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
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
The Fourth Sunday in Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life.
The call to married life was my parents vocation. It was just as truly a vocation as my call to priesthood. The question is not: "Do I have a vocation?" Every person does. The questions is "What is the Lord's call to me personally?" Discernment is not a choice between good and evil, since evil could never be God's will. Rather it is a choice between competing goods. Vocational discernment involves determining which of these genuine goods is the Lord's desire for me.
Pope Francis reminds us of the foundation for our respective vocations:
"Many times we have prayed with the words of the Psalmist: "It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (Ps 100: 3); or: "The Lord has chosen Jacob f or himself, Israel as his own possession" (Ps 135:4) .... .. the way of belonging to God comes about through a unique and persona/relationship with Jesus, which Baptism confers on us from the beginning of our rebirth to new life .... every vocation, even within the variety of paths, always requires an exodus from oneself in order to centre one's life on Christ and on his Gospel. Both in married life and in the forms of religious consecration, as well as in priestly life, we must surmount the ways of thinking and acting that do not conform to the will of God. It is an exodus that leads us on a journey of adoration of the Lord and of service to him in our brothers and sisters. "
We need to ask God to continue to send workers for his Church. Having a a sufficient number of priests is a precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and Jove of individual parishes and diocesan communities, and evidence of the moral health of Christian families. Don't be afraid to suggest the priestly vocation to our youth, and to consider having a period of prayer/adoration for vocations in your parishes once a month.
I want to express heartfelt gratitude to our international priests, who with great generosity have heard the Lord's call, have left their home and family, and have "put out into the deep" and responded to our call to help us meet our pastoral needs because we are short of home-grown priests. Their faith and servant-witness instruct us about basic evangelization and should inspire all of us to work hard to nurture vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
I am happy to announce that Colin O'Rourke will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, July 5 at 11:00 am in St. Mary's Cathedral. We also have 10 other seminarians at St. Joseph 's Seminary engaged in priestly formation, study and discerning their call. We also need your financial assistance. Tuition, room and board subsidies for seminarians are dependant upon revenues taken from our Seminary Fund. In addition, we support our international seminarians with a modest living allowance. I am once again asking for your help by way of a second collection. Please be generous. Thank you.
☩ Frederick Henry
As a bishop, I subscribe to and read several different publications in a futile attempt to keep up. I never seem to get ahead of the game. Half-jokingly, I tell people that I have a large filing cabinet at home on which are two piles of periodicals and unread books. One pile is comprised of those that I want to read; the other, a much larger pile that other people think that I ought to read. I usually opt for a selection from the smaller pile.
About two weeks ago, I finally got around to scanning the January 13th issue of Maclean's magazine, where the health column was entitled: "The new science of marriage." The subheading beneath the interlinked marriage rings was a real teaser: "Exercise? Diet? Actually, new research shows getting married-and staying married-may be the best thing you can do for a longer, healthier life."
The main thesis of the three page column is revealed in the following text: "In a vast array of scientific studies, over and over again, a happy union has been shown to benefit virtually every system of the body. It reduces risk of heart attack and stroke. It triples a patient's survival after bypass surgery. It lowers production of stress hormones, and boosts immune response. Married people are also less likely to drink and smoke... Quite simply, if we could package it in a pill, marriage would qualify as a wonder drug. Finding a way to mimic the benefits of marriage could well be the most critical health challenge of our time... We are designed, not just emotionally and socially, but physiologically, to live in close connection with people who will come when we call."
In order to complete the circle, we should insert "spiritually" into that close connection as the baptized have received a sacrament and are "married in the Lord." We can unpack something of this notion of being "married in the Lord" by reflecting on Ephesians 5:21- 6:9.
Early Christianity seems to have taken over household codes from Hellenistic Judaism, which in turn adapted them from the Stoics. The codes set forth the duties of wives, husbands, parents, children, masters, and slaves. In the New Testament these codes are tweaked or taken over and transformed by the reality that Christ's power and presence is to bear on all human institutions. Devoted service and excellence within these should then be regarded as a personal service to Christ.
The heading for the household code in Ephesians is: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" [v.21], which announces a principle that is successively applied to the relations between husband and wife, children and parents, slaves and masters. Christ's self-sacrificing love for others is now the model for home life. The motivation is "as to the Lord" [v.22].
Verse 22 is the often anger-inducing, dreaded, ignored or deleted: "Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."
Many people have a hard time getting beyond: "Wives be subject to your husbands in everything." But that line doesn't stand alone and should not be taken out of context. Whenever I read or hear this text, I immediately recall my mom sitting between my dad and one of my brothers in church and mom getting a elbow in the ribs from both sides accompanied by a double smirk equivalent to "Did you hear that?"
Fortunately, the process of Christianizing goes much further than this simplistic rendering of the text. Ephesians provides a unique elaboration of marriage as a parable of the relation between Christ and his Church In this theological expansion of the code, St. Paul brought together a remarkable variety of traditions.
He takes the statement about the unity of husband and wife in marriage from Gen 2:24. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh."
He also portrays the Church in the language of Levitical purity. The command to love one's neighbor [Lev. 19] provides the basis for presentation of the bride in verse 27. "So as to present the church to himself in splendor without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind - yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.
An early Christian kerygmatic formula is reproduced in verse 25, "Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her...," and a baptismal-liturgical formula in verse 26 ,"in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word."
In verses 23 and 29 the Pauline figure of the Church as the body of Christ reappears, and "the one flesh" is elevated: "for no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church..."
With these materials the author has skillfully interwoven two parallel themes the duties of husband and wife, and the ecclesiological theme of the relation between Christ and the Church.
As a result, the marriage relationship is transformed from one in which the wife is simply subjected to the husband without qualification into one in which the husband is to devote himself unreservedly to the love of his wife. Thus, the household code is turned upside down.
On the literal level, this text speaks of the union of husband and wife. It has another, higher level of meaning, portraying the unity between Christ and the Church. The author's doctrine of the Church is not built up from below, from a natural understanding of marriage; rather, his understanding of marriage is built from above; from a theological understanding of the mystical union between Christ and his Church.
☩ Frederick Henry