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Family mission and the Good Shepherd

First slide

Two things recently coincided to get me thinking about family culture. At first glance, they are fairly disparate. Look a little closer, and they dovetail perfectly. My adult son Patrick was asked to consider his family mission statement in a business school assignment. As part of the assignment, he asked me, his dad and his siblings what we thought our family mission is. That sparked some treasured conversation with Patrick. The other thing was pondering the Good Shepherd over three days’ liturgies during the fourth week of Easter. I promise: This all fits together.

One of the beautiful truths about the Good Shepherd is that he knows each of us intimately. He sees us and leads us and calls us by name. Whenever I read about this in John 10, it brings to mind my favorite verse, Isaiah 43:1: "But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."

The Good Shepherd calls us by name. He redeems us. And he says that we belong. We belong. To him. Each of us has a deep desire to belong, to be assured that we are loved, to be seen and heard and validated. It is a longing in our hearts because God put it there. That desire is supposed to ultimately direct us to God. He’s the only one who completely satisfies it.

We are supposed to live life on earth in a way that is oriented toward heaven. Families are where we learn — in an ever-imperfect way — to belong. It is in our families that children are first called by name, that they are intimately known and that they are protected the way the Good Shepherd protects his sheep. It is in our homes that parents build a family culture that gives a child a good look at what it is to be safe and loved and cared for inside the gate, with parents who lay down their lives for their children.

We build a culture of grace, where the entire family enters into the abundance of life in Christ. But what really is grace? It’s living God’s own life. It’s tuning our hearts to his and acting accordingly. Just as the Good Shepherd leads all of us, parents lead children into this kind of life.

Jesus asks us to follow him. In order to do that, we have to hear him. When we are familiar with Scripture, when we frequent Communion, when we sit in quiet adoration, we hear him. And when we hear him, we can lead our children to him; we can help them hear his voice, too. When we rest in the security of belonging to Our Lord, we offer the same security to our children. That gives kids a place to grow that is inside the gate, a place where they know they’ll always be called by name and claimed as our very own.

It takes intention to develop a family mission and to shape a family culture. It takes time and effort and sacrifice. But growing in that sheepfold, with that kind of love and stability and protection, means a child grows healthy and strong. It means they are well-prepared for the trials and suffering that will come — because we know that as Christians, we are promised crosses. Growing in the sheepfold makes a kid strong enough to carry the cross.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss