Making the Family Spiritual Pilgrims (Virtually)

This content is sponsored by the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

by Ken Balbuena, Director of Communications and Outreach at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine

“Peace has many different forms. There is peace between nations, peace in society, peace between citizens, peace between religious communities, peace within undertakings, neighborhoods, villages and, especially, peace inside families.”

2020 has undoubtedly been a year none of us will forget. From a worldwide pandemic to national protests and a contentious election season, there is a weight of worry that may leave you with anxiety and hopelessness. Nonetheless, the Thanksgiving holiday season reminds us that family is something to look forward to. Being with family can rekindle the inner peace that St. John Paul II wrote about in this article’s opening quote.

In that same spirit, part of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine’s mission is to provide spiritual resources for families to grow together spiritually in building what St. John Paul II called “the Domestic Church.” While an in-person visit may not be currently possible, we are pleased to bring the Shrine to you!

Here are 5 ways the Saint John Paul II National Shrine can help bring your family closer together this Thanksgiving, throughout the holiday season, and beyond.

Pray Together

“Prayer must become the dominant element…prayer by the family, prayer for the family, and prayer with the family.” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Families)

The Shrine offers several ways for families to pray together, including daily livestreams of both Mass and prayer at the Hour of Mercy where the Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed. There is also our Art of Prayer series. Normally offered in-person in our Luminous Mysteries Chapel, the virtual version of this program focuses on developing interior prayer by exploring the prayer life of our great patron, St. John Paul II.

As many bishops have temporarily suspended the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, families are still encouraged to keep the day holy. Carve out a dedicated time in your schedule, free of distractions, to livestream Mass as a family (Monday-Saturday at noon; Sundays at 11am in Spanish and 2pm or 7pm in English Masses). As St. John Paul II said in 1994, “prayer should first of all be an encouraging witness on the part of those families who live out their human and Christian vocation in the communion of the home.”

Learn More About Your Faith

“The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable…” (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio)

This past spring, the Shrine launched two live webinar programs. The Shrine Webinar Series focuses on a broad array of topics such as how the Washington Nationals’ pitching coach practices his faith amid the demands of a professional sports life (including during the World Series run) and a discussion of the first meeting in the United States between President Ronald Reagan and St. John Paul II, which took place on the tarmac of an airport in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Gospel of Life Webinar Series celebrates the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae or The Gospel of Life, which emphasizes the dignity of the human person. The guests of this series were from organizations that minister to the elderly, women in crisis pregnancies, adults with intellectual disabilities, and perpetrators and victims of injustice. In addition to these two informational webinar series, we created several Gospel Gladness episodes, which help to bring joy into your home by sharing uplifting stories of people living out their faith, including Catholic families interviewed via video conference technology.

Just as school systems have moved to an online learning model for at least the first half of the academic year, exploring these online resources available free of charge on our YouTube channel can add a different dimension to learning more about your faith.

Forgive

“Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love which is more powerful than sin. Forgiveness is also the fundamental condition for reconciliation, not only in the relationship of God with man, but also in relationships between people.” (St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia)

The Shrine still hears confessions daily from 10:00 – 11:00am Monday-Saturday and from 3:30pm – 5:00pm on Sundays. Additionally, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) provide a vital ministry in promoting the message of the Divine Mercy, which was revealed to St. Faustina and was an important part of St. John Paul II’s life. Several resources for Divine Mercy Sunday are available on our YouTube Channel, and the OLM Sisters have an Evenings with the Merciful Jesus program that helps all learn about God’s abundant love for us despite our human flaws.

The holidays can often be a difficult time for some families, especially where there are differences in political beliefs, clashes in personalities, and possibly even deep wounds of seemingly irreconcilable divisions between family members. Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation can create a clean heart in each of us, so we can focus more on what we love about our family members than what we may not like about them, thus emulating the goal of the Divine Mercy message.

Spend Quality Time with Your Family

“’The role of the Christian family,’ concentrates our attention on this community of human and Christian life, which has been fundamental from the beginning.” (St. John Paul II, The Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage)

When fully open, the Shrine offers the Domestic Church Day program. This half-day family retreat is inspired by Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and provides age-appropriate talks, family prayer time, and fellowship. Although this program has been suspended throughout the pandemic-induced closure, the Shrine continues to offer events for the family, including the Visit of the Saints series that will be offered virtually. Details about these programs will be announced on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Although the pandemic has brought everyone together closer physically with stay-at-home orders and quarantines, it may have come at the expense of quality time. In addition to enjoying the virtual offerings of the Shrine, we encourage you to spend quality time with your family however that looks. To quote St. John Paul II’s homily from the October 6, 1995 Mass at the Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, NY, “Children need not only material support from their parents, but more importantly a secure, affectionate and morally correct family environment.”

Serve the Community

“The evangelical witness which the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people, and of charity toward the poor, the weak and those who suffer…[It] is also a witness to the Gospel when it is a sign of concern for persons and is directed toward integral human development.” (St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio)

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine is a major pastoral initiative of the Knights of Columbus. One of the Knights’ founding principles is charity, which is “at the heart of our work and our faith.” In his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, St. John Paul II not only reaffirms our duty as Catholic Christians to spread the Gospel but also challenges us to put our faith into action. The Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative has provided direct service to communities, parishes, and the vulnerable through the pandemic. By joining the Knights of Columbus, you not only become part of the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, but you also get access to Knights-exclusive Shrine events like the Totus Tuus Pilgrimage Program.

As we transition to the Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas seasons, let us recall the words of Paul S. Loverde, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Arlington – whether you are part of the Knights of Columbus or not. During the Shrine’s Mass of Thanksgiving following the beatification of Knights of Columbus founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, Bishop Emeritus Loverde said that McGivney’s life is a model that is “urging us to live more intentionally the ideals which he wove into the fabric of our Order: Charity, Unity, and Fraternity. These three ideals, plus Patriotism, we are mandated to put into practice within our councils, assemblies, districts, and beyond. As we do so…we shall grow stronger in our Catholic faith; form more realistically our family into a domestic Church, assist the Holy Father, our bishops, and [our] priests in their pastoral ministry; defend the truths, which Jesus Christ teaches through His word and by the teaching office of his Church.”

In closing, all of us at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine wish you a blessed holiday season, and we hope you visit us virtually or in person whenever possible. Follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube) for updates and to learn more about our great patron, livestream Mass, and access exclusive content.

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