Marriage Enrichment Project #2 - Let Couples Lead the Way

Marriage Enrichment Project #2 - Let Couples Lead the Way

Every parish has great couples who shine with the signs of God's love. Invite them into marriage ministry! Marriage is a gift that the spouses make to one another when they give themselves freely and accept the other completely. They may not realize how their marriage can be a gift to the community, When their love overflows to bear and nurture children, when they serve the needs of others, and when they give witness to God’s mercy and love in all aspects of their life, married couples fulfill their vocation. Invite some married couples to partner with parish ministers to improve society, one household at a time. Here are some practical plans:

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Marriage Enrichment Project - Tapping Marriage Mentors

Many neighborhoods are blessed to have a married couple on the block that are the true “community makers.” This is the couple that everyone counts on to generate enthusiasm for the block party or to be the first to make a welcoming visit to new arrivals. When this special couple also happens to be Christians, their positive influence gives the Church a good name. People seek their opinion on moral questions or ask them to pray for their loved ones. They seem to enjoy working together in the yard and on church projects. Their dinner table always has room for another teenager. In such a couple, people witness the natural and supernatural dimensions of marriage, in the flesh.

For discussion:
1.    Think of a couple whose marriage you admire. Why do you admire them? What would you say are their best qualities? Do they have any weaknesses or flaws that you notice?
2.    What seems to make a marriage strong, despite the flaws of the spouses?
3.    In what ways can your marriage become a gift to other people, not only to one another?
4.    What practical steps could you take to extend encouragement or support to another couple that is struggling?
5.    What signs do you see that the love of a husband and wife benefits society? 

Your Marriage - "Spouses as Change Agents"

They say that when a man marries a woman, he thinks, “She’s the one I’ve been waiting for.  She’ll never change.” – and she always does.  And a woman looks at her man, and thinks, “He just needs a little work; after we’re married, I’ll help him change” – and he never does.  
The truth is that both men and women will change as time goes on:  

Biologists tell us that every seven years we have totally replaced all the cells in our bodies with new ones.  Our ideas, politics, interests have evolved over the years.  While research shows that personality tendencies (like introversion/extroversion) remain fairly constant throughout our adult lives, we still do change. Personal change and growth can become issues in marriage because we develop at different rates.  We hope our spouses will change for the better: become more patient; stop unhealthy habits; spend more time with the family; work less – or more; go to church more – or less, talk more – or less.  We are all works in progress.

Change sometimes doesn’t happen fast enough to suit us.  Your beloved may be oblivious to your dissatisfaction.  If he or she doesn’t realize their need to change something, a loving spouse can gently ask for change.   However, nagging, cajoling, and arguing get us nowhere and can make us even more miserable.  Successful couples recognize that the only person you can change is yourself.

Enlist your spouse as your partner in self-change.  When we are willing to change some behavior, to tell our spouses about our plan to change, and enlist their support in changing, energy for marital growth can be ignited in our marriages.  Our spouses, no matter what personal faults or issues they may have, will appreciate our efforts (They’ve been hoping we would!). 

What if your self-change strategy doesn’t light a fire under your spouse?  Despite your hopes and personal improvement efforts, he or she is resistant to or unable to change.  This is where the most powerful – and paradoxical – tool of marital change is at your service:  Acceptance.  When partners show each other love and acceptance they respond quicker to each other’s changes.  
Be ready to support any effort your spouse makes toward change, no matter how tentative or incomplete that effort is.  If he or she discloses a desire to change, be ready to help and not hinder the process. It may be that professional help is in order, but your role as helpmate is indispensable.  You are the one who loves your spouse the most.

Form a Habit of Praying for Families

A fine Catholic tradition is praying over an extended time, like the nine-day prayer campaign, the Novena. After nine days, you will find a habit beginning to form. Pray for your family and others with this "Novena to the Holy Spirit for Families," originally created for Catholics For Family Peace.

