Over the past few years during the spring, all of the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have gathered in Hershey, together with Archbishop Chaput and the other Auxiliary Bishops, for a “Priest Convocation.” In addition, every year, the archdiocese gathers the priests together during the fall for some type of professional updating/workshop on an issue of note.
In anticipation of next year’s “World Meeting of Families” and a visit of Pope Francis, “Family and Faith” was the topic-at-hand. The keynote speaker to the priests at this workshop was Dr. Jonathan Reyes. Dr. Reyes has been President and CEO of Catholic Charities and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Denver since 2009 and was recently named Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. My notes on his thoughts and ideas on faith and the family follow.
FAITH, FAMILY AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH – HISTORICAL CONTEXT:
A Harvard professor was quoted as saying, “Ours is not an age of change; ours is the change of an age.” In our lifetime, we have experienced, and continue to experience, massive shifts that are more than a change of ideas and the impact of secularization. Everything surrounding technology, assumptions about culture, sociology and law have changed.
The idea of family, in the midst of all of this, has also shifted. This is not just about new parenting techniques. This is not just about “helping Johnny to read.” Parents can no longer merely tinker with parenting. Parenting now needs a totally new architecture. Moms and dads can’t coast – parents have to intentionally build something new! Moms and dads need to build a whole new “family life” together – a totally new way of being family together if they are going to make it.
Let’s look at the Benedictine Rule. It’s not merely a set of “rules-and-regulations.” It’s really a “promise,” a “school” where one learns how to carry out the service of the Lord. Right now, families (moms, dads, children, other support people) are floundering. So much is changing so much and so fast that there doesn’t seem to be any orientation on what to do or where to go for guidance and direction. Parents and children need a new “Rule of Benedict” for families.
MAJOR CHANGES – BACKGROUND (From Christendom to post-Christendom)
For years (even centuries perhaps?), when it came to the family, there were accepted rules, mores, accepted ways of being and unwritten codes of conduct. Many of these were drawn from Christian revelation. Around the time of the French Revolution (1789), everything changed in a dramatic way. This not only affected changes in politics and society but an entire new way of viewing human reality was ushered in. Concerning church, state and individual faith, humanity was no longer seen as “fallen and sinful” but perfectible and creators of their own destiny. God was no longer seen as interested in the day-to-day events of human lives.
This had profound effects on law, education and how families lived their lives. A major focus became “what makes people happy” and “how should/could you live your life.” This shift later extended to the intellectual class (in particular, universities) of the U.S. especially in the 1960s. (As an example, consider the Supreme Court Case: “Planned Parenthood vs. Casey” where, in effect, “I” not only determine my own existence, I also determine the existence of others as well).
Concerning the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, one can identify a series of eras. Period A went from the discovery/founding of the country and lasted up to about the end of World War II. During this period, Catholics were a minority, were persecuted, viewed as “other” and not counted.
Period B began post WW II and was the high water mark of the Roman Catholic Church lasting up to about the time Vatican II and the Kennedy presidency (A good description can be found in the essay/book “Protestant – Catholic – Jew, An Essay In American Religious Sociology” by Will Herberg).
The general feeling was that the U.S. was a great place for Catholics. Catholics began stepping into- and exercising tremendous influence in the mainstream of society in massive ways – in education, medicine, politics, sports, entertainment, etc… This occurred AT THE SAME TIME as the idea of “person” and “family” was shifting!
Period C is today. Questions that serious, intentional, engaged, adult, Catholic parents are asking about their kids, their families, their marriages has exponentially grown both in terms of the amount of questions asked as well as their complexity. As mentioned above, serious and active Catholic parents are feeling overwhelmed and disoriented and are searching for the new “Benedictine Rule For Parents.” (Here’s the bad news, it doesn’t exist – YET!). And so we find ourselves in the midst of a new “Apostolic age.” We will have to be deliberate and intentional about what we do and how we run our families. (As Archbishop Chaput mentioned soon after his arrival, “For the second time in its history, Philadelphia is ‘mission territory'”). We are in an age where one does witness and the culture does not necessarily support it. Catholic parents can no longer coast but will have to make difficult, intentional decisions on what the day-to-day family life will look like.
WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE?
Tune in Next week…..