THE WISDOM OF NAZARETH: Stories of Catholic Family Life
Editors Sr Crucis Beards FMDM and Anna Schaefer
(Family Publications, 2008, 205pp, $26.85.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
Encouraging, humorous, pro-life, these beautiful stories are most welcome at a time when family values are often undermined from all sides. Over 30 stories make up this collection initiated by the Centre for Marriage and Family at the Maryvale Institute, taken from the former Catholic publication Nazareth Journal.
Each story gives a unique insight into the lives of ordinary but devout Catholic parents, facing different problems and coming from diverse walks of life. In his address on the Feast of the Holy Family, 30 December 2007, Benedict XVI appealed to Catholic families to 'bear witness before the world of the beauty of human love, of marriage and of the family'.
Professor David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) writes in his foreword of his hope that this book will encourage all who read it to truly live up to Benedict's appeal. No small challenge, but one that each story rises to in its own exceptional way.
Michael O'Brien, internationally acclaimed novelist, artist and former editor of Nazareth Journal, describes marriage in his introduction as 'a vocation that is simultaneously a most fragile and powerful thing, the 'domestic Church', and the foundation of civilization itself'.
These are powerful words, which echo though each story with the difficulties and wonders of marriage being the recurring theme throughout the book. Spouses struggle with stubbornness, unforgiveness, frustration, pride, self-pity, impatience, and physical trials such as abortion, separation, miscarriages, adoption, accidents, financial difficulties, handicapped children, the demands of NFP, illness, sterilisation and poor living conditions. Yet the authors speak humbly of their absolute trust in God, which sees them though unimaginably hard times.
It is all too easy for critics of Catholic family values to disregard books of this type as written by self- righteous disillusioned fanatics not connected to the real world. But the authors of these stories could not be further from that stereotype for they write with particular self-honesty, humility, and humour.
In one particularly fascinating story, 'My Master's Degree', a self- confessed ardent feminist, having discovered another unplanned pregnancy after vowing that she would have no more children until she finished her degree, remarks wryly 'God must have someone employed full-time to follow up on silly definitive statements we humans like to make, just to remind us who is in charge'. Rather than applauding their own merit, each tale refreshingly inspires us to do better in our own lives.
The stories in this publication are categorised into Motherhood, Fatherhood, Marriage, Family Life, Autumn Years, and Eternal Life. The stories in each category speak poignantly of the particular tribulations each grouping experiences.
Those dealing with Motherhood explore universal frustrations such as sleepless nights, unrealised ambitions, self-pity, and foiled desires for further intellectual stimulation, higher rungs on the career ladder and/or worldly status.
There are mothers from all walks of life, including feminists, single parents and converted Jews, who deal with problems ranging from screaming young children, dying grandparents, and adoption to mortgages, run-down houses, and home- schooling. There are painful accounts of miscarriages, where still their great faith helps them as they ask Mary to be the mother of the children they cannot be with.
In spite of mounting personal difficulties, each woman re-affirms that for real success one must put the needs of marriage and family above one's own. Through such sacrifices we come to 'see in all the apparent weaknesses of married life the 'glorious ordinary' of Nazareth'.
The Fatherhood topic details many touching stories, mostly focusing on a father's natural inclination to have responsibility for his family, to know that he can provide for them and take care of them. Yet this noble desire can be easily thwarted in the face of serious illness, near-death accidents, severe financial difficulties and the tendency to pride.
In 'Disaster, Rage, and Repentance', a father tells of his young son leaping blithely from a tree into his father's arms. Is this not the trust we should have in God? Trust is not an acquired virtue but a simple choice. As the author notes 'He [God] is in control no matter what the situation may be ... The crucial question is whether I believe this or not.'
Many of the stories illustrate the powerful effect children have on their parents. Though it can be a daunting task to bring up children in the precious gift of faith, they reward their parents in so many ways, enriching their lives and souls. 'Forgiveness, Stars, and Saint God' is a beautiful story about how children really teach their parents, showing them the priorities in life against the traps of pettiness. It is all too easy for a Catholic parent to step back in the light of modern society and say 'What a great parent I am!' Rather parents should be saying, ' What an amazing child God has given me to make such a parent out of me.'
Alongside the stories on marriage and family life, there are those about inspiring, prayerful grandparents; devotions to the Miraculous Medal and the Rosary; and family members in troubled times, particularly in Germany during World War II. Each story exemplifies the power of prayer and the graces God is willing to give.
The author of 'Snow and Roses' offers this simple set of guidelines which will help every family to live the 'glorious ordinary of Nazareth':
'Endure as best we can life's small annoyances.
Handle problems before they become major issues.
Enjoy life's many blessings to the fullest.
Bring humor and laughter back into our lives.
Love our neighbor as ourselves.
Ask for God's help and never forget the power or prayer.'
Dedicated to 'every Catholic family', this book is one that no Catholic family should be without.
Siobhan Reeves is a young Catholic writer and tertiary student.