Novena to the Holy Spirit for Family Peace

First Day

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord of Life, bless us and grant us the grace of loving our families, as Jesus calls us to do, and help us to build peace in our hearts and in our homes.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Second Day

Come, Spirit of Right Judgment, bless us and grant us the grace of peacefully resolving conflicts that arise in our families through patient dialogue that leads to understanding and renewal of love.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Third Day

Come, Spirit of Knowledge, bless us and grant us the grace of loving the Church and finding in her a sure guide for truth and service to God’s will, especially in our relationships at home and in our extended families.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Fourth Day

Come, O Comforter, bless us and grant us the grace of recognizing and responding with love when others are in need or are suffering from injustice or abuse.  May we be ready to help them find safety and shelter.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Fifth Day

Come,  Spirit of Wisdom, bless us and grant us the grace of conforming our lives fully to God’s holy Word, so that we may have compassion on one another, especially those who are poor, lonely, or afraid.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Sixth Day

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten the minds of parents and grandparents, so that they may have patience with children and with one another in the daily challenges of family living.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Seventh Day

Come, Spirit of Piety, and bless all children and young people to withstand the temptations that lead them away from a holy and happy life. May they have good examples in their homes, schools, and society, and become true witnesses to the love of God in the world.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Eighth Day

Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and strengthen all those who are married or contemplating marriage, and encourage them in their vocation of service to the community. Strengthen also those who are separated and divorced, to have courage and remain in your care. Lead them to a future filled with hope.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

Ninth Day

Come, Holy Spirit, bless us and grant us the grace to always work for justice for the most vulnerable in our society.  You know our joys and our sorrows. May the prayers we offer bless our relationships and lead us to your peace.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…

O Holy Spirit, we ask in particular this special favor:

-         Lauri Przybysz, D.Min.

Visit Catholics For Family Peace,, for more prayers for families experiencing conflict. 



We Cannot Remain on the Sidelines

With all the political turmoil today, have you felt tempted to just stay out of it? 

Pope Francis, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, says “If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’” Because we are Christians, we must try to make a positive difference in the world.

We are part of a faith community with profound teachings that help us consider challenges in public life, contribute to greater justice and peace for all people, and evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel in order to help build a better world.

Your family can join with others around the world to pursue peace, protect human rights and religious liberty, and advance economic justice and care for creation. Even young children can take part in positive actions that help other people and share the joy of the Gospel.

The Christian Family Movement has helped our family integrate the call to mission through our efforts to pray, reach out, learn, and act together.  Our kids grew up in CFM and got involved in this movement when they became parents themselves. Being part of the CFM small-group network has taught us how to take action, in family-friendly ways.

Pope Francis said, "We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern." - Pope Francis, 9/16/13.

In light of ethical principles, the US Catholic bishops – in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship -- offer the following policy goals that can guide us as we form our consciences and reflect on the moral dimensions of our public choices.


Even More Ideas for Homemade Spirituality

“Practice makes perfect,” my mother said. Recently, Homemade Disciples has explored a family friendly approach to spiritual growth.  Here are some more modern twists on ancient practices that draw us closer to God and toward deeper, more life-giving relationships.  Let’s consider how busy parents and those caring for others can practice Prayer, Reconciliation, and Journaling in real life.

Can you think of other practical applications?

PRAYER & GRATITUDE - Often we are overwhelmed by the kindness of others, including God, and those times are some of the best to offer up a prayer of gratitude to God.

·         Create and pray a special grace before meals.

·         Share one prayer intention for your partner to pray before he sleeps.

·         Say the rosary together at the start of a car trip.

·         Make a running list of what you are thankful for.

·         Sign up for email prompts for daily prayer.

·         Learn about each other’s religion; visit each other’s churches.

·         Create decorations for the current holiday season and display them.

·         Engaged and dating couples, hold hands and pray evening prayer before going home.

