December 4, 2015
The family is the domestic Church. It is where we learn the virtues of love and faith, and how to patiently bear another’s wrongs. It is where we learn to communicate and empathize with others, and first recognize our universal vocation to pursue holiness. It’s a haven for those who are hurting. And it’s a microcosm of the universal Church and worldwide human family.
But the family faces many challenges today in a world marked by increasing secularization, broken relationships, a throwaway culture that dehumanizes the weak, and breakdowns in communication. Therefore, Christian families must prioritize prayer, loving interactions with each other, and outreach to those in need to live out their mission as the domestic Church.
These were the overarching themes of the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, according to St. Henry Deacon Mike Catalano and other presenters at St. Henry’s Family Enrichment Workshop, held Saturday, Nov. 21.
The workshop was the brainchild of Deacon Catalano’s wife, Janet. When it was first announced that Pope Francis would be visiting America for the World Meeting of Families, she and Deacon Catalano were discussing his pending arrival with recently retired St. Henry pastor Father Mike Johnston. The trio agreed that someone from the parish should go to Philadelphia and share what they learned with the St. Henry community. The Catalanos volunteered to go.
“It was wonderful to be there,” Janet Catalano said. “You got a sense of how global the Church is. There were thousands of people speaking many different languages, and lots of priests and nuns. There were so many wonderful talks, and it grew in magnitude throughout the week. At the closing Mass in Philadelphia, there were more than 100 cardinals alone. It’s hard to explain how special it was to be a part of it.”
The World Meeting of Families happens every three years in a different country around the world. The first one was in 1994 in Rome under St. John Paul II. Led by the Pontifical Council for the Family, its purpose is to protect the rights of the family in the Church and in the world, and to help families effectively carry out their mission as the domestic Church.
Along with the Catalanos, workshop speakers Mother Anne Marie Karlovic, O.P., and husband and wife duo Aimee and Collen Mayer also attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“Catholic families must be intentional in living a life of faith nowadays,” said Mother Ann Marie, Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and a speaker on a vocations panel at the World Meeting of Families. “There is no room for apathy or mediocrity.”
She emphasized the importance of parents being the primary educators of their children, and encouraged attendees to let Jesus guide their families as they pursue holiness together.
“Sending your children to Catholic schools and religious education class helps, but Christian discipleship begins at home,” she said. “Jesus should be at the center of your family. Talk to Him regularly! Look to Him as a teacher to teach you and your families how to love and forgive.”
She also asked parents to not be discouraged at their own and their children’s shortcomings. “We’re not perfect. Jesus fixes us, because we can’t do it on our own. Acknowledging this fact reduces anxiety, because it shows us that our mistakes don’t define us. Love overlooks our mistakes.”
Aimee and Collen Mayer spoke of Pope Francis’s teaching on the Church as part of the universal human family, and the need to care for the most vulnerable.
“Pope Francis speaks of the family as ‘the school of encounter,’” Collen Mayer said. “It’s where we learn to love those who are most in need; not just to help them, but to get to know them and relate to them. True love focuses on others. Jesus did this all the time. We should follow His example in caring for the neediest among us.”
John Bosio and his wife Teri described the family as a school where children learn the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude.
“As we teach our children how to be virtuous, we must let faith guide us. God’s grace helps us in our pursuit of virtue,” John Bosio said. “Pope Francis said that our children are our future, the ones in whom we place our hope. Twenty or 30 years from now, the children of today will lead our communities. We need leaders who will be prudent in making wise decisions, temperate in controlling themselves, fair in giving others what is their due, and have the courage to do what is right. It’s our job as parents to instill those virtues in them now, so they will practice them effectively when they’re older.”
Deacon Catalano spoke of the need for families to spend more time together and to communicate in person. “We need to spend more time having meals as a family. In person communication is where we learn to empathize with others. It makes us human,” he said. “In her book ‘Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age,’ psychologist Sherry Turkle alludes to Henry David Thoreau’s book ‘Walden.’ He speaks of three chairs in his cabin: one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society. And we should look to that illustration as a model for effective communication within the family and the world at large. In solitude, we discover who we are. In friendship, we communicate who we are to others. And in society, we engage with the world around us. This should be the ideal we’re striving for with communication in the family.”
Although many topics were addressed, Janet Catalano hoped attendees received an overall greater sense of the sanctity of marriage and family life. “I really want those here today to have a renewed focus on marriage as a sacrament,” she said. “I hope this helps them discover the beauty of family life and brainstorm ways they can glorify God within their own families.”