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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Question 3 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

It seems to me that marriage preparation is frequently too little too late. The class or classes become streamlined so that an obligation might be checked off the list. It seems to me that a successful program would cover basic Christian anthropology and would be so challenging that some couples would even decide not to get married or to continue relationships. We do not want to rubberstamp bad choices or assist people in going through the motions. There is already too much of this with our children. The Archdiocese has standards for catechesis but the guidelines have no teeth and are not binding for advancement. 60% was regarded as passing and yet in my book that rates a failing grade. Are we doing the same with marriage preparation programs? Many dioceses are also pushing off the responsibility to external groups or to individual parishes. But there is no mandated accreditation for these efforts. Some even seem to cloud the truth. For instance, methods of NFP might be taught. However, even NFP is immoral if practiced to avoid pregnancy. It can only be permitted for the spacing of births or to get pregnant. The exclusion of openness to procreation in the marital act is wrong and sinful. Do our couples know this? Are they getting NFP instruction? And is that instruction trustworthy? Hopefully the Theology of the Body plays a large part of such efforts. Catholics should appreciate the sacramental nature of marriage as a covenant established and renewed between themselves and the Lord. A love and passion for persons should be given preference over disorientation or the poison of lust and selfishness. They need to see the family as the little church.

Beyond content, I am also worried about timing. Instruction about marriage and moral human sexuality (not just a biology class) must begin early enough so that mistakes will not be blindly embraced in the dating scene. Courtship should be taught over the popular dating efforts in modern society. The truth that sex belongs only to marriage should be emphasized and witnessed by others. Catholics should also be encouraged to reserve their courtship to Catholics. When a Catholic dates a non-Catholic, we should not hesitate or be embarrassed to emphasize the faith and the joy of conversion to the truth. Such marriages still require dispensations.  Maybe we should require RCIA for mixed marriages and require a year or more waiting period?  If the husband and father is head of the home, it is only fitting that he should be the religious head. If he is not a Catholic, then this is compromised. Similarly the mother and wife should have a Catholic sense taken from the model of the Blessed Mother. A non-believer would not have this benefit. Marriages to Protestants might sometimes be tolerated. Marriages to Jews and especially Moslems should be strenuously discouraged. It is best not to date such persons. I am not arguing for an absolute prohibition but there should be a clear mutual agreement that the children will be raised as Catholics.  Such is for the good of faith, for the Catholic party and the children. I really think we have to rethink how we do things in our secular and diverse culture.

b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

What is the measure of such success? People do not always share the intimacies of their spiritual lives. I have urged that we talk with God and that if we love someone then we want to know as much as possible about them. Prayer is a two-way communication that enhances and makes real our personal and corporate relationship with Jesus. I put together a small book for parishioners which speaks briefly about the meaning and variety of prayer; I list important devotional works that are part of our Catholic heritage; and I reproduce some traditional prayers. We live in a busy age, but we must make time for prayer, even if only short aspirations. Parishioners asked for and took the little book. Hopefully, along with my pastoral teaching it made some small difference. We instigated the Traveling Madonna (to pray for marriages and the right to life) and the Traveling Chalice (to pray for priests and vocations). I have urged families to set up prayer spaces or shrines in their homes; to consecrate their homes to the Sacred Heat and to have house blessings. I have suggested that couples have a pattern of prayer into which they can later introduce their children. Hopefully, they have taken all this to heart. Trying to transmit our faith and values can be frustrating.  One sometimes wonders if any difference was made.  But God does not demand that we be successful, only faithful.

c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfil their vocation of transmitting the faith?

You cannot give what you do not possess. The leaders of the Church played the part of the ostrich with its head in the sand. It was pretended that everything was going well while the house of cards was collapsing all around us. Many only became alert to the problem in the face of an aging demographic and a shortage of funds. If 75% of our people no longer participate at Sunday Mass, I think it is safe to say that the faith is not being transmitted to the next generation. Many are baptized and remain uncatechised. We can no longer count Catholics on the basis of sacraments received. Even among those practicing their faith, it is hard to light a fire for the faith. Parents are supposed to be the chief religious educators of their children, but practicing Catholics increasingly relinquish this role to the schools or to once-a-week catechesis. It just does not work. Past poor catechesis from the 1960’s and 70’s still haunts us. Adults cannot pass on or transmit what they do not have. There are several lost generations. Every Catholic family, no matter whether they use a parochial school or parish-based program, should be in essence a home-schooling family when it comes to our Catholic religion. It is not enough to do homework and count on others.  Religious faith and values should be studied every night without exception. Indeed, the habit of study should remain with our people so that as adults they will continue to explore the depths of our holy faith. But such is right now rarely the case.

