The Witness of the Family Fully Alive
Conceived by St. John Paul II in 1992 to strengthen the bonds of Christian families worldwide, the World Meeting of Families has been celebrated every three years since 1994. The 8th World Meeting of Families will take place in Philadelphia Sept 22-27 and will coincide with the first apostolic journey of Pope Francis to the United States.
The theme of this year’s gathering is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Columbia recently asked Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia about his hopes for the event, as well as how Catholic families can bear joyful witness to the Gospel in an increasingly secularized environment.
Previously appointed as the bishop of Rapid City, S.D., in 1988, and as archbishop of Denver in 1997, Archbishop Chaput has served as the chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since 2011. An esteemed author, speaker and cultural commentator, he is a member of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Council 15380 in Wynnewood, Pa.
Columbia: In what ways do you hope the 8th World Meeting of Families will bear fruit for the Church?
Archbishop Chaput: Events like the World Meeting of Families give us a chance to encounter God in a new way — to feel the joy of the Gospel, to see the global face of the Church, and to bring people together to renew their faith and courage in fellowship. I want the World Meeting of Families to be the kind of seed that bears fruit in a new life for the Church. Material resources are less important than converted hearts. The heart and mind lead. The resources and talent follow.
If I had to choose — and we’re getting to a point where we’ll need to — I’d rather be part of a small Church on fire with Jesus Christ than a large Church with a lot of resources but a cold soul. Zeal has a future. Indifference doesn’t.
The demographics of religious belief in our country are pretty sobering. We’ve done a poor job of passing along the faith to young people, and it’s not because we’re out of sync with the times. If she’s doing the work Jesus intended, the Church is always out of sync with the times because the world needs conversion, and the Church is the agent of that conversion. My generation failed to live that witness in a convincing way. Young people learned from our example. There’s no way to avoid paying the consequences.
But that’s not a reason to lose hope. God loves us, and even now, many, many young people are discovering Jesus Christ in a dramatic way. I know because I’ve met a lot of them. They’re a terrific source of new energy.
Columbia: In addition to the logistics involved with hosting a major international event and papal visit, what does it mean to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to be chosen as the host city?
Archbishop Chaput: The Catholic community in Philadelphia is closely connected with our nation’s founding and history. It was a magnet for immigrants in the 19th century, and it bore the brunt of anti-Catholic hatred during the Nativist years. It also produced two great saints — Sts. John Neumann and Katharine Drexel — created the model for Catholic parish schools, and trained thousands of priests and religious for service around the country.
The problem with a legacy is that it can turn into a burden. A great past can be a heavy drag on creative thinking and self-criticism. When the Church turns into a cultural habit, when religion becomes routine, bad things happen: a sex abuse scandal, financial and legal crises, and a lot of anger among our people and priests.
That’s the hard news. The better news is that, despite the problems we have been addressing in recent years, the Church in Philadelphia still has a great deal of talent and good will among our people. And our priests are very good men. So one of the goals in preparing for the World Meeting of Families has simply been helping people to believe again in the possibility of a renewal; to look forward instead of backward.
Columbia: In Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (86), and “the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home” (52). What implications do such statements have with regard to both public policy and pastoral initiatives?
Archbishop Chaput: A country that discourages fertility, kills the unborn and undermines the integrity of the family as a matter of public policy is attacking its own future. If we stay on that path in the 2016 elections, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the end game. At a pastoral level, protecting the family should rank among the top priorities in every diocese. And that starts by forming and supporting our people in living the vocation of marriage well.
Columbia: What are some practical ways that Christian families, as domestic churches, are called to evangelize, whether within their own homes or in the culture at large?
Archbishop Chaput: If families pray and worship together, read the Scriptures and learn the history of their Church, and if they do all this faithfully, on a regular basis, then their witness gets noticed by others. Nothing is more magnetic than the happiness and peace we see in other people. We should never feel embarrassed to share our faith when we speak with friends. But the best form of missionary work for most of us is simply living our Catholic faith with conviction and joy. Anyone can do that. And God will use that raw material to reach others.
Columbia: On several occasions, Pope Francis has voiced concern about the growing influence of “gender theory,” which ignores or cancels out sexual difference. What dangers does this ideology pose?
Archbishop Chaput: Gender ideology is just the logic of liberalism applied to sex. By “liberalism” I mean it in the original European sense of the word, not the way we use “liberal” and “conservative” in our politics. One of the key ideas of liberalism is that human beings are radically separate, autonomous individuals. The only good arrangements are those we freely choose according to our rational self-interest. Self-interest can change. So no arrangement or obligation can really be permanent. All limits to human choice — marriage, family, religion, even nature itself — are potential sources of oppression.
