October 27, 2012

How To Grow In Faith Around The Family Table

How To Grow In Faith Around The Family Table
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Dinner Time Chaos Challenges

I don’t know about your house, but dinner time at my house can get pretty crazy.

I think we are just too busy. I mean, as a society. And my little family is just too busy too.

Feeding a family is a lot of work. It takes time. My wife and I are committed to eating real food. Nothing fake or fast. And that means that we cook. Every. Single. Day.

It’s a good thing that we both love to cook! But cooking still takes time, which is something that is often in short supply. Just finding the time to cook can be a challenge. Throw a whole family into the mix and dinner can easily end up as a stress-filled event.

I don’t know what flavor of chaos you have at your house, but here we are constantly trying to instill in our kids good manners and basic table etiquette. It’s not an easy task. Between kids fighting with each other, or arguing about the accuracy of a movie quote or the result of a recent game of Life, to the child who finds it almost impossible to just sit in her seat for an entire meal, to another child who can’t stop talking or interrupting others, to the picky-eater, to… I think you get my point.

Sometimes dinner just gets out of hand.

Good News!

There are a few “secrets” that we have learned over the years that help to bring peace to dinner time. And what’s more, these “secrets” can actually help everyone around the table to grow in faith.

The Year of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI has declared this year (Oct. 2012 to Nov. 2013) The Year of Faith. He announced his plans for The Year of Faith last October in a letter entitled Porta Fidei (“door of faith”). The reference is to Acts 14:27 when the apostles discerned that God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

In his letter, Pope Benedict reminds us that “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.”

The Year of Faith is a time of grace for us. It is an opportunity for us to look deeply at our own faith and to grow in faith too.

One very simple way to for us to grow in faith this year is around the family dinner table.

The Sacramental Principle And The Importance of The Family Table

“The family that eats together stays together.”

OK. I know that’s not the real quote. It’s supposed to be, “The family that prays together stays together.” But I think eating together works too.

There is something sacred about families eating together. I think it goes back to the sacramental principle.

I’ve written about the sacramental principle before. Basically, the sacramental principle is a deeply Catholic understanding of creation and the human person.

I first came across the sacramental principle explained as a principle a number of years ago while reading The Privilege of Being Catholic by Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, C.M. That book really struck me by it’s simplicity and depth. The basis of the book was the “sacramental principle.”

In its basic form, the sacramental principle “states that created things are good and are signs of God’s presence and grace.” Fr. Lukefahr notes that the sacramental principle is distinctly Catholic and is the basis for all we do as Catholics. God became man in Jesus, and the Incarnation changed everything. That’s why the seven sacraments make sense. They are reasonable. They ring true with creation itself.

The sacramental principle reminds me of something I read from Aristotle when I was in the seminary. For a pagan, Aristotle sure was Catholic. 😉

In his work on morality (Nicomachean Ethics), which dealt with human action, he determined that what we do does two things: 1) it reveals who we are and 2) it forms who we are. So, essentially, we are what we do. Who I am is determined by what I do. Not by the thoughts I think (unless those thoughts lead to right actions). My perception of myself can be way off. But my actions don’t lie.

How do I know if I am a kind person? I do kind actions. How do I know if I am an honest person? I habitually tell the truth.

Boy, that sure does sound Catholic, doesn’t it?

St. Thomas Aquinas probably had something to do with that. St. Thomas “rediscovered” and baptized, if you will, Aristotle’s writings back in the 1200s.

So what does all of this have to do with family dinner and growing in faith?

Well, how do we know if we are growing in faith? We habitually do things that help us to grow in faith.

How To Grow In Faith Around The Family Table

So what are some of the actions we can do around the family table this year in order to grow in faith? Well, gathering around the family table as often as possible is the first thing we ought to do! But beyond that, I want to recommend 3 simple and effective practices taken from the lived tradition of the Church that we can easily implement in our own families:

  • Prayer
  • Sacred music
  • and sacred reading

It All Starts With Prayer

Prayer is so simple. It really is. At it’s most basic level, it is just talking with God. And the family table is the perfect place for prayer. Just as we gather around God’s family table at Mass and receive the Bread of Life, so we can gather around our family table at home to receive from God our daily bread.

If you are currently not saying a prayer before meals at your house, I encourage you to start. A prayer before meals can set the tone of the meal. It can bring peace to the table and peace to our hearts. It acknowledges that God is God and that we receive all good things from his hand.

You can talk to God in your own words, or use a written prayer like the traditional Prayer Before Meals:

“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

Music Can Tame The Wild Beasts

He who sings, prays twice” is often attributed to St. Augustine. Apparently there is some dispute as to whether St. Augustine ever wrote that. But what is incontestable is the fact that music is powerful. If you doubt that it is, then just watch this quick 2 minute video on the power of music.
[SlideDeck2 id=3794] In our home we don’t often sing around the dinner table, but that certainly is an option for us and for you. However, we do frequently have music playing in the background. Music really can “tame” us or calm us down. Sacred music, chant, and classical selections may be the perfect thing to introduce a little peace at dinner time. And sacred music can also edify our souls and build up our faith.

I recently asked my good friend Kate Daneluk of MakingMusicPrayingTwice.com what music she would recommend for a family dinner. This is what she had to say:

“Gregorian Chant – Hildegard von Bingen is easy on the ears and a little challenging to sing, so it may fit the bill as background music. We love Anonymous 4 and Chanticleer for high-quality chant CDs.

Also, the classics are great.  Mozart’s Requiem is great for Lent, Handel’s Messiah for Advent (or Lent actually), Faure’s Requiem is peaceful and very reflective.  Sacred Bach Chorales are also good choices.”

[Thanks, Kate!]

Those Monks Know A Thing Or Two About Growing in Faith

Prayer and music are simple and effective ways to grow in faith around the family table. But there is one more (and a very special one for me!) that I want to share with you.

If you listen to The Catholic Foodie Podcast, then you may recall that I spent four years in the seminary. Two years in Mexico with Mother Teresa’s priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, and two years at St. Joseph Seminary College studying for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. To different degrees, both seminaries incorporated a daily practice that comes to us from monasticism: sacred reading during meals.

While in the seminary, I cherished the experience of sacred reading during our meals. And I have brought this experience into my family life.

We don’t read at table as often as we listen to sacred music, but when we do, it is always a powerful blessing to us all. I have noticed that we tend to incorporate this practice more frequently during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

So, how do we do this?

When we do this, I am the reader. This means that I have to sacrifice a hot meal, but it’s worth it. After we pray, everyone around the table starts to eat in silence while I read the reading that we chose for that day. It may be a selection from scripture or from the writings of the saints. We have even read from the Catechism during our meals. I usually don’t read during the entire meal. Maybe 10 minutes or so. And we do not remain in silence after the reading is over. Instead we usually discuss what has been read.

Technology has opened up for us an easier way to incorporate sacred reading at meal time. With iPods and portable CD players, it’s easy play an audio version of the bible or any audiobook. We have particularly enjoyed listening to the Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible – New Testament. There have been times when we were so caught up in what we were listening to that we lost track of time and continued listening long after the meal was over.

Not a bad way to grow in faith. 😉

3 Ways To Grow In Faith Around The Family Table

So, those are my three ways to grow in faith this year around the family table:

  • Prayer
  • Sacred music
  • Sacred reading

What About You? How Do YOU Grow In Faith?

I hope this article was helpful. Did I forget something? Or do you have another idea? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below!

***Featured Photo by ShellGreenier at Flickr.com***