d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

I think such efforts are few and far between. Certainly young adults and teen groups are sometimes the source of religious education, prayer and worship. Small faith-sharing groups were once popular, but some authorities became concerned about the quality of materials and what was being taught. The Rosary remains a staple and the Stations of the Cross are important during Lent. Parishes offer Eucharistic Adoration. Charismatic prayer groups still exist although they seem less prevalent than a few years ago. They also suffered from too much dependence on lay prayer leaders, some of whom became overly intrusive into the personal lives of members. I would encourage the restoration of traditional efforts like the Holy Name Society, Sodalities, and the spiritual works of fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus.

e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

First, we must resist the modern temptation to clericalize the laity with all sorts of Church ministries. Second, everything should be done to foster family life and values. (Catholics and other Christians should refrain from shopping on Sundays and spend time at home. This will also allow believers to be with their families and to be able to worship instead of working. We need to safeguard the Lord’s Day better than we have lately. Third, priests should consecrate the homes of couples in faithful marriages, reinforcing the sanctity of the home and urging them to keep negative elements outside their doors. Fourth, couples should stay together despite the obstacles and treat their fertility as a great blessing to be fulfilled with joy. In other words, love each other, have babies, work hard, and go to Mass. It really is no secret.

f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

I will speak more about this in later questions, but feel that marriage preparation should be more than a quick Pre-Cana class. Marriage is a life-time commitment. Maybe it needs something more akin to the RCIA? Too often halls are rented and gowns are bought before the couple calls the priest. We need to turn this agenda around. While there are special programs to help hurting marriages; we also need a pool of professional counsellors who would be on call at modest cost to assist couples in struggling marriages. These counsellors should have the mind of the Church. Secular counsellors often see little or no value in permanence and quickly urge clients to separate and terminate relationships.

The PATHEOS Portal

http://www.patheos.com/Library/Roman-Catholicism.html

The PATHEOS portal advertises itself as “hosting the conversation of faith,” however— it does more than this, it seeks to reframe and/or to delineate religious truth. While several good Catholic blogs are hosted; it seeks neutrality with other religious or non-religious systems that is not possible without compromise and contradiction. For instance, while admitting that Catholicism “traces its history to Jesus of Nazareth,” which it defines as merely an “itinerant preacher,” the quick facts given stipulate the following:

  1. The Roman Catholic Church formed between the 3rd to the 5th centuries C.E.
  2. The bishops formed a “universal” church.
  3. The exact date of the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church is indeterminable.
  4. Many historians suggest that Pope Leo I (440-461) is the first to claim universal jurisdiction over the worldwide Church, thus initiating the rise of the papacy, a uniquely Roman Catholic structure.

While the nomenclature of “Roman Catholic” and “Pope” develops over time, the Church is directly instituted by Jesus Christ, God-made-man. The apostles were bishop-priests. There was no generic first and second century Christianity. Those who accepted Christ in faith and baptism were Catholic Christians. All the apostles and disciples were Catholic. The Virgin Mary was a Catholic. Jesus calls Simon ROCK or Peter and says that he will build his Church on this ROCK. He gives Peter the keys to the kingdom and universal jurisdiction as his visible shepherd. While there is certainly development, all the important elements go back to Christ and the apostles. Anti-Catholic critics have long contended for the late institution of the Church. Revisionist Catholics, even in academia, spout similar nonsense.  These are not credible historians, no matter what alphabet soup follows their names. It seems to me that while individual voices at PATHEOS are orthodox, the site is tainted by a religious relativism that spills over into the section about Catholicism. Might this represent the wrong type of ecumenism about which Pope Benedict XVI has warned us? I think so. There is no sense of the supernatural nature of Mother Church. Dissenting voices are given as much legitimacy as those which speak the truth. There is no imprimatur or protection to insure against misleading statements. Attempting to appease many authorities, there is a definite religious indifferentism and denominationalism. Both are contrary to Catholic teaching and are affronts to the truth.

Mark Shea has a good article on his blog (hosted at PATHEOS) entitled, “Why it’s Our Ruling Class vs. the Rest of Us.”  It alerts us to media consolidation and control of information, even religious information.  I did not even know that PATHEOS existed until after I looked at the post and had my eye drawn away to the ads and links.  I found it very unsettling and confusing.  I hope over time the problems can be fixed, but I fear a continuing tension and struggle over what is or is not genuine Catholicism.