Once upon a time there was a very successful business owner. His company had faithfully served millions of customers for many, many years. But lately, business had not been so good, and his competitors were just waiting for him to fail. For weeks and months, the man pondered the crisis, but the problems were so complex, and solutions seemed nowhere to be found.
Everyone was wondering what would happen to this great company, so finally the businessman announced that he was hosting a dinner for all of his employees to unveil a plan that would save the company and return it to its former glory. He wanted to convey to them how important each person was to the future success of the organization.
The morning of the dinner, he was sitting in his study at home working on his speech, when his wife came in and asked if he would mind watching their son for a few hours while she ran some errands. He was about to say, "I really need to focus on finishing my speech," but something caught his tongue and he found himself agreeing, reluctantly.
His wife had only been gone about ten minutes when there was a knock on the study door, and there appeared his seven-year-old son. "Dad, I'm bored!" he exclaimed. The father spent the next couple of hours trying to amuse his son while also trying to finish his speech. Finally he realized that if he could not find some way to entertain his child he was never going to get his speech finished in time.
Picking up a magazine, he thumbed through the pages until he came to a large, brightly colored map of the world. He ripped the picture into dozens of pieces, and led his son into the living room. Then, throwing the pieces all over the floor, he announced, "Son, if you can put the map of the world back together I will give you twenty dollars."
The boy immediately began gathering the pieces. The father returned to his study, thinking he had just bought himself a couple of hours to finish working on his speech, because he knew his seven-year-old son had no idea what the map of the world looked like. But five minutes later, just as he was settling into his speech, there was another knock on the study door. There stood the young boy holding the completed map of the world.
The father said in amazement, "How did you finish it so quickly?" The boy smiled and said, "You know, Dad, I had no idea what the map of the world looked like, but as I was picking up the pieces, I noticed that on the back there was a picture of a man." The father smiled, and the boy continued. "So, I put a sheet of paper down, and I put the picture of the man together, because I knew what the man looked like. I placed another sheet of paper on top, then holding them tightly I turned them both over." He smiled again and exclaimed, "I figured, if I got the man right, the world would be right."
The man handed his son twenty dollars. "And you've given me my speech for tonight. If you get the man right, you get the world right."
If it were "my" story, I would have changed it to: "If you get the family right, you get the world right."
God's pedagogy is relational. We are not made to be alone. Human beings need and complete each other. Friendship and community satisfy that longing with bond of common interest and love. Marriage is a uniquely intimate form of friendship that calls a man and a woman to love each other in the manner of God's covenant with His people. Married love is fruitful and offered without reservation.
St. John Paul II famously said: "As the family goes, so goes society, and so goes the world in which we live." Pope Benedict XVI said, "The family is the cradle of life and of every vocation."
The past year has been a remarkable time in the life of the Church. Pope Francis has captured the world's attention not by great gestures, but by simple ones emphasizing relationships: riding a bus, kissing persons with disabilities, washing the feet of poor women, embracing prisoners and meeting with penniless immigrants, leaning against a wall in the Holy Land, kissing the hand of a Holocaust survivor.
Many have been attracted by the candor and willingness of Pope Francis to face hard questions - especially in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. In this document, he reminds us that there are areas where we can do better as Christians, both as individuals and as a community. It is clear that the pope's directness arises from a confidence that/is grounded firmly in the "joy of the Gospel."
One of the Pope's most important actions so far has been scheduling a synod of bishops in 2015-16 for the pastoral care of the family. Pope Francis has decided to centre his first synod on the family, reflecting both his confidence and pastoral spirit.
Today we face several challenges engaging the family. Most of them were raised during our diocesan consultation and have been reported on in the media: permanence, communion, breakdown, homosexuality, same sex "marriage", marriage tribunals, blended families, domestic violence, impact of poverty, etc.
There are also some immediate and practical challenges that we can begin to work on. These challenges include hectic schedules and divided attention, which have become more problematic over the last few decades.
Studies indicate some telling data re family life over the past twenty five years:
- a shocking decrease in the amount of time devoted to family conversation,
- a 33 percent decrease in families eating dinner together,
- a 28 percent drop in family vacations.
In the same period, the time children spent in structured sports doubled, and passive spectator leisure time increased fivefold. 28 percent say that they are spending less time with their families than in the previous year, this rise appears to be related to more time on social media, such as FaceBook, Twitter, and the internet in general.
Another challenge to engaging the family is the increasing secularlization of modern society, which can lead to a compartmentalization of the faith so that it is seen as an extracurricular activity rather than a central aspect of one's life that impacts all others.