·         Meet friends for a walk at dawn; greet the new day with gratitude.

RECONCILITION - Reconciliation is the end of the estrangement, caused by original sin, between God and humanity.

o   Practice active listening. Make sure you are hearing what the other is saying and that he is hearing you.

o   Identify one strength of your family of origin; forgive one weakness. 

o   When you are wrong, say, “I’m sorry; please forgive me.”

o   When you are right, don’t gloat.

o   Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation

JOURNALING – A journal is a helpful way of keeping up with our spiritual journey. A spiritual journal is different from a regular journal. It is a written record of personal reactions on spiritual matters.

o   Write letters and email thoughts.

o   Start a photo album for a visual journal or make video. Why use only words?

o   Learn more about Spiritual Journaling from Michael A. Haywood’s excellent article at

Spiritual Disciplines for Better Family Relationships

To learn to love as God loves, you must practice. Over the centuries, Christians have learned that certain practices or disciplines help them keep the spiritual channels open and help keep the heart turned toward God. A “spiritual discipline” is a habit or regular pattern in your life that repeatedly brings you back to God and opens you up to growth.  In the monastery, novices spend many years cultivating the qualities needed for their vocations, practicing spiritual disciplines of awareness and self-denial.  

Here are some modern twists on ancient practices that draw us closer to God and toward deeper, more life-giving relationships.  Can you think of other practical applications?

PILGRIMAGE - Pilgrimage is a way God gives us to answer that yearning to physically travel to discover God and the truths about ourselves.
•    Visit your childhood home, school, or playground. 
•    Spend time with elder relatives and hear their stories.  
•    Explore your local cathedral or shrine. 
•    In this Year of Mercy, go through the Holy Door at your local shrine.

FASTING – Fasting is about doing without what are ordinarily necessities to us. Fasting is a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient.
•    Give up needing to have the last word.  
•    Eat simple meals this week, mindful of those who are hungry. Donate to your local food bank.
•    Change an unhealthy habit, (i.e., swearing, smoking, credit buying, or abusing drugs or alcohol. 
•    Married couples, turn off the TV or computer one hour early and go to bed for a massage.

HOSPITALITY - In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one's land, home, or community and providing directly for that person's needs.
•    Invite a friend to share a simple meal. 
•    Welcome the new person in the office or a new neighbor.
•    Greet people politely in public places with the surprise of courtesy. 
•    Engaged and dating couples, include others in your recreation time. 
•    Married couples, make your bedroom inviting.

Coming soon: Check back in a few days for Part 2.


Showing the Way #2: Edith Stein, Affirming Human Dignity When Evil is in Power

Edith Stein was a pioneer in encouraging women to become involved in both the family and professional and political life. Who are the women in your life and community that are witnesses for the Gospel? 

Edith was born to a Jewish family at Breslau on October 12, 1891, but she declared herself to be an atheist in her early teens. Through her passionate study of philosophy she searched after truth and found it in reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus. In 1922 she was baptized a Catholic, though she honored her mother’s Jewish heritage throughout her life. A woman of singular intelligence and learning, she left behind a body of writing notable for its doctrinal richness and profound spirituality. In her writings, Edith Stein affirmed the dignity of women, and encouraged every woman to seek to live out in her own life and circumstances the ideal of true womanhood.  In 1933 she entered the Carmel of Cologne where she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. During the Nazi persecution, she was arrested with others of Jewish heritage and gassed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, offering up her sufferings for the people of Israel. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Cologne on May 1, 1987.
•    The Catholic bishops of the United States offer guidance for us to act in today's politically confusing times in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics. This statement represents guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and duties as participants in our democracy. 
•    How has your own family heritage prepared you to recognize the dignity of every person? Who influenced you to become a more generous and compassionate person?


Showing the Way - Stories of Witnesses Who Inspire: #1 Fr. Walter Cisek

Do you live or work in a situation in which it is difficult to express your faith openly, what can you do quietly to be a witness to Christ? You and your family should get to know about Walter Cisek. 

