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The Family in Crisis

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Father Bill Hayward, MIC

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Father Matt Lamoureux, MIC

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Father Ron McBride, MIC

This article first appears in the latest issue of Marian Helper magazine. Sign up for a free copy, or read our digital version.

By Felix Carroll (Nov. 6, 2014)

If Fr. Bill Hayward, MIC, could stand before the Holy Father and tell him just one thing he's learned from parish ministry, it would be that "families nowadays are stressed like never before, with too many demands placed on them."

Father Ron McBride, MIC, would say the family is "in a state of severe decline. We've been losing them for years to the culture of individualism."

Father Matthew Lamoureux, MIC, would say, "The family is everything. If families are weak, society is weak."

All three Marian parish priests hasten to add that anything they would say to Pope Francis would only serve to reinforce what the Holy Father clearly knows: The family is in crisis, and the Church must re-examine its role in contemporary times.

Indeed, Pope Francis has placed family matters at the center of his pontificate as evidenced by the two-week Extraordinary Synod at the Vatican dedicated to the "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization." The gathering on Oct. 5-19 of some 250 bishops and laity from around the world served as the official opening of a yearlong discussion leading to an Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015.

Pope to Address Family Matters
Drawing from those discussions, Pope Francis will then write an apostolic exhortation to chart the Church's course for proclaiming the Gospel of the family in the 21st century. Illustrating his awareness of the complexity of the family in crisis, Pope Francis instructed Synod participants to speak freely. "Let no one say: 'This you cannot say,'" he told the gathering.

He got what he asked for. There were disagreements among the bishops on the role of gays in the Church and whether divorced and remarried Catholics who haven't had their first marriages annulled should be permitted to receive Communion. The so-called "relatio," a mid-Synod summary of topics and comments, caused some dispute, and the public misconstrued it as official Church teaching. Then, in the Synod's final address, the Pope affirmed the Church's unchanging doctrine while calling for mercy in dealing with problematic moral situations in families.

Despite the controversy, the Marian priests say they anticipate the Ordinary Synod and Pope Francis's subsequent exhortation will stress direct pastoral application. Moreover, they believe Pope Francis will help bring clarity to certain matters in which Church teaching has been misunderstood by the general public and "at times misrepresented by clergy themselves," says Fr. Matthew, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Yorkville, Illinois.

Church Must Bear the Burden
Meanwhile, concerns for the Church's influence in family life are substantiated by some grim statistics. For instance, in the United States, a Pew Research Center poll released in 2012 indicated that the number of Catholics who attend weekly Mass dropped from 47 percent in 1974 to 24 percent in 2012.
While the Marian priests acknowledge that an array of socio-economic changes and challenges to family life may account for much of the decline in Mass attendance, they agree the burden still falls squarely upon the Church to make the faith relevant in the modern world.

To that end, the Marians see signs of hope beginning with Pope Francis himself. Specifically, the Holy Father's emphasis on the mercy of God and his call for a Church that's more humble, charitable, and willing to take risks is not only drawing admiration worldwide, it's also inspiring clergy to step out from their comfort zones and become more involved in people's lives, just as Jesus did.

"What we see with Pope Francis," says Fr. Matthew, "is that he has not been changing teachings, but he's been putting different wrapping paper on the gift, saying, 'Take a look at this — this beautiful gift that is the Church.' We have to be creative in how we reach people now. We have to deal with the present as it is, so we can bring people to the reality of Christ."

Still, Fr. Bill, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Kenosha, Wisconsin, says the challenges are formidable. He ministers to families wrenched by financial hardships, divorce, and spousal abandonment. Families are stressed by "obligations to work, school, and sports," he says, "and even Sunday Mass seems like 'just another thing to do' for many families."

Father Ron, who serves at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Darien, Illinois, says that despite the challenges — including U.S. Catholics' increasing support of same-sex marriage, cohabitation, and contraception — "bending on orthodoxy is not the solution to the family crisis. The Church's teachings are the solution."

The three priests agree the best means the Church has to attract those who challenge, ignore, or reject Christ's promise of salvation is the message of Divine Mercy, which the Marians promote. The appeal can be summed up in these words of Christ to St. Faustina, His secretary of mercy, "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 723).

"This is where healing begins," says Fr. Ron.

A Telling Conclusion to the Synod
It was certainly no accident that Pope Francis concluded the Synod by beatifying Pope Paul VI, who shepherded the Church through a contentious period of reform during the cultural and social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.

In his homily at the beatification Mass, Pope Francis quoted Pope Paul VI, who said, "By carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods ... to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society."

Perhaps foreshadowing Pope Francis's own pending prescription for the crisis of the family, it was Pope Paul VI who called for an authentic dialogue with the modern world while also standing firm on Church teaching. He stood firm most notably with his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), in which he affirmed the Church's teaching on married love and responsible parenthood while reiterating its opposition to artificial birth control as a serious violation of the procreative and unitive aspects of married love.

Interestingly, it was also Pope Paul VI who, in 1965, established the first Synod of Bishops.

With his beatification, Pope Paul VI's challenge to the Church has now been re-energized under Pope Francis, who said in his homily, "The Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope."

Synod, by the way, means "shared journey."

Says Fr. Matthew, it's a journey "guided by the Holy Spirit and our Merciful Savior."

