The Work of Family Life: Building a Faithful Family Culture
Richard M. Rymarz & Jennifer I. Weber


When writing about the role of the family in faith development there are many avenues that can be explored.  The concept of faith and its close cousin grace, for example, are topics of great interest and can be discussed at some length.  The whole metaphysical dimension of Christian life is in our view not discussed enough.  Having lamented this fact we are not going to write about it directly here either!  Sufficed to say something about the notion of faith that we are working from.  One can describe faith in technical terms and speak about its objective and subjective dimensions and also the idea of assent and authority.  For our purposes, faith is seen as a gift from God.  Like all gifts it can be received well and developed and cultivated or it can be neglected or under appreciated.  When we speak about sharing our faith with our children this is more than a series of discrete actions.  Sharing faith is not like handing out lollies from a jar.  Rather than limiting ourselves to a static idea we can enrich the whole notion of the faith life of families by speaking in terms of family culture.  At a theological level we are trying to create an atmosphere  which welcomes and values the gift of faith and does all it can to nourish it.  To talk about creating a family culture gives a commitment to sustained effort over a long period to establish an almost organic identity, that is a culture that can grow and develop and give life and sustinence to those in its embrace. 

It also needs to be said, though at the outset that there is a level of presumption in this idea of sharing faith.  At the very least it assumes that we have a faith to share.  In Melbourne one can normally get away with a football analogy, so you may have heard of the line beloved by coaches, that the team or the player needs to pull his socks up.  One wit responded to this by saying to do this depends on you having socks on in the first place.  Aquinas to give this point a more philosophical tone remarked that no one can give something that they do not posses and so it with faith.  Pope Paul VI describes the family in terms that are synonymous with the Church and  this carries with it an expectation on the crucial role of parents as exemplars in faith.

The family, like the church, ought to be a place where the gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.  Evangelii Nuntiandi 71


One could easily give another paper on cultivating the faith of parents but that will have to wait for another day.  Nonetheless, the faith of the parents is not a static thing, somehow hermetically sealed.  One of the graces of having children that should be emphasised here is that the reality of family life has enormous implications for the faith life of parents.  By thinking of ways to share your faith with your children gives your whole spiritual life energy and direction.  The family is the forum where the faith of most people developed, both children and adults.  We see this clearly in the great conciliar description of family as the domestic church.


In what might be regarded as the domestic church, the parents are to be the first the first preachers of the faith for their children by word and example.  Lumen Gentium 11

  John Paul II frequently uses this term in his writings on family but pointedly leaves out the qualifier might be regarded  (see Familiaris Consortio 21-23).  To give one small example of how being a parent can energise the faith life of adults consider personal prayer.  One of the great difficulties of prayer commented on frequently is the problem of finding a mental focus.  A parent can find this focus simply and powerfully by praying for their children.  The concern and love of the parent for the child is a wonderful stimulus for prayer and may encourages great fervour and dedication in what in other circumstances can be a difficult area.  In this vein we need to acknowledge the many wonderful ways children can inspire parents with their own faithfulness.  The innocence and spontaneity of childhood is often wonderfully expressed in grace filled moments, when the invocation of Christ for the little ones to come to him can really be understood.  This point is well made by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Families (LF)

Every individual born and raised in a family constitutes a potential treasure which must be responsibly accepted, so that it will not be diminished or lost, but will rather come to an ever more mature humanity.  This process of exchange in which the parents-educators are in turn  to a certain degree educated themselves.  While they are teachers of humanity for their children, they learn humanity from them LF 16 


Time and Effort: Building up a Family Culture

If we assume that firstly parents have a strong appreciation of their own faith, are nurturing it and are actively involved in developing their own spirituality how can they help to share these dimensions of their life with their children.  Before we move onto some of the strategies and practicalities of this, let’s consider some critical attitudes that provide the energy for developing a successful family culture where faith is nurtured and respected.  A key ingredient here is time.  In order to build up a family culture requires sustained effort, planning and creativity.  This cannot happen if insufficient time is devoted to family life.  This is a straightforward idea, but a very powerful one.  It’s something that we call  family work.  Work here does not have a pejorative sense where it is seem as a punishment or an activity best avoided.   Work is seen as a liberating and defining human activity.  We see this point developed well by Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (LE).  Work is not a means to an end but something which can serve human dignity.

