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 auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of London, I made my first ad limina visit in 1987. An ad limina visit is made every five years by diocesan bishops. It entails venerating the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, officially visiting the four major Basilicas as part of the pilgrimage experience, meeting with the various officials of the Secretary of State, the Curia and their respective Congregations, Pontifical Councils, and Tribunals.
The unquestionable highlight is, of course, meeting the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome who in this case was Pope John Paul II.
We met with the Pope on four occasions: our personal audience (Bishop Sherlock and me), the group audience (the assembly of the Bishops of Ontario), a weekday mass with the Pope in his private chapel, and finally lunch with the Pope in his private dining room.
Most of our days were tightly determined and structured before we got to Rome e.g. where we would stay, time-date-place for daily Eucharist, with whom we would meet, where, what we would like to discuss with each Congregation, who would lead the discussion from our end, etc. The only wild cards were the Curia’s agenda and the Pope’s schedule. Although we knew that the group audience would likely be the last event, we didn’t know until a day or two beforehand about the timing of the other three.
I would like to share my story about the mass with the Pope. I remember it as if it was earlier today: About mid-visit, in our temporary mailbox, at the Christian Brothers Residence where we are staying, we each receive a personally addressed sealed envelope which contains an invitation in raised gold script inviting us to concelebrate mass with his Holiness at 7:00 a.m. the following day. We are instructed to be at the Bronze Doors of the Vatican – right side Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square at 6:30 a.m. Very impressive!
We have to get organized. There are twenty of us. We are living about 45 minutes to an hour from the Vatican. Public transit doesn’t start until about 6:00 a.m. We will need several taxis to make it on time – a challenge in itself. We build in an extra cushion of at least 15 minutes. That means we leave the residence about 5:30 a.m., which in turn, means rising by 5:00 a.m. for a shower, shave, and maybe 4:45 a.m. if I want a coffee before leaving.
Being more than a bit excited, I wake up early, although the alarm was set as a backup just in case. I manage a coffee before we leave. I couldn’t help but notice that even the usual non-morning people are there, alert and talkative! By the grace of God, we even get the needed taxis and are at the bronze doors 20 minutes early.
As we enter through the bronze door, we are greeted by the Swiss Guard dressed in full colourful regalia. The first guard is standing on a raised dias, at ease, until he spots the episcopal ring, and then he snaps to attention, salutes, and pounds the bottom of the long speared pole on the dias which makes a loud echoing noise. I am fascinated by this recognition but resist the temptation to back up and make him do it all again. We present our invitation to another guard and wait for the other bishops to assemble.
We are eventually ushered up a flight of stairs, across a courtyard to the papal apartments, where we are greeted by gentlemen in brown tuxedos, get into a small elevator and are taken up to the fourth floor. Exiting the elevator, I am all eyes and trying to take in the patterned marble floors, the sculptures, all the paintings: including those on the ceilings, and the picturesque views of St. Peter’s Square from the corridor windows. We are led to the papal library. There has been a lot conversation and joking up until now but suddenly it turned deadly silent. Red vestments are already laid out for us on a large boardroom table and we vest in silence, form a process, and enter the Pope’s private chapel.
John Paul is already there at his pre-dieu with his head in his hands – I think that I can see a furrowed brow. This was definitely my lucky day, I end up in the front row, no tall bishop and his mitre to look around, and the Pope is so close I could almost reach out and touch him. I can’t believe it, I’m there with the Pope and he’s praying, and eventually, it dawns on me that I should be praying too.
Finally, he finishes his prayers before mass. Gets up, turns and greets us and proceeds to vest. Mass begins and I’m still in 7th heaven, until he gets to the Collect and says: “Let us pray.” There is a noticeable period of silence, he prays, and finally coming back to reality, I pray. This is all going by too fast!
After the readings, I sit down and prepare myself for the homily of my life. However, the Pope doesn’t preach but goes back to his chair sits down, closes his eyes and prays. I am so disappointed but finally get over it, and pray too.
This pattern seems to go on all the way through mass. Whenever there is an opportunity for silence and personal prayer, the Pope prays and so do I. I’m sure you know what’s coming. After communion, he returned to his chair, sits and prays. So do I. I’m getting into the rhythm by now.
When mass is concluded, he returned to his chair for his thanksgiving prayer. The proper etiquette is you don’t leave the chapel until the Pope does. So I sit and pray. Finally, he finishes, acknowledges our presence and we form a procession and leave the chapel.
One of the other bishops nudges me and whispers: “Cripes, I haven’t prayed so much for so long.” I said: “Yes, I know and I think that was his point. He wanted us to understand that to be a good Pope, you need a strong personal relationship with Jesus and a commitment to prayer, and if you guys are to be good bishops, so do you.” It was a classic teachable moment.
By extension, I would say if you want to be a good disciples, you too need good role models, a commitment to prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus.
☩ Frederick Henry