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Lori - Nov 13, 2014

All the comments I just read I feel are true. For me personally I need human interaction, community and the feeling of being part of my parish family. I feel this now more than ever because my immediate family (parents & brothers & sisters) are deceased. My living immediate family is my husband and my Mother-in-Law. Participating with others in parish activities is so important and life-sustaining. Those of us who have found this joy can give our testimonial/witness to encourage others to find comfort/belonging in our parish communities with our brothers/sisters in our universal family.

David K - Nov 9, 2014

Modern day Christians have a mind set of ..."who are you to tell me how I worship God and build a relationship with Jesus..."
In one sense that is true, and one sense it is not. True to the point that no matter how much the Church tells a believer what is needed to do the above mentioned, that persons free will kicks in (as given by our Heavenly Father)and they end up making individual choices, good or bad. Now here is part of the other side of the coin; that same individual believer and everyone does, will stop what ever it is and think ..." oh I don't know...what am I suppose to do...."
These lost, mixed up souls, need guidance, structure, everybody deep down inside wants to belong to something...a family; be it of blood, or as you make it. the key word, not individual families, but one family, God's family.
The Roman Catholic church is the largest body of Christians that goes back to beginning of the church started by Jesus Christ, yet it is just like any other family that is in trouble. Family members show up for the Sunday dinner (the mass), eat, drink, some contribute (halfheartedly) in any celebrations, a few deeply, some just sit there and try to look good. Some cant wait to leave (run out of church as soon as they get the host at communion). In large families it is easy to ""get lost in the crowd""...""I have a personal crisis and no one cares about me"". I have seen all of this in my own personal faith journey, the breakdown of the traditional family is a signal that society is changing. The new family structure has changed, therefore the Largest family in the world has to change and adapt, because it is the group that each individual out in society has to be able to turn to for support, instruction, sense of belonging, and have a genuine sense of being loved.
We don't have the traditional stay at home mom's (if so, it is rare) and the dad's go off to work. Son's and daughter's go to after school programs and daycares cause both mom and dad are working, where is mom? where is Dad?
The church has to be there, deeply, no more opening the doors of the local church doors on a Sunday morning, mass for 45 minutes to an hour, then close them. Open 24/7, all year long. as a catholic I see a priest Sunday morning, and that's it. Can't even remember over the last 50 years of seeing or hearing about a priest visiting a parishioner's home; I don't care about the number of parishioner's 5 or 5000, where are the priest's?. All we need to see in most cases is to see that being done. After the mass have the parish halls open for a nice cup of coffee and snacks, after each mass, each Sunday. One reason why you see Catholics switch over to non-denominational churches ( I have seen this done by many, and myself have tried this) these churches provide a ''church family"" meal (cooked up by individuals as ministry team)after service each Sunday, or twice a month.

Okay this a lot of stuff to chew on, but I think this a start.

Luz - Nov 6, 2014

I'm in need of prayers for my conversion and my family's

Jason - Nov 6, 2014

Great to see the Marians both with our Holy Father in Rome, and on-the-ground, directly involved in this critical issue! So very many people, especially families, are literally crying out today for spiritual direction from the pulpit within the Church and on-the-ground outside of her. Souls must have the Truth proclaimed to them loudly, with great joy and love, and to have people of faith courageously reaching out to them, willing to step-out and forge relationships with them built on the rock-solid Truth of Jesus Christ our Lord. Instinctively, even the lost, guided by their God-given gift of conscience, know that SOMETHING needs to change! In their own fierce personal battles, which families in particular face every day in this extremely volatile culture, we 'faithful' too often remain un-informed ourselves, as well as silent, and all-too-comfortable. Frustrated, beaten down confused, and un-catechized, too many families desperately need our help but too often get none, or they hear an inconsistent, and therefore uninviting message. The lost and forgotten start shouting for all the wrong kinds of change to give them the help they need. BUT it is NOT the Truth that needs to change, but rather, as mentioned perfectly in this article, what needs to be changed and adapted is the means by which the Good News is transmitted. Hence we all now enter more intensely into the present era of the 'New Evangelization', by which we all must continue to pray deeply for the grace to live our faith actively in EVERY aspect of our lives, scattering seeds of Truth, and glorifying God by loving the people He gave us, bringing them to heaven with us via the narrow gate. Thank you Marians for encouraging us, and leading us to Jesus Christ the King! May we all come on board, and answer this God-given call to share the Truth! For "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."

Maria - Nov 6, 2014

Oh good lord send forth your holy spirit on the shepherds of the church to implement the will of god and they may be guided by the spirit to lead the sheep they are entrusted to with wisdom. Let the holy spirit help the people from around the world with wisdom to lead a good family life and be an example for the generations to come.

Cesar - Nov 6, 2014

In spanish: aún el Papa no puede ir contra lo que dijo Jesús, que una persona divorciada y vuelta a casar es adúltera, por ello no tiene derecho a comulgar ... debería dejar a su nueva pareja y vivir de nuevo alejado del pecado, y asi confesarse y comulgar .... la Iglesia no puede "adaptarse" al mundo, ya que si lo hace, entonces sus principios son cualquier cosa y cvontradice lo que era considerado byueno hasta ese supesuto "cambio o adaptación al m,undo". Es el mundo quien debe aceptar a Jesús cambiando y dejando de pecar....

jupiter - Nov 6, 2014

Psalm-144- Thats just what comes to my mind. GOD Bless us in Wisdom and Mercy.thank you.