If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind.  Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, becomes “ more a human being” LE 9.3 

Traditionally we have regarded work as something done outside the home.  However, work in the very best sense is something that can be applied to the development of the domestic church.  To take work seriously means that at the very least we have to devote time to it.  Not quality time or a minute here or there, but enough time to get the job done.

This idea of quality time has some value but quality time cannot exist without sufficient time.  Quality time is a concept that is often used by busy people.  To compensate for low quantity of time, the fifteen or thirty minutes or so available for family interaction is used doing quality activities.  What quality activities are is a contentious point but the real paucity of this idea is exposed if we apply it to work outside of the home.  We think it is very unlikely that someone paid to do a job outside the home would be able to get away with an argument such as, although I can only spend half an hour or so on this project the time I am devoting is really quality time.

As well as sufficient time we need to be aware of the quality of time we are spending at home.  In this sense quality time does have great utility.  To do work well requires not merely spending time on a project.  We have to try to be at our best -with all that implies.   To illustrate consider this example.   Some time ago I met a former student of mine on the bus into work.  I had always admired this person, let’s call her Karen, mainly because of her independence of thought and refreshing non-conformism.  Karen was a genuine rebel, very intelligent and had recently secured a job with a large company as part of a very selective graduate training program.  We discussed various things about her career and she stressed the importance that her employer placed on human relations.   This was an area familiar to her because her father worked in this field in a very senior capacity.  Commenting on her father, Karen remarked sharply, that he was an expert on personnel issues at work not at home.  For him hometime was downtime.

In a similar vein if we take family work seriously it changes the way in which we view how time is spent.   If we were asked to go out in the evening would we go?  I suppose it depends on circumstances, but would we do it if we were asked during our conventional work time?  To give an example, say a family has developed a culture where stories are read and discussed between 7 and 8pm.  One of the parents is asked to go to a meeting at the same time.  Should they go?  Would they go if they were asked to attend the meeting at say 11am when they are normally working outside the home?  Considering examples such as this lead us to a discussion of the practicalities of finding time for family work.

Recognising that building up a family culture where faith can be nurtured takes time is a crucial concept, nonetheless it is the first stage.    Once this is realised the next step of finding time is difficult for many people. We are acutely are that glib advice in this area is certainly not helpful.  Many people are forced to long work outside the home as an  urgent economic imperative.  The reality for many Australian families is that both parties are working for relatively low pay.  For many in this situation cutting back their work commitments outside the home is not a decision taken lightly.    If the extra job is not done or the overtime on offer not taken, then there will be difficulties in meeting basic commitments.  The income that is being foregone in many instances is not discretionary.

So if work cannot be cut back easily what can be done practically to release sufficient time for family commitments.

The Calculus of Work


It is impossible to be prescriptive in this area because each situation will be different. Above all there is an imperative on parents to face their work commitments with honesty and clarity and also a sense of urgency.  We really are waiting for the bridegroom.  Parents don’t have a large amount of time to nurture their children. The children will be effected one way or another by the family culture into which they grow to adulthood.  Parents can be daunted by this idea, it is nonetheless a pressing reality and an enormous responsibility.  It is important to realize, however, that the gravity of the task should not engender discouragement. Parents should realise that sometimes they need the courage to be seen as hypocrites.  This may sound strange but what this means is that we need to live by high ideals even if we cannot always reach them.  Many parents I have spoken  to over the years on this concept of family culture baulk at the idea because they find it hard to live out the ideals that they want to instill in their own children. This also has a direct corollary in the faith life of parent and child.  If the parents are aware of their own shortcomings they may feel it is hypocritical to make expectations on their children especially in areas that may need attention in their own lives.  This type of thinking is often characterized by thoughts such as its too hard, or I’m not good enough to do this sort of thing or my children will see through my double standard.

