The family is at the center of God’s plan for the Church and the world. In the creation of the world, God planned that the relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, would be the most basic social unit, which would be crowned by the gift of children within the structure of a family.
Try as we may in this postmodern, post-Christian, post-common-sense culture, there is nothing that can take the place of the family as the ideal setting for love between a man and a woman and the begetting and rearing of children. There are other arrangements that are made out of necessity, in some cases, but there are no substitutes for the family.
It was so refreshing to hear this common-sense yet increasingly rare message stated in so many ways by so many speakers last week at the annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLM), held at Xavier University in Cincinnati. I attended as one of the 40-plus exhibitors, with the Fathers for Good display, and was privileged to sit in on the proceedings.
Matthew Kelly, the high-energy Aussie and author of a boatload of great books on Catholic themes, set the pace for the conference with his Thursday evening keynote. He pulled no punches: the Church in America is at a crisis point, and what the Catholic hierarchy, clergy, leaders and laypeople do and decide in these days will determine for a long time whether the Church will grow outward in evangelization or fold into itself.
He said that nothing short than a bold pastoral plan will overcome the scars from the sexual scandals and the infectious influence of secular consumerism that draws imagination and resources away from the pursuit of virtue and other spiritual realities. The next generation in the Church is woefully deficient in knowledge and interest in the faith, and we better act soon if we are to capture them for Christ before they exit the doors into young adulthood. So said Matthew Kelly.
As I noted in my previous post, the U.S. bishops are doing an admirable job of piecing together the pastoral program needed to reach the hearts of the people, young and old. They have placed support of family life and defense of marriage at the heart of their pastoral initiatives. And they are doing so in a doctrinally sound and socially astute manner, drawing on the wisdom of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as the timeless truths found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in presenting the teachings of the Church in a modern and accessible manner.
"What Have You Done for Your Marriage?", "Marriage: Unique for a Reason," "God Has a Plan for Your Marriage." These are all taglines and concepts that the bishops are using to push the message forward.
The key element, the exciting counterpart, is that the bishops have a cadre of ground troops, active and informed laypeople, to carry the message into the larger society – into the family, the workplace, the highways and byways of culture and sports and places where people meet and exchange experiences and ideas. Some of those laypeople were at the conference, as diocesan and parish leaders, and some of their children were with them.
They may be a small and non-representative minority of Catholics, but they are people in possession of an idea, and know they have the truth to share. Dr. Jennifer Morse Roback, who runs the cutting-edge Ruth Institute in defense of marriage, insisted repeatedly in her talk that Catholics have the benefit of knowing the truth, and they should be anxious to share it out of love and compassion for their neighbors.
I am confident and hopeful about the days ahead for the Catholic Church in America. There is a flicker of light on the horizon, rising at the NACFLM conference. That light is Christ, reflected in the fidelity of his people, and the darkness shall not overcome it.