Bishop Spalding asks for focus on family this Advent season

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 As Advent approaches, parishes throughout the Diocese of Nashville are preparing to implement a focus on the Holy Family as part of an initiative recently announced by Bishop J. Mark Spalding known as “The Gift of a Child: An Advent Celebration of the Family.” This image of the Holy Family hangs in Bishop Spalding’s office at the Catholic Pastoral Center. Photo by Katie Peterson

As Advent approaches, parishes throughout the Diocese of Nashville are preparing to implement a focus on the Holy Family as part of an initiative recently announced by Bishop J. Mark Spalding known as “The Gift of a Child: An Advent Celebration of the Family.”

“The idea came up in praying over the season of Advent and challenges in our world today,” Bishop Spalding said. “When you read through the Scriptures and examine all the major feasts, the gift of a child is very clearly presented, whether we’re pondering the Scriptures about John the Baptist announcing Jesus’ coming, the angel Gabriel announcing the gift of Jesus to Mary, or the significant feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the announcement of Christ and the joy of that announcement are made evident.

“In our day and time, any support we can give to families is greatly appreciated,” he said. “The Church’s teaching concerning family and marriage and fatherhood and motherhood is good, true, and beautiful.” 

To support pastors in this endeavor, the Office of Media and Evangelization and the Office of Faith Formation are providing resources to keep the idea of the Holy Family and its accompanying weekly themes in the forefront of the minds of Catholics throughout Middle Tennessee.

“The purpose of this initiative is to focus and strengthen the core message of family and the Church starting with the child and radiating outward to the Holy Family and on to the traditional family and then, ultimately, to the diocesan family,” said Joe Cacopardo, director of marketing and strategic communications for the Office of Media and Evangelization. “Bishop Spalding really wanted to focus on the core values of the family and the strength it brings to each other, the parents, the children, and the community at large.”

“Advent is a time when people are thinking about family life a little bit more compared to other times through the year because of the Nativity of the Lord … so that automatically brings to mind the Holy Family and family life in general,” added Kristen Rainey, assistant director of marriage and family for the Office of Faith Formation. “It’s a prime time to focus on the goodness of family, marriage, and the gift of children.

“St. John Paul II stressed the family as the fundamental cell of society, so for a healthy society to exist, it’s necessary to have healthy families,” she added. “This initiative is meant to bring that idea to the forefront of people’s minds leading up to Christmas and how we can imitate the Holy Family in our own homes to strengthen the domestic church and showcase the goodness of God’s design in the way that he’s made us as male and female and the family structure.”

Each week of Advent will focus on a different theme – Marriage and the Gift of a Child, Motherhood, Fatherhood, and Family – which will all lead up to the Christmas theme of The Gift of The Child.

“This effort will help us block out the commercialization and everything else that goes on at Christmas and allow us to focus on our families,” Cacopardo said. “Let’s make sure that’s the focus of Advent because the focus of Christmas is the Christ child and the Holy Family. This really narrows the scope and brings it into laser focus.”

The Office of Media and Evangelization has already developed several marketing materials for the parishes to use including prayer cards both in English and Spanish, bilingual posters, and more. Additionally, two students from St. Rose of Lima School in Murfreesboro – second-grader Thierry Joe “TJ” Saad and eighth-grader Luis Perez – have recorded videos for each theme, which will be posted on social media during each Sunday of Advent. The videos are featured with English and Spanish versions as well. 

“A lot of people don’t understand marriage. Bishop Spalding says when a man and a woman fall in love, they are a gift to each other,” according to the first video, which will be published Sunday, Nov. 27. “God calls this a covenant. Covenant means I am yours and you are mine – completely.

“And because a husband and a wife love each other so much, they have babies that they share their love with, too. Marriage is a vocation. It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it,” the video continues. “I’m no expert, but I bet if you told your spouse every day during Advent how much you love them, you’re going to have a great Christmas.”

Along with the prayer cards, posters, and videos, the Office of Faith Formation has provided a compendium for each theme to support pastors and catechetical leaders in their efforts to bring the themes into their individual parishes. The compendia provide pastors with a list of quotes and passages ranging from magisterial quotes, quotes from various theologians, lay experts, and more that coincide with the readings of each Sunday.

Rainey headed this project.

“Given Kristen’s role overseeing marriage and family life and her knowledge in these areas, she was the perfect choice for creating and designing these compendia,” said Dr. Brad Peper, director of the Office of Faith Formation. “She has created an excellent homiletic and catechetical resource to support our pastors and lay ministry leaders in this initiative.”

Rainey said it was simply a matter of finding the right sources.

“The Church has a treasury of resources on these topics,” Rainey said. “It’s a matter of combing through a lot of them and finding the key ones.

“The priests are already very well equipped to speak on these topics, so my hope is that this just serves as an additional supplement for them and will assist them in speaking on these topics with their parishioners to strengthen marriages and families in the parish,” she continued. “We’re here as a support to parish life, to the priests and the pastor, to help the mission of the Church in evangelization and to strengthen the faithful at the parish level. We’re really here as a resource to help them however we can to support them in their ministry.”

The priests of the diocese were emailed the first two compendia on Tuesday, Nov. 15. For more information about the initiative or the compendia, email Rainey at  

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