We ended last week’s conversation on the family by looking at the challenges facing serious, intentional, engaged, adult, Catholic parents. I ended with a question about what exactly, intentional, day-to-day Catholic family life will look like. My comments are drawn from a recent talk from Dr. Jonathan Reyes, President/CEO of Catholic Charities and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Denver and Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Our current culture encourages fragmented relationships. The individualistic, self-focused culture encourages making one’s own reality for one’s own pleasure. On the “right/conservative” side, this is seen in a push for more economic freedom. On the “left/liberal” side, it is seen as sexual freedom. The society is also highly consumeristic. The average person is bombarded with approximately 2,000 pieces of advertising each day. (Personal note: this is a huge issue in Catholic churches today – yes, even ours! It is reflected in “our ‘churches’ built upon fulfilling human needs.
When Christians go “church shopping” what do they look for? A good preacher so I can be fed the Word. A good youth program so my kids can be taught. A good worship team so I can feel good during the service on Sunday morning. I want a closer location and a schedule of programs that fits my lifestyle. A good discipleship program so that I will mature in my walk with God. (From on-line article, “Consumerism or Christ?)
This consumeristic tendency is also reflected in (even Catholic) attitudes towards sexuality, the easy hookup and divorce culture and then our legal system then reinforces this. It can eventually lead to extreme loneliness to the point that Mother Theresa once said that, our “Greatest poverty” today is isolation.
Ok, how do we counter this? Dr. Reyes says that we must, once again, begin to build “an abbey.” The abbeys of medieval times were formed to address the spiritual – and social, political and economic issues, of their time. Their methodology is relevant today:
- First, be aware of it. Have an idea of what is going on around you and name it.
- Be deliberate and intentional about what you can – and will do.
- Do it. It might be small. It might not be perfect, but it will be infused with the grace of the Holy Spirit and will begin to grow and succeed.
The world is also ordered against authority, ESPECIALLY parental authority. Look at how parents are portrayed on TV – as buffoons. Kids save the universe and rescue the incompetent parents.
So parents, “in The Abbey,” …
- You are the Abbot (and Abbess). You have spiritual, as well as the temporal responsibilities, inherently given to you by God.
- You need to organize your life where your authority is NOT undermined.
- You are NOT your kid’s friend- you are their parent (a leader). You need to lead.
Dr. Reyes also mentions that there is much confusion today on what is “alive” and what is a “human being.” Society would say that “You invent what is good, what makes you happy – not something ‘out there.'” Thus in “The Abbey,” family life must be structured with rules and activities that reflect a “Catholic anthropology” aka virtue. This would include activities that lead to the development of virtues instead of luck or pleasure or what makes you “feel good.” This is important because the world today, is ordered towards pleasure, comfort and convenience (Yes, even in Catholic parishes). We need to order our family life towards mortification and a simpler life instead.
We live in an image driven world. We’re in a world that does NOT believe in unseen reality. However, Dr. Reyes makes an interesting – and critical – distinction. Much of the talk today is “scientistic” – NOT scientific. Science is built on hypothesis, testing, evidence, fact, transparency, peer review, reporting, commentary and revision/correction. Much of what is presented today as “scientific” is surrounded by, and driven by, politics, money and ideology and becomes “scientistic” – sounding “like” science instead of being science.
In the Abbey, we need prayer spaces built into the day’s “agenda.” This will help counter the new idol: media. Access to, and influence over, children’s brains today is unprecedented. Dad can spends 5 hours in front of football game, mom on Facebook and her smart phone and then tell their kids, “You’re spending too much time ‘online!” “The Rule in the Abbey” is that there will be an intentionality of navigating life through the “blue screens.”
Dr. Reyes does not want to portray everything as if the barbarians are crashing through the front doors of our homes. There are “bright lights.” The interest of families and youth on service today is remarkable and very significant. Just witness the incredible outpouring of high-school and college-aged young people who flocked by the tens-of-thousands to New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Registrations for “Alternative Spring Break,” where university students travel to foreign countries for service mission trips, are filled almost immediately after the opportunities are posted. Teach for America and the Roman Catholic Version, “Alliance for Catholic Education,” (developed at the University of Notre Dame and sponsored in the Philadelphia area out of St. Joseph University) provide admirable examples of highly talented college graduates who are willing to give two years of their life as “modern-day missionaries, living in community and teaching at inner-city schools.
In summary, society is NOT helping us build an intentional Catholic family life. So what are some of the elements that we must develop to accomplish this?
In the Parish, priests need to begin taking on spiritual leadership, ESPECIALLY to the men. “Dad” is a call to which you must respond. You have a mission. You have a responsibility to your wife and children. “Father” (aka, the priest) needs to hand on this leadership to other “fathers.” This is being accomplished by such initiatives as:
- That Man Is You
- Man Up Philly
- The King’s Men
- Men of Malvern
- Stewardship – Mission of Faith
- Crossing the Goal
- Men’s Gospel Reflection Groups (If interested, talk to Fr. Zlock about this)
Guys have hang-ups, especially in areas of “temperance.” Men need to deal with this with other men, by positively gathering together, supporting one another, holding each other accountable and strengthening their relationship with Christ.
Vision for spiritual leadership, for men and women, needs to be found, stabilized, done, supported and nurtured, at the parish.
Curriculum Vitae for Dr. Jonathan Reyes here: http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-146.cfm