ROCHESTER — As a mother walked out of Mass recently to attend to her crying 6-week-old baby, a visiting priest at Sue Grenough’s parish called the mother back.
He told her she shouldn’t take crying babies out of church, because crying is what babies do and babies’ lives are a sign of God. Diapering a baby is a form of prayer, he said, and caring for the weak, such as tiny babies, is a work of mercy.
"He was talking to her and the whole community, and the community was eating out of his hand about the sacramentality of all life," said Grenough, who has worked as an elementary parish catechist, a high-school religion teacher, a director of religious education and a diocesan director of catechesis.
Grenough said she wished she could pack up the priest and bring him to Rochester, where she gave an Aug. 2 talk on the family as the agent of the new evangelization, which looked at how families teach, share and live their faith. The talk was part of Households of Faith: Rooted and Grounded in Love Summer Congress 2013, a conference on families, faith and the new evangelization that was held at Aquinas Institute and presented by the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis. The new evangelization refers to a movement in the church to help individuals discover or rediscover the Catholic faith.
"Families and the parish are partners in the new evangelization," Grenough said. "Does the parish really see it this way?"
Grenough also spoke Aug. 3 on helping families develop a Catholic sense of Scripture and building family rituals. In addition to her parish work in religious education, Grenough composed the religious curriculum guidelines for the state of Kentucky. She serves as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Spaulding University in Louisville, Ky., and is an online facilitator at the University of Dayton and a speaker with Pflaum Publishing.
In her Aug. 2 talk, Grenough quoted Pope Francis when he said, "Touch Christ by touching those members of his body." She said families need to be told that by living as a family, they are witnessing their faith to others.
"Be the family God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire," Grenough said, drawing on a quote from St. Catherine of Siena.
Grenough said families need frequent affirmations that they are doing what is right, because so often they feel that they are in the wrong. She cited the time, when as the director of religious education at a parish, she was called on the carpet for not ensuring her family had completed a project that was due.
"So often our families feel like they are not quite measuring up," Grenough said. "We have to change the culture. We have to let families know the good they are doing."
She noted every family is dysfunctional in its own way because every family has sin. Yet through encouragement and reconciliation, families are able to prevail over sin, she said.
"We are transformed by knowing about our goodness," Grenough said.
She said parents are constantly growing and changing as their children enter new stages of development. She said she found it most difficult to be a parent of a young adult.
"It’s a lot of learning for the parent," Grenough said. "How do you stand by and bite your tongue and trust?"
She said families need to be able to recognize the sacred in the everyday and take time for one another. She said many of today’s families value being busy, rather than being together, which is why family dinners have declined in popularity.
"How present is each family member?" Grenough asked. "We know the intimacy that happens around the table when we gather around the table at Mass. (Families) are the domestic church, and we need to make time to gather around the table."
Audience members shared ways that they include families at their parishes, such as hosting family service opportunities, hosting an ice cream social in which the children serve their parents, and family movie nights with prayer and discussion of the faith elements in the films.
At Our Lady of the Snow Parish in Weedsport, Port Byron and Cato, the parish will soon host a parish picnic, which it hopes will bring all of its families together, said Father William Darling, pastor.
"We see the church as a family of families," Father Darling said.
Leslie Barkin, coordinator of youth ministry for grades 6 to 12 and family programs for preschoolers at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mendon, said when Grenough asked participants "What does your church speak to you when you walk in?" she began to think about what values, such as service or hospitality, are evident in a parish’s entry space.
"I think we need to be aware of the message we are sending, not only verbally, but our physical space," Barkin said.