Editors Note: In this column, Archbishop Aquila presents some excerpts from a talk he gave to the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers. They have been edited for brevity and clarity. To read the full talk, visit: archden.org/archbishops_writing/the-future-needs-the-family/#.XVwuuuNKgdU
Some of you may have heard of the Benedictine monks of Norcia, the small Italian mountain town where St. Benedict was born. In 2016, their monastery and the basilica of St. Benedict was completely destroyed by the strongest earthquake that Italy has experienced in 30 years.
With the aftershocks continuing, the monks moved their community to a property outside the town’s walls and took shelter in canvas tents. While their monastery was demolished, their faith remained intact. They continued to celebrate Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in their new improvised community.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, visited the monks to celebrate Mass and bless their “tent monastery,” which he said reminded him of “Bethlehem, where it all began.”
Then he made an observation that goes to the heart of what this conference is about — the future and the family. “I am certain,” he said, “that the future of the Church is in the monasteries, because where prayer is, there is the future” (The Benedict Option, p. 242).
Cardinal Sarah was talking about the monastic community, but he could have been talking about the family, since the family serves as the incubator for the values and virtues of the next generation. … And this is only possible when prayer stands at the heart of a family.
My friend and fellow bishop, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, recently gave a talk on “The Pastoral State of Marriage and the Family Today.” In it, he asserted that the main challenge for the Church today is rediscovering the “radical ‘newness’ of the Christian message about the family.” That message consists of speaking about marriage as a love that lasts a lifetime, or a calling from God, or a path that can lead to holiness and salvation. The Christian concept of marriage also presents “man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.”
We are living in spiritually and materially impoverished times. In this context, the Catholic family can and should be like a lighthouse illuminating the way for others in stormy seas.
The early Church was able to flourish despite a series of persecutions that lasted almost 300 years because our ancestors in the faith had a deep, lasting faith in Christ and salvation through him. They did not belong to the world, just as Jesus did not. They were in the world, but not of it.
I would like to leave you with a story of love in a family from Saint Mother Teresa’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Listen to the power of the family:
… I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. …
I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: ‘Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they have not eaten for so long. Do something.’ So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children, their eyes shining with hunger — I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger.
And [the mother] took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her, ‘Where did you go, what did you do?’ And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew. And who are they? A Muslim family, and she knew [they were starving]. I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see, this is where love begins at home.
Let us devote ourselves to first growing love in our families and then sharing it in our neighborhoods and parishes, states and country. In doing so, we will help build up family life and ensure that our ultimate goal of heaven is made manifest to the Church and the world.