibility to provide preparation for people who are receiving sacraments. We want this moment to be a renewal of family faith practice and commitment to "full, active, and conscious" participation in the faith community. At the same time, we know that we are called to welcome, accept and embrace those who come forward and heed the call to receive a sacrament. Through relationships of genuine care and hospitality, we strive to balance flexibility with a gentle challenge.

I have also experienced the "open door" as an image for family and sacraments in another way. That first knock on the door from a parent seeking the sacrament for their child is often the doorway to many sacraments for the family. We discover that there is one child in the family ready to prepare for First Communion and First Reconciliation, but her little brother needs to be baptized. Sometimes, mom and dad need their marriage blessed and the older sister is ready for confirmation. One knock at the door but a whole family with opportunities for grace.

Try to imagine a time when you were relieved and grateful that the door was open. Maybe you were caught in a rainstorm with stalled car in the neighborhood of an acquaintance. You feel hopeful when there is still a light on upstairs as you ring the bell and wait. You hesitate, then ring a second time and almost walk away. Suddenly the door opens and you are greeted by a smile of recognition and a gesture to come in out of the rain, get warm, and have a hot drink. What a relief.

I encourage you to keep this image in mind and heart this fall as you live the tension and balance the messiness of families, remembering that it is a privilege and a duty to open the door as a facilitator of grace.

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