There is ample research available that what young people expect from their parents is sincerity and honesty.  If they sometimes fall sort of their own standards this is acceptable.  What is necessary is that the family witness to the striving.  We think that it is true to say that children have an almost forensic ability to detect insincerity but this is different to hypocrisy.  Young people can appreciate parents who are trying to live out an ideal and place themselves under some kind of discipline.  The grating aspect of hypocrisy is the double standard, the feeling that what is being asked applies to only one person and ultimately we are concern not with deep conversion but with the external appearance.

If a couple can approach the issue of time allocation with honesty a number of practical questions arise.  How these are answered are very personal and reflect the life situations of the people involved and also how they value the work of building up the family culture.  Let’s take a sample of some pertinent issues:

  ·        Do I really need this money that I will get working extra hours outside the home?  One thinks here of the great short story by Tolstoy,  How Much Land Does a Man Need?   The answer is six feet.

  ·        Is the time I am spending doing this work really cost efficient?  As well as the time spent outside the home have we considered transit time, or time taken to bring the project to completion.

  ·        How much value do I put on some intangible family occurrence, such as teaching my children to read?  Many of these occurrences are discrete, one off events, for example, your children will only have one first birthday party.

  ·        Do I need to spend until 7o’clock at work?   In most families 5 to 8 o’clock is normally the busiest time or the equivalent of the busy time at work outside the home.  Could you afford to miss this?

The list of questions could go on and there is not a simple set of answers.  Nonetheless how a couple resolve issues such as these ultimately depends on their shared and articulated values.  On a conceptual level if they are able to approach questions such as these with honesty and clarity and an awareness that building a faith friendly family culture takes time and effort then solutions may be achieved which require reevaluation of priority areas.



Many parents cannot simply forgo income from work undertaken outside the home.  At the same time they are committed to placing great emphasis on work building up the domestic church.  To reconcile these differences they may need to think creatively to find a solution.  For example are they able to refashion  work outside the home to make my work inside the home more effective?  Can the mix of work be altered so work done outside the home is shared more equally between marriage partners?  This is another area where it is impossible to be prescriptive but where creative thinking may yield a satisfactory solution.   


The Work of Building up the Family Culture

A Word on the Culture we live in

In this section we would like to map out a number of important areas that all contribute to building up the family culture.  Before we get into this it is necessary to say something of the general culture in which the family finds itself.  This is no more than an overview but it gives us a framework to discuss the building blocks of family culture and how they should be viewed. 

A number of recent Vatican documents on education make the point about the need for a synthesis or least a dialogue between the general culture and the specifically Christian culture.  In order to do this we need to say something about the general culture.  On the one hand this culture is becoming increasingly indifferent to Christian practices and sentiment.  In Catechesis Tradendae this is how Pope John Paul II describes this attitude:


Christians today must be formed to live in a world which largely ignores God or which, in religious matters, in place of an exacting and fraternal dialogue, stimulating for all, too often flounders in a debasing indifferentism  CT 57


