Gift of Families in Difficult Times
|Photo: Jack Crombie|
Catholic Outlook September 2012 Letter of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
A few years ago I was interviewed by Vatican Radio in the company of an Italian Franciscan. The subject was the future of the family in Europe. The surprisingly challenging interviewer asked us why Catholic Italy had the lowest birthrate in the world.
As I fumbled about for an answer, my Franciscan confrere came to the rescue, announcing that it was surely because of the high number of celibate nuns and priests in Italy!
How I wish that explanation sufficed, but Italy today is every bit as much a victim of anti-family ideologies and pressures as anywhere else. A nation once famous for its love for children now has a voluntary one child policy more effective than that imposed in communist China with draconian threats.
Despite continuing babble about ‘population explosion’ and the need for fertility control from the likes of the Gates Foundation, much of the world now faces a population implosion, with birthrates well below replacement and the proportion of elderly people rising all the time while the numbers of younger people to support them declines.
At the bottom of this population collapse is not an epidemic of nunnery but rather falling marriage and fertility rates amongst those not committed to celibacy, and rising contraception and abortion rates, fuelled by secularism and materialism, a declining willingness to engage in the commitment and self-sacrifice that family requires, a radical misunderstanding of freedom and equality, and much else besides…
When people talk of ‘the vocations crisis’ in the Catholic Church they usually mean declining numbers of priests, religious and seminarians. But the graver vocations crisis in the Church today - or, more accurately, in certain parts of the Church today – is that in marriage and parenting.
A recent report of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Love Me Do, found fewer Australians now get married at all; if they do marry, they marry later (average age 30 for men and 28 for women); and only one-third now marry in religious ceremonies.
Eight out of 10 cohabit before marrying, even though this significantly reduces their marital ‘sticking power’, and fewer now stay married for the long haul. If they have children at all, most have very few.
Yet as the ABS noted: “Families are the building blocks of society, facilitating generational renewal, human interaction, and linking individuals to wider society as a whole.” They are “closely linked with wellbeing” and play “a key role in socialising children and shaping the future of society.”
Unsurprisingly, therefore, breakdown of marriage and family has been associated with a host of social problems such as spiralling rates of promiscuity, abortion, homelessness, mental illness, drug abuse, behaviour disorders and youth suicide; genealogical, cultural and ethical bewilderment; an ageing population without the economic base to support it; and much else besides.
What we are talking about here are not just social trends and statistics, but the tragedies of real people, people we meet every day in our parishes, welfare agencies and schools, and in our own families, struggling in their married and family life. The stories of people we know and love.
As the canary in the coal mine, such fragile family life surely demands some radical redirection before the social disaster becomes ever more apparent.
On Social Justice Sunday, 30 September, Australia’s Catholic Bishops will launch a Pastoral Statement on the Family, The Gift of Family in Difficult Times: The social and economic challenges facing families today.
It examines some of the social and economic pressures on families today: work demands, living costs, the consumer economy and so on. It demonstrates that this is a major social justice issue for our time.
Every Catholic (even in an order of ancient friars) has the vocation to support family life and especially to help those families experiencing crisis or need. Only by supporting stronger family life can we hope to plot a brighter future for humanity. Even the secular statisticians can see that.
But it will require God’s grace as much as our determination. The ‘domestic church’ is the family grafted on to the mystery of the bigger Church and thus made into a saved and saving community.
The family enacts its saving grace in umpteen daily tasks, in the witness of the spouses’ love, in their generous fruitfulness, in their dialogue with God in prayer and with humanity in service.
In this Year of Grace we pray that our families become true icons of the love between the Persons of the Trinity and that our community will support them in all justice.
On Sunday 23 September, married couples who are celebrating significant wedding anniversaries and their families are invited participate in Celebrating the Journey, our annual diocesan gathering.
I look forward to welcoming you at the 11am Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral and to lunch in the Cathedral hall afterwards. Please contact CatholicCare Parramatta if you are coming on (02) 9933 0222 or email email@example.com