Seven From Heaven is a book about how family life intersects with the seven Catholic sacraments. It was written by a woman with not only a family perspective—Elizabeth Ficocelli had been married twenty-five years when the book was published and is the mother of four boys—but also the perspective of a person who was raised Lutheran and entered the Catholic Church as a young woman. Ficocelli describes for today’s parents the meaning of all seven sacraments and how a family can make the most of each one. Her ideas are eminently practical.
To get an idea of the sensible suggestions, let’s begin with Baptism. Ficocelli titles the book’s first chapter “Immersed in Grace” and uses the imagery of plunging into water to explain baptism’s effects. Next she offers ways to prepare for baptism: pray with your spouse, write a letter to your baby about your hopes for your child, carefully choose the baby’s name, select appropriate godparents, and attend the parish Easter Vigil. None of those sound too difficult, right? Ficocelli goes on to advise how to nurture the child’s faith through the years, and here, too, her suggestions make sense for ordinary people.
A big section in the first chapter is a family “survival guide” for Mass. Often parents stop going to Sunday Mass after their child’s baptism not out of laziness or indifference but because they don’t know how to manage an infant or small child’s behavior in church. This material was first published in America in 2002, when the author’s sons ranged in age from about eighteen months to ten years. It’s been far longer since my own children were in that age range, but now I get experience with grandchildren in church. I can confidently say that many of Ficocelli’s ideas worked for us way back when and still work today with a different generation of children. I’d say this section is worth the price of the book (perhaps even for parishes to buy the book for new parents). Yet anyone can read the original article for free on the author’s website in advance of reading the book. If this review doesn’t convince you to buy the book, a taste of its style might.
Since most families experience the sacraments in the order their first-born receives them, it seems natural that the second chapter is about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Continuing with her water imagery, Ficocelli calls confession the “Font of Forgiveness.” She shares her own early difficulty with the sacrament and how she came to experience an “ocean of God’s mercy” through confession. Lots of adults have negative attitudes about this sacrament, attitudes which parents convey subtly, or not so quietly, to their children. So before offering ideas on how the family can truly celebrate the sacrament, Ficocelli guides parents toward overcoming their own angst. If parents can better appreciate Reconciliation, their children will also find it to be a gracious sacrament.
To prepare for a child’s First Holy Communion, the author recommends starting with a family meal, and I couldn’t agree more. If a child doesn’t regularly experience family dinners, how can she grasp the significance of the Lord’s Table? If the young one has no concept of family meal rituals, how can he appreciate Eucharistic ritual? If adults don’t enjoy eating with the rest of the family, how can we enjoy a holy meal with the rest of the Church? Family meals facilitate family intimacy, even if parents sometimes question that in the midst of mealtime cacophony and across-the-table disagreements. Ficocelli goes on to suggest other ways to prepare for the Eucharist and to cultivate reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.
In similar fashion Ficocelli continues through the other four sacraments. While talking about Confirmation the author explains the gifts of the Holy Spirit, points out that we have to unwrap those gifts, and suggests how to share our gifts with others. Her chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony could provide marriage enrichment for parents who read the book together. Even the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick fits into the young family’s everyday life. Ficocelli addresses Orders and vowed religious life in the context of service and she advocates friendships with men and women religious. She draws life lessons from the Sacrament of the Sick and describes how families can help children learn that death is part of life.
This book shows how the sacraments strengthen individuals and families at every stage of life. A family that takes Ficocelli’s advice will grasp that it is a domestic church, sense that the home is a holy place, and know that Christ dwells with them.
Mary Ann Paulukonis is an artist and consultant for leadership and ministry.