This situation brings with it problems and possibilities.  On the one hand it important to realize that parents the primary educators of children have to take this injunction seriously and realize that the social supports available to them are being greatly diminished.  The era of tribal culture, where religious belief is expressed as part of a social group is now fast disappearing.   Although some younger Catholics express their religious commitment in terms of belonging this attachment is an increasingly weak one.  There are many ways to belong in our community.  A religious group that makes this its raison d’être is placing itself, at least in a sociological sense, in a very competitive market.  The great era of tribal Catholicism found its most complete expression in an era of defined religious practise.  This depended on a large degree of identification with religious groups such as found in the middle of last century.  We would agree with Cardinal Martini, the archbishop of Milan, that the Catholic of the future will be very much a conviction Catholic – that is their religious beliefs and practises spring out of deeply held and personal convictions.  One implication of this for parents is that they should not expect too much assistance in their role as primary educators.  Or at least they must be prepared to actively seek out social factors and influences that will assist them, it is unlikely that these will simply appear or fall into one’s lap.  The up side of this social reality is that overt hostility to religious belief and practise may not be as serious a factor as one may imagine.  There are exceptions to this, one worth mentioning is a certain ambivalence even amongst Catholics to those who display a high degree of religious practise.  Where the contemporary culture is increasingly indifferent to religious worldviews this attitude tends to break down in regard to those who are perceived to be overly religious or indeed fanatical in their beliefs.  Of course we need to acknowledge that the definition of fanatical here is highly relative.  I recall having this conversation sometime ago with a fellow educator and she described people who go to Mass every Sunday as fanatical.  To the conviction Catholics I mentioned earlier weekly Mass attendance  is merely a baseline practise but what we are seeing here is the continuing evolution of Catholicism away from collective expression to personal commitment.  A similar point can be made about religious practise as opposed to an ineffable spiritual sense.  We think that a sense of the sacred, a search for deeper more long lasting values are things that our society regards favorably.  The culture is more uncomfortable when these longings are transferred into actions and convictions.  For example a statement such as “ I am a Catholic who is searching for meaning in my life may be considered a laudable attitude.  Whereas I am a Catholic who tries to live their life according to the norms and precepts of the Church can cause a degree of uneasiness precisely because it is tangible, it makes an impact of the way we live and how we interact with society.

Another positive aspect of living in a culture of indifferentism is that this places a strong religious tradition in stark relief to much of contemporary society.  Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago has made the point that the immediate future will be a time where all social movements will battle to maintain a consistent and powerful set of core beliefs.  Whereas the focus of much comment about irrelevance and distintegration has centred on the Christian churches these points apply perhaps even more forcefully to political and social theories.  Although the Christian community may in the future be less numerically strong it will be evangelising in a world without strong ideological presuppositions 

The Family Culture as Educative

The little domestic Church [thefamily], like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized, hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith.  Familiaris Consortio 51

One of the most important building blocks of a family culture that nurtures and celebrates faith is the educative aspect.  Of course, everything about  family life is educative but here we are speaking about the more explicit instructional role of the family.  Within the family we can see the most perfect society for catechesis that is the endeavor to make individuals better followers of Christ.  The family is the faithful community where catechesis can best occur.  Part of this catechesis is explicit and this is the dimension that we wish to focus on here. 

Religious education as understood as activity in service of the Church, is a process by which people learn more about the beliefs and practises of the Catholic tradition and should not be restricted to the classroom.  Certainly the school has a vital role to play in this regard but it should ideally be seen as complementing what occurs in the family home.  This is increasingly seen in the family based sacramental programs of many parish schools.  Parents should be able and willing to teach their children about the beliefs and practises of the Catholic Tradition.  If the family culture is to be directed towards nurturing faith then it is axiomatic that the culture seeks always to express and educate its member’s in ways that help understanding.  Parents have at least two enormous advantages in the religious education of there children.  Firstly they should know them well and therefore be able to speak more directly to the skills, competence and interests oaf the individual.  Parents know the capabilities and the unique interests of their children.  They can use this knowledge when educating their children.  The parents also have access to the children at a wide variety of times and are able to utilize the teaching moment  - which is that time when the child is receptive and ready to learn.  These can occur at strange and unpredictable moments but they will occur, especially if the family culture is one where religious ideas and themes are discussed openly and in a systematic way.  The importance of parents as educators is strongly put in Letter to Families

Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents    LF 16

We think these two dimensions of education in the family culture need to be stressed.  On the one hand it needs to be open and frequent.  In the same way that a family who were very interested say in car racing or horse riding of football would always discuss these issues, the Catholic family needs to express their interest in what is far more important than a hobby but which forms the basis of their life.  There are many extensions of this idea, for example, religious art in the house.  This has an educative aspect but more importantly expresses the ideas and values at the heart of the family.

