Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. (Pius XII)
Another summer holiday has gone, another school year has started. The silence fills the morning air when baby is finally down for a nap and the memory of the summer seems very far away.
With Pierpaolo's new job which started last September we have had the grace to to enjoy a longer than usual summer break. Italy was our destination: Florence, Sicily and finally Naples.
In Florence when we walked out into the famous square where the beautiful cathedral and baptistry stand, this time, the man made buildings were speaking of God in all His majesty. The Basilica and surroundings left everyone speechless and even though I have been to Florence many times the elegance and uniqueness of this city was refreshed in my memory.
Assisi was our next stop. St Francis is the boys' favourite Saint and I was named after St Claire. Reading their story and speaking about their immense love for God was a great gift for the entire family. Everything here spoke of humility, simplicity and total self giving. We prayed for our friends and family and praised God for the many good things He has given us.
What we were all really looking forward to, though, was the last stage of our holiday: Naples or to be correct 'Poggiomarino'.
Poggiomarino is my father in law's hometown but also where one of Pierpaolo's sisters lives together with her husband and their 6 children. It is a really small town nearby Pompeii, with a tiny square, two churches, a lot of bars and ice cream parlours and not much else. There is nothing amazing about this place and yet the joy that this humble town has brought to us as a family is extraordinary.
Poggiomarino is the base for all our summer family reunions. This year though it wasn't just a simple get together, we were all there to witness and celebrate the marriage of yet another young christian couple, another niece was going to get married.
Every time we are given the grace to spend time together there is only God to bless and praise for it. Put us together and we become a considerable number... God did say 'Go forth and multiply'... and we took His command seriously.
7 of the 8 brothers and sisters were present with their families, 26 out of the 29 cousins (3 of them with their husbands and children) spent the most wonderful week together in communion and continuity from the last time they saw each other. The arrival of cousin number 30 was announced.
There was something heavenly about it, there were people everywhere who all belonged to one family, people of all ages, no one was alone, everyone had someone to talk to, laugh with and every child had other children to play with, nursing mothers would nurse together and everything flowed in such a natural way.
"Even externally, a large, well-ordered family is a kind of visible shrine: the sacrament of Baptism is not an exceptional event for them but something constantly renewing the joy and grace of the Lord. The series of happy pilgrimages to the Baptismal font is not yet finished when a new one to Confirmation and first Communion begins, aglow with the same innocence. The youngest of the children will scarcely have put away his little white suit among the dearest memories of life, when the first wedding veil appears to bring parents, children, and new relatives together at the foot of the altar. More marriages, more Baptisms, more first Communions follow each other like ever-new springtimes that, in a sense, make the visits of God and of His grace to the home unending." (Pius XII)
I am myself the eldest of 3 children, so my husband's family was for me the first experience of a large Christian family.
When I was younger and thinking of my future I could see myself as a business woman who would eventually marry maybe in her late 30s and have one or two children (possibly a boy and a girl). I look at my life today and I can tell you that the plan that God had for me is far more exciting than the one that I had for myself.
When I met Pierpaolo's family I had never experienced anything like it before, they did things differently, they thought differently and their priorities were very different from the rest of the world I was in contact with. There was order although they were many, everyone would take care of each other, they would all work together, have fun together and the dignity around the dinner table was amazing. Pierpaolo was a fruit of all this, I was in love with him and wanted to be part of it. I was full of admiration for Pierpaolo's parents where it all began.
They were an ordinary young couple (my mother in law was only 18 when she got married, my father in law 25) and by putting their lives in the hands of God had the courage to say yes to His plan and were guided to start something extraordinary, come out of their comfort zone and give their lives up for each other and for their children...
There is a serenity of spirit to be found in parents who are surrounded by a rich abundance of young lives. The joy that comes from the plentiful blessings of God breaks out in a thousand different ways and there is no fear that it will end. The brows of these fathers and mothers may be burdened with cares, but there is never a trace of that inner shadow that betrays anxiety of conscience or fear of an irreparable return to loneliness. Their youth never seems to fade away, as long as the sweet atmosphere of a crib remains in the home, as long as the walls of the house echo to the silvery voices of children and grandchildren.(Pius XII)
Yes! There is something special about a big Christian family and it is something I discovered from the outside before it became my reality too.
In Poggiomarino every single person there originated from the crazy choice of one couple. It was truly a glimpse of heaven.
I kept looking around at all the people there, we were around 40 plus a few relatives and friends, then I realised that the gift of each other was also a gift that was naturally extended to whoever was happy to share it with us. The two old neighbours spent the whole week with us and many other people were warmly included in the fun and the celebrations.
Children in large families learn almost automatically to be careful of what they do and to assume responsibility for it, to have a respect for each other and help each other, to be open-hearted and generous. For them, the family is a little proving ground, before they move into the world outside, which will be harder on them and more demanding. (Pius XII)
I came to the conclusion that a large family is a richness not only for its members but also for the people who marry into it and the ones who come into contact with it. A big family is not exclusive, it has compassion for the poor and the lonely and moreover always has space for one more.
We experienced the grandeur of God in so many different ways this summer, in nature, in the ingenuity and artistry of man but most of all in the gift of the family.
As Pope Pius said: "Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church."