It’s easy to see where this leads. When we combine the principle of choice with modern social science, which tends to dispute the reliability of human reason and the existence of any set “human nature,” sexual identity is just another kind of modeling clay for the human will, without any predetermined or higher content. We can have five — or even 25 — genders instead of just two.
But if we lose the vocabulary of male-female difference, then we lose the whole biblical narrative. In the Christian tradition, we don’t “own” our bodies, and our sexuality is a gift with a purpose linked to God’s own creative power. This is why parents need to be very vigilant in countering gender ideology in the education and entertainment their children receive.
Columbia: While the Church has faced a number of challenges to religious liberty and conscience protection in recent years, including the HHS contraceptive mandate, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision redefining marriage will arguably result in the greatest challenge yet. How can Catholics bear witness to the authentic meaning of marriage and family in this new legal environment?
Archbishop Chaput: That’s simple to answer and hard to do at the same time. Spouses need to love and be faithful to each other. That takes patience, generosity and self-denial. And parents need to raise their children to love God and love the Church. That takes persistence and courage. It means lives of sacrifice in a culture of consuming self-absorption. It can be done, and the results are lives of great joy. But to do it means building local communities of Catholic families that support each other more directly than many of our parish structures can provide.
Columbia: You have noted that one of the deepest cultural problems we face today is a problem of language. Everyone speaks about equality, freedom, dignity and family — but by these words we don’t necessarily mean the same thing. How can we recover a shared social vocabulary, especially in reference to the family and human dignity?
Archbishop Chaput: In the short run, we can’t. Our culture is fractured by too many basic divisions. Christians believe that God exists; that God is good and involved in human affairs; that permanent truths guide the course of the world; that humanity is made in God’s image; that our dignity is unique in creation; that our lives are a gift for which God will hold us accountable; and that we have rights and responsibilities grounded in our Creator. Many of our leaders believe none of those things, at least not in a way that really shapes their actions. So the most powerful thing we can do is remain true to our own convictions and raise our children to do the same. Truth always wins in the long run. Always.
Columbia: The Synod Bishops, meeting both this October and last October, is focused on the mission of the family and on pastoral challenges related to the family and evangelization. What, in your opinion, are the greatest pastoral challenges regarding the family today, and how can the Church face these challenges more effectively?
Archbishop Chaput: The challenges differ from country to country, but the biggest challenge in the developed world is the practical atheism that pervades every aspect of modern life. Even many good Christians have lost a vivid sense of eternity and the personal presence of God. I think a lot of Catholics since Vatican II have gone from being appropriately “open” to the world to being digested by it. We need to recover our sense of being in the world but not of it. Marriage and family are forms of missionary witness. We need to reawaken to that.
Columbia: In light of the prevalence of social realities such as delayed marriage, out-of-wedlock births and divorce, how can the Church underscore the dignity of marriage and family, yet still welcome and minister to those who do not find themselves in a stable family environment?
Archbishop Chaput: Many parishes already do a good job at that, and a better job than they often get credit for. We can always be more conscious and effective in welcoming people. We should never exclude people who sincerely want to be part of the Church. But “welcoming” isn’t honest if it involves editing or downplaying what the Church believes about marriage and the family. Love that isn’t rooted in truth isn’t really love.
Columbia: What role can the Knights of Columbus play in renewing Catholic family life and in evangelizing and serving the families around them?
Archbishop Chaput: There’s no lay organization in the world that does more important apostolic service than the Knights of Columbus. Any bishop will tell you that, because it’s true. When Knights live their vocation, they’re a witness of Christian manliness, and we need a lot more of that special kind of witness — urgently. We need men who know how to be real men, men who serve and lead as Christian husbands and fathers. Programs and resources are important, and the Knights do that sort of work better than anyone else. But the real gift that Knights give to the Church is their lives and their love for Jesus Christ. Nothing is more powerful.
Order Launches New Holy Family Prayer Program
Following the opening Mass of the 133rd Supreme Convention in Philadelphia Aug. 4, the Knights of Columbus inaugurated a new prayer program centered on the Holy Family. State deputies representing the Order’s 74 jurisdictions each received a framed copy of an etching of the Holy Family by Giovanni Balestra (1774–1842). The original etching, which is based on a painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609-1685), is housed at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome.
The images, each bearing the blessing of Pope Francis, will serve as the centerpieces of a new prayer program as they travel throughout the Order’s jurisdictions in the coming year.
It is the 17th Orderwide prayer program featuring a pilgrim image. Since 1979, these rosary-based programs have included more than 147,000 prayer services and 17 million participants. The seventh such program, which was conducted in 1993-94, similarly featured an image of the Holy Family, to celebrate the International Year of the Family.
The launch of this year’s program anticipates the 8th World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27 and the XIV Ordinary Synod of Bishops, which will meet in October on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.”
Additional information about the prayer program will be provided to state councils in the coming weeks.