The second aspect of the educative dimension of family culture is the systematic way in which children are exposed to religious ideas and concepts.   This can involve a variety of strategies but the goal is the formation of young people who are able to give convincing  and well thought out reasons which articulate their core beliefs.  For example, regular times given over to reading and discussion of scripture is an excellent way to introduce the child to the world of sacred texts.  Setting aside a regular time and allowing for a proper discussion allows for the child’s understanding of scripture to be developed.  To continue with this idea once it has been incorporated into the family’s life it develops its own momentum.  You soon realize that one time set aside for all the children is inadequate.  The 5-year-old and the 13-year-old need to be treated differently if the exercise is not become tedious.  The important point is that once a commitment is made to give time to systematic religious education the family embarks on a pathway which throws up enormous educative possibilities.  This process can work in tandem with what is being offered in the school or other educational setting but could easily exceed this.  To use an analogy I have often seen children in school who are excellent mathematicians.  Very often this is because they come from homes where the parents love mathematics.  If we continue this logic children who come from homes where a family culture is established which values religious faith and practise should have an intellectual expression of this faith which reflects the support and development of these beliefs in the home.

It is important that in this area the parents realize their potential as educators.  Parents often feel that they cannot speak with authority on religious themes because they do not have sufficient background.  This, in my experience is almost always not true.  Parents do not need to be scripture scholars to read and instruct their children on the importance of reading the Bible.  They do not need to be theologians or philosophers to talk about the sacraments or the moral life.  There is ,however, a caveat here.  If we recall the importance placed on the sincerity of parents in their role as architects of the family culture, there is a potential problem if the children perceive an incongruity in the understanding and knowledge of the parents on what can loosely be called religious matters.  If parents are experts in professional areas that pertain to their work outside the home but find it hard to articulate their own belief especially to older children this incongruity can be noticed and commented on by the perceptive child.  If we assume that the children will not get their important questions answered outside the home it is incumbent on the parents to provide as best they can intelligent answers to sincere questions.  As John Paul II has remarked in Fides et Ratio the Catholic of today and the future must have an understanding of their faith which is robust enough to complement the other aspects of their life.  Parents cannot rely on the prevailing culture to sustain them or their children.  This means developing our own understanding.  I stress again that on going development is not intended to undermine the confidence of parents.  Rather it is an encouragement to continue to think about our own understanding of Catholicism.


The Family Culture as Sacramental

If there is one distinguishing aspect of a family culture where faith is valued and nurtured it is its sacramental emphasis.  One implication of the description of the family as domestic Church in conciliar and post-conciliar documents is the parallel between the work of the family and the work of the Church.  The family shares in the work of the Church by its design and by its function.  Just as the Church can be described as the sacrament of Christ – the preeminent way that Christ is made known in the world – the family makes Christ known in an immediate and local way to members of the family and others who come in contact with it.

Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church.  Familiaris Consortio 15

The sacramental emphasis of family culture is expressed most directly in the way in which the family participates in the sacraments of the Church.  This is especially obvious if we consider the celebration of the Eucharist.  This has been described as the source and summit of Christian life.  If the Eucharist is the summit of our lives this needs to be emphasized in the dynamism of family life.  The eucharistic celebration needs to become the centre of family life, something which is looked forward to and celebrated as a wellspring of grace that nourishes and energizes all members of the family.  This is the key to understanding the Eucharist as the source of family life.

Understanding the importance and significance of the sacraments is something that the educative aspect of family culture should be directed to as a foundational endeavor.  The sacraments should be explained, emphasized and spoken about often.  This foundation finds expression in the way the family approaches the sacraments.  Often our actions in this regard belay our words.  In educational circles this is analogous to what is sometimes described as the tension between the formal and informal curriculum.  If we do not support what is done in the classroom in the culture and practise of the whole school community we risk undoing all our work in formal instruction. So with the sacramental emphasis of family life.  If our actions, both small and significant do not match our words then the dissonance created can be sensed by all even the youngest children.  

