Theologian Richard Gaillardetz urges parents to create an island of silence on Sunday with cellphones and computers turned off for two hours.


Theologian Richard Gaillardetz urges parents to create an island of silence on Sunday with cellphones and computers turned off for two hours.

May 21, 2012

The home is our most basic experience of Church, says theologian Richard Gaillardetz. It is, for Blessed John Paul II, "a school of following Christ."

That, however, does not mean the home has quizzes on the catechism or Scripture, Catholic textbooks or measuring outcomes, Gaillardetz said. Nor does it mean Christian parents need to fill their homes with religious artwork and regular prayer services so that they resemble churches.

Rather, the home is the place where we enable children to become disciples of Jesus, people who act virtuously because they have learned "to see the world as Jesus does."

Gaillardetz, a father of four boys aged 16 to 21 and a theologian at the Jesuit-run Boston College, spoke to 60 people at St. Michael-Resurrection Church May 12 as part of the parish's ongoing series on Catholic education.

"How do you see a person who asks for money on a street corner?" Gaillardetz asked. He can be seen as a distraction, someone taking advantage of you, a drunk looking for booze money or as the face of Christ.

How you see that person depends on how you have been shaped, he said. Aristotle, he noted, said a person becomes virtuous, not by reading a book, but by spending time with virtuous people.

So it is with families. Every morning in the Gaillardetzs' home, there is an hour in which all six people are preparing their lunches and eating breakfast before heading off in separate directions.

"We are engaging each other in a very mundane way, but a very powerful way. Why is it powerful? Because it happens everyday."

Gaillardetz spoke of seven types of activity in the home that can help people develop into disciples.

One is the practice of family prayer. Family prayer is much more difficult now than it was 50 years ago because of "a culture of activism," he said. Sports, dance lessons and other activities constantly draw children out of the home.

But families can still say prayers such as Grace Before Meals, a modest daily prayer that accentuates the current religious season such as Advent or Easter, and special blessings for major events such as birthdays or travel.

Grace Before Meals "is one of the most elemental ways we remind ourselves that we have been gifted and that gifts come with responsibilities."

A second family practice is that of contributing to the common good, Gaillardetz said. "We are not isolated individuals; we are in solidarity with all God's creatures."

Children often see the home as a social service agency in which their parents are social workers whose role is to meet the needs of the children, he said. To counteract that, children need to be given responsibilities in the household so they overcome their sense of entitlement.


Third comes the practice of feasting and fasting. At least some meals, he said, need to be communal events.

They do not need to be huge celebrations, but they should involve everyone in buying the food, preparing the meal, eating it together and cleaning up afterwards.

Feasting is a practice where you delight in the meal, he said, not one where you treat food as a mere commodity, such as a fast food hamburger or a microwaved TV dinner.

The fourth practice – that of tithing – enables the family to reflect on how much is enough. The key to tithing, said Gaillardetz, is not the actual per cent of money donated, but the fact that it is the first fruits of your labour.

It is a recognition that everything comes from God and that our right to our money is not absolute; it comes with responsibilities.

Gaillardetz said that in his home, everyone is involved in the decisions about where money will be donated. There is family discernment about how it will use its gifts to help those less fortunate.

The fifth practice is that of service to others. The modern media makes us more aware than ever of the effects of famine and natural disasters. That heightened awareness, however, has led us to be less responsive to those in need.

Service is how we overcome such apathy. Service must involve personal contact with those in need and it needs to be habitual, he said. The parish should be the organization that facilitates our contact with the less fortunate.

A sixth practice is Sabbath keeping. This is not simply about Sunday Mass attendance or avoiding work on Sunday. It should include "the sanctity of quiet, of not-doing."


It might mean, Gaillardetz said, a technology-free zone of several hours in which all cellphones and computers are off-limits. "They will survive when the cellphone is turned off for two hours."

The final practice is that of being agents of forgiveness and hospitality. Our tendency is to expect people to get their lives together before they join us, he said. Jesus, however, welcomed everyone into the household of God's love. Being part of the community will itself enable people to live more upright lives.

"Jesus sees Zaccheus and he doesn't say, 'Zaccheus you've been putting it to all sorts of people. Make it right and I'll come and have dinner with you.'

"Jesus says, 'I'll have dinner with you' and in the face of that radical invitation, Zaccheus knows that he has to make it right."

Said Gaillardetz: "The most radical thing about Jesus' ministry was his table fellowship. He celebrated meals with those who Jewish laws said you shouldn't celebrate meals with - women, Gentiles, tax collectors, people of ill repute, lepers."

Letter to the Editor - 05/28/12