However, there are also stepping stones in our modern culture for the church's wisdom: the working for the equal dignity of men and women, of the rejection of violence against women and children, the greater awareness of the dignity of each child and respect for communication.
Catholic parishes and schools should help in forming the human person for relationship by offering sound teaching on communication, interpersonal problem-solving skills, human sexuality and chastity, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
It is also necessary to encourage prayer within the family. This prayer allows the creation of moments of encounter, sharing, and ultimately intimacy which the family needs so much if it is to be a home of love. Prayer has a privileged place in faith education of children because it is faith lived out.
We must accompany "wounded" families, welcome them and support them, and encourage all families to make their own family life a priority by focussing on shared life, mutual presence, listening and support.
I would like to conclude with a brief story about family life.
Why Parents Drink
The boss wondered why one of his most valued employees was absent but had not phoned in sick. So he dialed the employee's home phone number and was greeted with a child's whisper:
'Is your daddy home?'
A small voice whispered, 'Yes, he's out in the garden,'
'May I talk with him?'
The child whispered, 'No' So the boss asked, 'Well, is your Mommy there?'
'Yes she's out in the garden too.'
The boss asked; 'May I talk with her?'
Again, the answer was, 'No.'
Hoping there was somebody with whom he could leave a message, the boss asked, 'Is anybody else there?'
Yes,' whispered the child, 'a policeman.'
Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee's home, the boss asked, 'May I speak with the policeman?'
'No, he's busy,' whispered the child.
'Busy doing what?'
'Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the police dog man.'
Growing more worried as he heard a loud noise in the background, the boss asked, 'What is that noise?'
'It's a helicopter,' answered the whispering voice.
'What is going on there?' demanded the boss, now truly worried.
'The search team just landed a helicopter'
'A search team?' said the boss. What are they searching for?'
Still whispering, the young voice replied with a muffled giggle....
☩ Frederick Henry
Many years ago, during one of our study breaks as a student priest in Rome, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Paris sightseeing, working on my thesis, and trying to learn a little French. My time was also prioritized accordingly - mostly sightseeing!
My greatest discovery and favourite hide-away was the Chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul (95 rue de Sèvres) just around the corner from the Mother house of the Daughters of Charity and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. It was a quiet refuge in the midst of a bustling busy metropolis. The outside of the building was rather plain and it wasn't a major tourist destination. It's beauty was internal and hidden.
I loved the peace and solitude of the Chapel. It was also special because the bones of St. Vincent de Paul were encased there in a waxen figure displayed in an ornate reliquary which was raised up behind the main altar . The front of the reliquary was made of glass for good viewing. The reliquary was also very accessible by way of side stairs at both ends. I had climbed the stairs several times.
One day, I'm praying in the main body of the chapel when there is a loud commotion behind me at the entrance. I turned around and there is this little middle aged lady bursting through banging doors, obviously on a mission. She is focussed on the reliquary, looks straight ahead and mumbling all the way up the stairs behind the altar.
After a few minutes of audible prayer, she descends, spots me and proceeds to pull me out of the pew, up to the front of the chapel and the reliquary. She puts my hand on the reliquary and breaks out in a great big smile. She has just introduced me to her Vince!
Vincent was, and still is, a "popular" saint, renowned for compassion, humility and generosity. Later, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was created, dedicated to tackling poverty and disadvantage by providing direct practical assistance to anyone in need.
At the Second Vatican Council, St. John XXIII coined the expression "the Church of the poor. " The church of the poor is not composed only of the poor of the Church but the poor of the world, whether they are baptized or not, they belong to her. They are "Christians," not because they declare themselves as belonging to Christ, but because Christ has declared them as belonging to himself: "You did it to me!"
No religious founder identified himself with the poor as Jesus did. No one proclaimed: "All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40), where the "least brother" does not mean only a believer in Christ but every person.
Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" wants the joy that "fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus" to spread through evangelization, with a renewed effort to serve the poor.
"If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, "those who cannot repay you" (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, "the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel", and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them." (EV 48)
"Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other "in a certain sense as one with ourselves". This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: "The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely". (EV199)
The basic challenge for us Catholics today is to become, with the help of God's Spirit, grateful enough, free enough, humble enough, letting go enough to be able to see and read clearly the signs of the times in us, and around us so that our world vision may become that of Christ, as we grow in his gift of discovering His risen presence and actions in ourselves, in every person, in every happening in all of creation.
St Vincent de Paul once said: "That when we give bread, we should be on our knees."
☩ Frederick Henry