Fr. Walter Ciseck is known for his clandestine missionary work in the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1963. This American-born Jesuit priest was sent to minister to the faithful in Poland in the late 1930. When the Soviet Army overran Eastern Poland, Fr. Ciszek fled with other Polish refugees into the Soviet Union, hoping to serve them (in disguise) as a priest.  In June 1941, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police as a suspected spy. He spent five years in Moscow's infamous Lubianka prison and then 15 years in Siberia. In addition to his forced labor, he served as priest to his fellow prisoners, risking his life to offer counseling, hear confessions, and celebrating Mass. He was finally freed in a prisoner exchange and returned home to Pennsylvania, where he wrote two books about his experiences before his death in 1984. Fr. Cisek said that he learned to trust God’s will: “No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him.” His cause for canonization is proceeding.

•    Fr. Cisek risked his life to bring the sacraments to his fellow prisoners. What do the sacraments mean to you? Reflect on the gift you have to receive the sacraments freely.
•    If you live or work in a situation in which it is difficult to express your faith openly, what can you do quietly to be a witness to Christ?
•    Fr. Cisek discovered that every circumstance and event in his life – both positive and negative -- revealed God’s will for him. What is God showing you in your own state in life and present situation?

Lent is Prime Time to Reconcile at Home

During Lent, the Church invites us to make the journey inward and be truthful with ourselves about how we behave and what kind of person we want to be. At home with our families, it is especially hard to pretend to be what we are not.  We will travel the weeks of Lent, and our destination is God.  Our path is transformation to be better lovers, better parents, better friends. Lent is a gift to us--Lent keeps it real.  It is the grace of God that keeps us in the direction of our desire and goal.  We trust God to be gentle with us; may we be gentle with each other. 

Lent can be a good time to have a family meeting to grow in mercy and be more forgiving. With your family, or with a few friends, try this Family Meeting of Reconciliation and Forgiveness. 

If you enjoy this experience, you can find more meeting plans from the Christian Family Movement.

Keep the Year Holy at Home

Spirituality is a journey taken one step at a time.  You never know--some of these ideas may become habits you’ll carry into the next year, and many more to come.  Here are some suggestions for growing in holiness throughout the year.
•    Cultivate a sense of gratitude. Greet each child with a smile in the morning, thanking God aloud for the gift that a child is.  Summer offers innumerable examples of the glory and abundance of God’s creative genius.  Recognize the wonder of a sprouting seed and the beauty of full bloom. Model for your children an appreciation of God’s gifts.
•    Rededicate yourselves to mealtime prayer. Whether it’s a picnic at the park or hotdogs on the run, begin with bowed heads and thanksgiving. Light a candle.  (A citronella candle can do double duty: God is present; bugs aren’t!)  Your prayer can be a simple ritual like holding hands, saying “Thank you, God” together and blowing out the candle can be a graced moment for your family.
•    Commit to Sunday Mass even when traveling. This speaks powerfully to your children about the centrality of your faith. Your family trouping into church as vacation visitors also gives a witness to the regular parishioners.
•    Extend your family circle. Whether it’s the new child on the block or the elderly neighbor you don’t see all winter, summer is the perfect time to reach out and include them.  Don’t fuss about making special plans; just invite others to join whatever you’re already doing.
•    Serve others. Teens can shovel snow or mow lawns; gradeschoolers can walk dogs or pick up mail.  Kids are often more than willing to do chores for someone else than to do them at home.  Volunteer service works wonders for boredom.  Older teens may even be able to volunteer for a week away from home in programs helping disadvantaged children or underprivileged communities.


Families Encounter Jesus in Their Own Stories

Over the Christmas holidays, we visited with family from far and near. We gathered around the festive table and reminisced about the past year, and even retold old stories that we always tell when we come together. We tell the stories that make us laugh and the stories of love that make our eyes moist when we tell them again. We don’t have them written down; we know them by heart.

