Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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IR columnist’s new book offers busy families support for growth in faith
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Nov. 10, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Mary Cronk Farrell (left, with her grandniece, Laurelle) is the author of a new book on family spirituality, Celebrating Faith, from St. Anthony Messenger Press. Farrell’s earlier books include Fire in the Hole!, from Clarion Books, and contributions to Daughters of the Desert, from Skylight Paths Publishing. (Author photo by Mitch Finley)
Spokane’s Mary Cronk Farrell isn’t about to saddle Catholic parents with more guilt. As far as she is concerned, parents can do what they can do, and that’s all. This applies to everything on the parental plate, from passing along the faith to children to trying to get them to be kind and considerate; from doing their best in school to taking care of their chores around the house.
In her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families (St. Anthony Messenger Press), Farrell – author of a regular Inland Register column, “Everyday Grace” – writes: “No family could do everything in this book. There is a real danger in trying to do too much or in forcing preconceived formulas. My underlying purpose in this book is to support you in seeing and nurturing the holy that is already present in your home. All of family life is sacred. There is grace in the messiness and struggle as well as in the joy and success.”
Farrell decided to write her new book after writing her column for the Inland Register for a few years. “At that time I already had material written that pretty well covered the calendar year,” she says. “My editor suggested that I simplify the material and add more basic information about the church seasons, and so forth. So at that time I began work on the ‘New Year’ chapter.... From there I just worked forward around the year.”
Not only does Farrell have a family of her own – husband Mike, plus two daughters and one son, ages 12 to 19 – but she grew up in a big family. On her website, MaryCronkFarrell.com, she explains: “I grew up on a farm with 11 sisters and brothers. There was a lot of work to do, like weeding the garden, cleaning the barn, feeding the chickens and washing lots and lots of dishes. But we had time to play in the fields and forest, and we spent a lot of time reading because we didn’t have a TV.”
All this adds up to more than enough experience to qualify anyone to write a book on family spirituality. But Mary adds to her resumé a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Political Science from Gonzaga University, an internship for WABC-TV’s Eyewitness News in New York, and 10 years as a reporter and anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane, as well as stations in Tacoma and Seattle.
In addition to many honors and awards related to her work in broadcast journalism, from Catholic Life Ministries, based in Yakima, Wash., Mary received the 2002 Missionary Servant in the World award for being an outstanding example of a person who fully lives and shares the Catholic faith in everyday life.
Besides numerous magazine and newspaper articles, both secular and Catholic, Farrell has authored or co-authored two earlier books. Fire in the Hole! (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin) is an historical novel for ages 10 to 14 based on actual events that happened in the Coeur d’Alene mining district in the late 19th century. It was named a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year and a Notable Book in Social Studies, and was honored this year by the Western Writers of America with a Spur Award for best Western novel for young readers.
She is also one of the five co-authors of Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions (Skylight Paths Publishing).
Celebrating Faith is organized, appropriately, around the calendar and the liturgical seasons, and it is directed mainly at families with younger children, “although,” Farrell says, “I do offer some things for teens as well.
“It’s also true that families are more fluid and complex than in the past, so I tried to be inclusive of different family make-ups in the book,” she said. “For instance, I’ve included a ‘New Year’s Blessing of the Home for Single Mothers.’ I’ve also tried to include the idea that it’s important for all families, whether it’s the traditional mom and dad and kids, or whatever, to see themselves as open to including others. As Christian families, our stance is to be aware of and reaching out to others, especially those on the margins.”
The seven sections of the book are titled “The New Year: Centering at Home,” “Lent: Growing in Christ,” “Easter: Discovering New Life,” “Ordinary Time: Moments of Grace,” “Labor Day Back-to-School: Work as Cocreation,” “Autumn Ember Days: Remembrance and Thanksgiving,” and “Advent and Christmas: Waiting in Hope, Living in Joy.”
When organizing her book, Farrell says that her main goal was to offer practical, easy help to parents. “In each section I tried to provide basic information about the historical significance of the season and holidays. For me, it was important to offer some specific Scripture passages appropriate to the occasion because most parents of young children don’t have time to look through Scripture for a passage that’s appropriate, or spend a lot of time planning activities or prayer.
“I tried to come up with activities that don’t require going out and buying supplies, or lots of pre-planning or organization. Also, in each section I tried to offer some type of encouragement or inspiration. I wanted to help parents feel confident that their own ideas and practices will feed the faith of their families. I wanted to say that there is no set way to instill faith, but that we need to try different things and see what works for our particular personalities and circumstances, and that most of all we need to cultivate our image of a loving God.”
The biggest challenge Mary says that she faced in writing her book was getting across to readers that no parent should ever feel like he or she isn’t measuring up. (See the first paragraph, above.)
“Some sections of the book were easier to write,” she adds, “like Advent, because there is a lot traditionally to draw from, and it’s a fun, joyous season. Lent was harder for me, because I don’t have a lot of good experiences and memories surrounding Lent. I enjoyed the sections on Labor Day and autumn because I feel there is a lot of untapped potential surrounding these times of the year and the underlying themes of these seasons. The idea of work and leisure, and how we look at work in our families and in our culture, and how they intersect with spirituality, is fertile ground. The same goes for the themes of death, sorrow, and the place of darkness in our lives. These are places we don’t want to go, things we don’t want to talk about, and yet they are an integral part of life and faith. We ignore them, and we cut ourselves off from living life fully, growing to our potential.”
With Advent not far off, readers may be attracted by ideas in Celebrating Faith for family activities for Advent and Christmas. From Mary Cronk Farrell you can count on both creativity and a realism that many parents will find thoroughly refreshing:
“I don’t want to take the celebration out of Christmas. It is a time for feasting and joy. Decorating, baking and partying with friends and family are all appropriate ways to celebrate Jesus’ birth. But I know I can’t do it all. If I want to make room for quiet prayer time, simple family fun, and sharing with others, some other good, fun things have to go. Each Advent I ask myself, how far am I willing to leap in faith?”
As a Catholic parent herself, Mary says that the most difficult lesson she has learned is that “I have to keep learning lessons! I guess I thought that someday I would ‘arrive,’ I would have it all down. I would know the answers. This has not happened, and I see now that it’s not going to. Each day brings new challenges, new lessons, some that I thought I had already learned. Over and over again, I come to see that I need God’s forgiveness and love. I need the support of others. I need to keep on trying again.”