Each year when I was growing up, my parents would take an annual Easter photograph. We were all cleaned and “shined to the nines” and dressed in our Sunday best, with my sisters fancied out in the latest of Easter fashion.

 

I don’t know how my mother managed to get seven overly-sugared children (we already had been at the Easter baskets by then) dressed and ready for church, all lined up, with a minimum of fuss and upset into a line-up of oldest to youngest for the picture. But she did.

 

Today, I can look back at all of those photos and see a lot of change over the years — additional children, physical changes as we grew older and differences in fashion,

haircuts and furnishings. It was inevitable. We all grew up, we all had our quirks, and things just seemed to change.

 

But, not everything changed. We were and still are a family no matter how time, style, distance, age and even death have changed our make up. And we all — at least my mother, brothers, sisters and I — are still attached to and part of the Catholic Church.

 

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the next generation of Coynes. Like their contemporaries, my nieces and nephews are at various places in their connection to the Catholic Church. Some are hanging in there, others are “going, going, gone” from the Church. Not that I don’t nudge them every once in a while to come back, but the Church is just not in their sphere of life right now. And that’s too bad.

 

When my brothers and sisters and I were growing up, my whole family was very active in the parish. For us, our parish community was just an extension of our own family. It was a greater family. We loved our priests and treated the older ones like uncles and the younger ones like older brothers. They were in and out of our home a lot. We knew many of the other families in the parish as well. We knew the older folks and the ushers and the choir members and the custodian. And they knew us.

 

When my older brother became sick with cancer, the parish family quickly stepped in to help my mother and father cope. Rides were arranged for radiation and chemotherapy treatments, meals were dropped off and babysitters were provided.

 

As my brother’s cancer progressed and he came home to be cared for, women from the parish who were nurses came by to offer free care. When he died, my family

was surrounded by our larger family, the parish, to help us lay him to rest and to help us bear our grief.

 

Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love” (“Amoris Laetitia”), quotes St. John Paul II when he writes that the parish is “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in speaking further to this teaching has said that “a parish is a family of families.”

Pope Francis in “The Joy of Love” quotes St. John Paul II when he writes that the parish is “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.”

 

Further on, he reminds us, “The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches.”

 

That was and still is true for my family as it is for yours. No matter how the make up and the character of our families have changed over time, in the Church and most especially in the parish we are one great family of faith as brothers and sisters in the Lord. May the joy of the Risen Christ shine in the midst of each of our homes.

Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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