Stories teach us life has a shape. Life has beginnings, endings, turns, returns.  Life has ups and downs, losses and triumphs. Stories teach us that there is hope, even when things look dark and hopeless.

What were some of your favorite stories when you were a child? Can you tell why you liked those ones?

Christ is at work in the events and struggles of daily family life. Our religious heritage is founded on the power of story. Bible came from stories told and retold orally. If you had to pick a favorite bible story, what would it be? Why is it a favorite?

If we want to pass on our complete faith to our children, we must work to make these stories part of their lives.

Telling bible stories in your own words - Some tips:

1.            Know the story yourself. Show resource books.

2.            Set a time to tell stories, a “campfire” time.

3.            Be expressive, dramatic.

4.            Search out the fuller meaning of the Sunday readings and share with the family in the car or over breakfast.

5.            Get some good books of Bible stories.  I love this book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

6.            Don’t be afraid to retell stories in your own words.

7.            Be selective. Not all stories should be retold to children (use your own judgment).

8.            Deepen your own understanding and love of Scripture. I recommend the Catholic Study Bible.


Mary, Help Us Be a Light

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we recall how God perfected Mary from the very beginning, so that Christ could grow in her. Now, as are another week closer to the celebration of Christmas, we  pray to grow in family love so that our light will shine so brightly that we will light the way to Christ for others. We pray to Mary to help us truly see the light shining in the darkness. 

Family Advent Activity: Turn off the lights in the house. Talk about how we can change darkness into light by the good things we do for each other. Hold hands and make a tour of your house. As you move from room to room turn on the light and talk about what someone does in each room to light up other’s lives—what someone does in the family room that light up other’s lives, what someone does in the kitchen, etc. Light each room with a prayer for a special intention—a prayer for peace, a prayer for hope, a prayer for love, a prayer for joy, or a prayer for the needy.


The Power of Love

In the wake of the terrible attacks in Parish last week, I heard many strident voices calling for revenge, counter-attack, and more violence. Those voices did not give me any comfort or reassure me that the world would become safer. Three other voices gave me hope and calmed me. They called me to remember the power of our God made present in the goodness of kind and peaceful people.
First, our brothers and sisters in the Bruderhof, a Christian community, reminded me that Christmas is still coming, and no terrorist can change that. “Belonging to the Christmas message are the well-known words of Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ These two things – love and light – should spur us all to action.”
Second, dear Mr. Roger’s voice told me the advice he learned as a child from his own mother: “For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world. There was something else my mother did that I've always remembered: ‘Always look for the helpers," she'd tell me. ‘There's always someone who is trying to help.’" 
A small boy in his father’s arms was interviewed in Paris the day after the shootings. The child told the reporter how frightened he was of the bad people with guns. His father pointed to all the people laying gathering to pay their respects at the make-shift memorial and said “They might have guns, but we have flowers.” The power of the goodness in the world is stronger than fear.
We must be the helpers. My ministry with families is one contribution I can make to build a more peaceful world. I do this work because I am a follower of Jesus, who calls me to care for all God’s people, especially anyone who is hurting or marginalized. We are responsible for one another. I believe in the importance of families to be safe and loving places for their members and for all of society. I also recognize that living in a family is not easy. I believe in the importance of educating members of the Christian community, lay people and clergy, about what our Church really teaches -- about marriage, family life, and the dignity of every person-- so that they can help and not do harm by indifference, prejudice, or ignorance.


Happiness: A Long-Term Project for Parents

The coming of children to a marriage can be experienced either as a loss in the couple’s relationship or an expansion of it. The evidence that we have from marriage research reinforces a sober picture that parenthood puts a strain on a marriage. For parenting to be a positive experience for the couple, as well as for the children, the health of the couple’s relationship needs care and support from many quarters. While it will be helpful for parents to improve communication skills and engage help from friends and family, they may still find the job of parenting overwhelming. They should not go it alone.

