Focus on family as we enter Year of Mercy

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Virginia Rivas of New Jersey holds the image of Our Lady of Schoenstatt as she waits for Pope Francis to arrive for the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families on 27 September in Philadelphia. The Schoenstatt shrine at Mulgoa in the foothills of the Blue Mountains will be one of the holy door shrines for the Year of Mercy. Photo: Lisa Johnston. St Louis Review
Virginia Rivas of New Jersey holds the image of Our Lady of Schoenstatt as she waits for Pope Francis to arrive for the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families on 27 September in Philadelphia. The Schoenstatt shrine at Mulgoa in the foothills of the Blue Mountains will be one of the holy door shrines for the Year of Mercy. Photo: Lisa Johnston. St Louis Review

Things are predictably hectic at this time of year – in the past few days alone our family had one concert, a primary school graduation, a visit to another new school, the resumption of swimming lessons, and more.

It’s intense from now until New Year’s and many days are like a lucky dip; there’s a lot of fun and gratitude and special moments in there along with some of the most stressful times of the year.

Queues are longer, expectations much higher, attention spans shorter, personalities more likely to clash, and tempers more likely to fray.

Each day you never quite know how much pain will be mixed in with the joy of an occasion, or how much joy with the pain.

We always come out the other side fine, though; the turbulence of November and December always gives way to the calm and fresh hope of January.

I find it too easy when we’re this busy to just put my head down and power through as much as I can on my own until I’m exhausted and cranky. I forget that we’re meant to be in this together.

It’s pretty easy to lighten everyone’s load if we only pause for a moment to lift our heads, look around, and ask both for help and how we can help others who are nearby.

One of the best things we did this year was to join some other families on a retreat tailored for parents with young children – the Time for Us retreat hosted by the Mt Schoenstatt community at Mulgoa.

It was hosted by Sr M Julie Brcar with husband and wife team Bernard and Jane Toutounji. It’s a great grace to be able to spend time with other Catholic couples who are trying to grow in their faith and instil it in their children.

The children were also entertained separately at times so that adults could take in the input from various speakers and spend time alone with their spouses. And couples were treated to a formal dinner in a pop-up restaurant.

At a retreat like this the children receive a deep impression of the importance of prayer and community, in a fun and safe environment distinct from their home and school.

As a follow-on from the success of that retreat and to herald the Year of Mercy, members of the Mt Schoenstatt community are welcoming all to attend the official opening of its Holy Door – the door to its shrine, which is itself a replica of the original Mt Schoenstatt shrine in Germany.

They have prepared a day for families on Sunday, 13 December, beginning with Mass at 11am followed by the opening of the Holy Door of Mercy. All are invited to bring a picnic lunch before a 2pm talk by Sr Julie on encountering God’s mercy. In a similar format to the family retreat, a catechesis activity and childcare will be provided for children.

I can recommend it as an opportunity to meet there with friends for an end-of-year catch-up, and to meet new like-minded families as well.

It’s also a good time to register for the National Association of Catholic Families conference to be held from 8-10 April at Kurrajong.

Families can expect a fun and affordable holiday atmosphere with lots of activities for children and teenagers.

The conference speakers will include the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the Bishop of Broken Bay, Bishop Peter Comensoli, the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia and lay leaders in the area of evangelisation and family life.

The Verbum Dei community in Sydney also conducts retreat days and other events tailored for young families throughout the year from its base at Rosebery.

Together, family by family and home by home we are the light and salt of the world, but we need to factor in time for rest and renewal amid the crazy busy-ness of this season of life!