To take an example, consider the celebration of the Eucharist.  If we speak about this as the source and summit of our lives how do our actions bear this out?  Let’s return to the analogy of family work as the equivalent of work outside the home.  If we had a crucial meeting, what time would we arrive for it?  Would we arrive at the last minute, rushing in from the carpark?  We think not.  How many people do this when going to Mass?  Surely the analogy between celebrating the Eucharist and the important work meeting breaks down when we realize that we do not have the opportunity of attending important meeting every day of the year.  Nonetheless, arriving at Mass, say, ten minutes early, with sufficient time to settle ourselves and the children in order to participate properly reinforces in a powerful way the significance we put sacramental worship.  In a similar vein would we conduct an important business meeting from the back of the conference room?  There is something disturbing about going to Mass and seeing the first ten rows empty and the congregation sheepishly huddled at the back.  Why not sit in the front row and really participate in a public and direct way.  This has the added advantage of allowing small children to see unencumbered the drama at the altar.   We think that in this sitting at the back phenomena is an element of the tribal Catholicism mentioned earlier.  Going to Mass was something that the tribe did with a certain sense of resignation and so it didn’t matter were you sat as long as you were there.

Without laboring this point much further, I went to Mass a couple of years ago at a Church which had a Maronite service immediately following.  After communion I noticed large members of people lining up alongside the pews at the front of the Church.  Then others became to squeeze into the pews where there was clearly little room.  As soon as the priest gave the dismissal the rush was on in earnest for the front seats, we were almost shoehorned out of the way.  My children remarked on the rudeness of these people, but when I asked a Maronite student of mine about this, her explanation made a lot of sense.  In her tradition there was an enormous pressure in getting the front seats.  This enabled you to participate more fully to hear and see the priest and deacons clearly, to sing with the choir and to, pray more devoutly.  She rounded off her explanation with something like – if you went to the movies wouldn’t you want to sit in the best seats?    

Our actions reinforcing our words are especially important when we consider the sacrament of penance.  The wonderful and liberating idea of receiving the forgiveness of God for our transgressions can become somewhat hollow if we do receive the sacrament ourselves on a regular basis.  Furthermore the habit of frequent use of this sacrament by children is almost impossible to establish if we don’t jump into the car on a regular basis and take them to see a priest.  The idea of sacramental confession is perhaps not in vogue today so it is incumbent of the family culture to encourage use of this marvelous opportunity for grace.  We think that some sensitivity should be shown to the particular needs of children but this can often be addressed by seeking out a suitable confessor.  There is nothing wrong with this.  If you were going to make a major purchase at your job outside the home you would doubtlessly make enquiries about the best possible deal available.  How much more important is it try and find a suitable spiritual director for your children.


The Family Culture as Prayerful

The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer.  Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the domestic church where God’s children learn to pray as the Church and to persevere in prayer.  For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church'’ living memory as awakener patiently by the Holy Spirit.  Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2685


A family culture which welcomes and nurtures faith is a prayerful one.  A prayerful family is a family that prays often and in a variety of ways.  Every opportunity for family prayer should be taken.  This puts the immediacy of God and the relationship between God and the family at the centre of the family culture. Prayer can be understood in a variety of ways, but put simply it is best understood as a conversation with God.  A two way communication where we develop and strength our relationship with God and come to a deeper understanding of his plan for us.