Your faith is the chief support of your marriage. Research shows that couples who are more religious tend to be more satisfied in their marriages, experience less conflict about common issues and higher levels of commitment and are less likely to divorce. Religious couples were more likely to report being satisfied in sacrificing for one another and have a stronger team identity. Couples seem to benefit most from religious practice if they are involved in it together.

With faith spouses can trust God to help them beat the statistics and continue in partnership. They also need to build ties with other parents who are in the same boat. A community of like-minded friends, at church and in the home, are a treasure. Parent groups that they organize in their parish or neighborhood, like the Christian Family Movement, can provide such a network. 

God and good friends help the spouses  to participate in a project that is bigger than both of them. In the process, they experience what Christian tradition calls “the Paschal Mystery,” dying to their old selves and rising to a new life. They learn in their vocation as parents that suffering leads to glory. 
Who are your partners in parenting that help keep your marriage strong?  


Halloween: We Are Not Afraid

Some Christians do not celebrate Halloween and consider it at odds with their faith. Many other Christians are fine with Halloween and enjoy dressing up and decorating and carving pumpkins.. I respect the choices of parents who say Halloween is not for them, but I love Halloween. It was my mom’s favorite holiday. Her birthday comes just a week earlier, and she reveled in Halloween preparations combined with her own party. She taught me the fun of dressing up and trying on a new identity with a few touches of makeup and some old clothes. It is the Eve of All Saints, and now I count her among them. Halloween is when we laugh at the things that scare us, ghosts and monsters and skeletons. We laugh at death, and say “You won’t get me!” To me, that is a deeply Christian hope. The Mexicans remember their beloved dead at this time of the year, also. El Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a time to celebrate eternal life and recall the blessed company of our loved ones. So, stock up on candy and welcome the trick-or-treaters – even the teenagers. Life is sweet. Death has no power over us, because we belong to Christ


Still Smiling about the World Meeting of Families

The World Meeting of Families was a spiritual experience that my husband and I will never forget, because we really did “experience” meeting families. The people that we rubbed shoulders with made it a joyful assembly, even though most did not actually see Pope Francis. If we had really needed to see him, it would have been easier to do from in front of our computer screens. Attending the World Meeting Congress at the convention center during the week, we encountered a surprising number of people we know from the Christian Family Movement (CFM), an international organization that promotes family life. They came from Malawi, Philippines, Mexico, and Costa Rica, as well as from California, Iowa, and Texas. We met a CFM couple from Canada, whom we had previously only Skyped with, and embraced like old friends. We feel truly blessed to have been with so many wonderful families.

Fourteen of our grandchildren came on Saturday and Sunday, and we rode to train into downtown. Our daughter-in-law made sure we had matching red T-shirts, all with the LOVE sign. We were quite a procession marching down the street, and someone told us they had seen our family on TV! Several young families who are friends with our kids joined us with their many children and babies. These family friends were one of the best signs to me that our family can have a positive impact on the world: We literally multiply our witness and expand our impact on society when Christian families join together. The three five-year-olds, walked all the way to the Festival of Families site, about 3 miles from the train station to our blanket on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The multi-national crowd at the Closing Papal Mass was friendly and prayerful. All the police, national guards, and WMOF volunteers were so welcoming and smiling. I think they also enjoyed the positive, appreciative people greeting and chatting with them. I saw police posing for photos with kids and one state trooper led his section of the crowd on the parade route in a wave. Security was very tight and the bag searches were thorough, so much so that many people had trouble getting into the Festival area. All in all, the World Meeting of Families was real win for the “City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.” It was also a real win for the mission of Jesus, the Light of the World. We saw Pope Francis drive by, and we loved that, but our best memories are those of the smiling couples and children we met in Philadelphia. We received his blessing, and we also shared the blessing of our families.