Prayers can be formal and informal, spoken and meditative but above all the idea of pray as communicating with God.  Ideas and suggestions for family prayer is a huge area that we touch on later.  There is a definite need to incorporate some fixed prayer schedule lest prayer be neglected due to the other pressures of family.  We think it was Luther who said that my whole life is a prayer, that is well and good but if we don’t aside a regular time can easily lose the marvelous focus on God the directed prayer brings.  When is the best time for regular prayer is a vexed question?   We try to, prayer together as early as possible in the evening, usually immediately after meals or sometimes even before desert.     I know of families who pray together in the morning but this would not suit our situation.  I also think that if a choice had to be made between length and frequency of prayer we would choose frequency, as children seem to cope better with a shorter time frame.

This is not the place for a survey of the types of prayer available to families, however we think that two points are appropriate.  Firstly an emphasis on the meditative aspect of prayer.  We live in a culture of noise and easy distraction.  The powerful effect of silence is often underutilized and underappreciated.  To make use of quiet time is a powerful prayer tool.  Secondly we must always guard against prayer become routine – merely mouthing words.  Children are captivated by the transcendent and prayer should have a strong and tangible element of this.   This is how one person described his experience with prayer in his home when he was growing up.

I never really thought much about prayer as a young boy until one night I walked past my father’s room and peeped through the ajar door.  He did not see me because he was kneeling beside his bed, lost in prayer.  I had just started school, but to this day, the image of his face has never left me.  I realised straight away that my father was in conversation with God.  From that day on, I knew that God was real and interested in me .

With prayer as with all aspects of building up a family culture welcoming of faith, we have to persevere and not be discouraged with time of staleness and disinterest.   Prayer, like the sacraments are indispensable to living out our vocation in the world.   

This is how Pope John Paul II has described the efficacy of prayer:

"Through prayer, especially to Jesus at communion, you will understand so many things about the world and its relationship to him, and you will be in a position to read accurately what are referred to as the “sighs of the times”.  Above all, you will have something to give those who come to you in need."

The Family Culture as Virtuous

Finally we would briefly like to touch on the importance of cultivating virtue as part of the family culture.  I say touch on because this is an area deserving a whole seminar but something needs to said about this vital aspect of family life and its relationship to faith.  By encouraging virtuous behaviour we are at its most basic level creating an environment where the humanity of all members of the family is allowed to flourish.  The scriptural analogy here is with the sower.  Good human values are like the fertile soil in the parable that along with good rain allows the seed to grow.  

How do we encourage virtuous behaviour?  The American jurist Charles E. Rice when asked how to you encourage lawyers to be ethical remarked that it was impossible to compartmentalise this type of behaviour to the professional aspect of ones life.  In this view an ethical lawyer is ethical all the time or at least tries to be: on the way to work, in dealing with people and most certainly at home with the members of the family.  We can say the same thing about virtue.  To create a family culture that encourages virtuous behaviour wee need to ensure that the people in the community are virtuous.  This sounds like a chicken or the egg argument: virtuous people have a virtuous family culture – but which comes first?  We think the important point to stress here is the striving or the attempt.  To be looking always for ways to behave well and thereby to encourage others to behave well is a lesson for the whole of our lives in all its dimensions.   The wonderful description of St. Joseph as the man who always did the right thing is an appropriate model here.

It is instructive that St. Joseph, the virtuous man par excellence can be seen as the patron saints of not only fathers but all who try to establish a household and a family culture that models that of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

To conclude the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the pivotal role of education in virtue as part of family life.  This quote can act as a summary for what family culture that welcomes and nurtures faith should be striving for.


Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.  The home is well-suited for education in the virtues.  This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgement, and self mastery – preconditions of all true freedom  CCC 2223



Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. in Flannery, A.P. (ed).  Vatican II, the Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents.  Minnesota: The Liturgical Press (1975)  

John Paul II.  Catechesi Tradendae, Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis in our Time.  Homebush, NSW: St Paul Publications (1979)

John Paul II  Familiaris Consortio   Apostolic Exhortation on the Christian Family in the Modern World (1981)

Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi.  Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World  (1975)


Richard Rymarz is Lecturer in Religious Education, Australian Catholic University, St Patrick’s Campus.

Jennifer Weber is Head of the Family Advisory Services, Monash University, Australia.