Witness & Formation: Thoughts after the World Meeting of Families

I went to the World Meeting of Families not really knowing what to expect.  I knew it had been started by John Paul II, just like World Youth Day, but I approached it more as a “conference” than anything.  There were keynotes and breakout sessions, and we received a giant book of the various topics and sessions that we could go to each day. While I expected the atmosphere to be a little less academic than a typical Church conference on marriage and family life, I looked over the list of invited speakers and expected to take a lot of notes and use my brain a lot.

I did do that – both my notebook and my brain was filled at the end of the day. But I was unprepared for the way that would balance with the joy and life that comes from having families gather from all over the world.  I suppose in my mind I expected the audience to be mostly diocesan employees, Church leaders, and those who work with families, marriage prep, etc.  And while we were there, we were outnumbered (I think) by the families and children.

Hindsight, of course, tells me this makes sense.  If it’s like World Youth Day, it should be as filled with families as World Youth Day is with youth.  But there was still the “intellectual” side of things — talks by Cardinals and leaders and lawyers and parents and doctors and Sisters– to renew our minds and teach us how to be the lights to the world that we were called to be.

I think the evangelization of the world in regards to family life requires two things.  As I mentioned in the post before this, it requires our witness.  It requires our joy and love, which the world needs to see simply by the way we live our lives.  The convention center was full of families with strollers and ergo baby carriers, teenagers, and grandparents.  It was full of families who sacrificed to come to Philadelphia.  The Masses may have been celebrated by bishops from around the world with a 20-minute-long processional, but it sounded a lot like the Sunday Mass at my parish: responses punctuated with baby cries, the warbling older woman singing her heart out, and the children getting antsy during the homily.  This was a meeting filled with life. 

But evangelization also requires a second thing.  It requires that we know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to defend it.  St. Peter reminds us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).  That means we have to be 1) living with hope in such a way that people see it and 2) we have to be able to explain why we live this way.

Looking back over the incredible week, that’s exactly what the World Meeting of Families did.  I know that the papal visit to DC and NYC overshadowed what was happening in Philadelphia, and I know a lot of people just came to the City of Brotherly Love this weekend to see the Pope.  But for those who were there for the week, we experienced this line from 1 Peter.  It’s not enough to gather families together for fun.  We have to be taught and formed and educated.  And we were– by the greatest minds in the Church today, like Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Luis Tagle, Helen Alvare, Robert George, Bishop Robert Barron, and Archbishop J. Michael Miller.  We were exposed to the incredible work done throughout the country by the hundreds of exhibitors in the gigantic exhibition hall — book publishers and toy makers, colleges and religious orders, media outlets and service organizations.

It was a tiring week to be sure, and I needed to process the events each day over a nice pint, but it was also a week that energized and encouraged those of us in the trenches.  The families of the world may be wounded, but we are alive. We may be struggling, but we are united in the Cross of Christ.

We lived the message of Pope Francis this week. Now we pray that we can live it once we go home.

We will be their Gospel

One of my first sights at the World Meeting of Families this morning was the News 10 crew interviewing two nice older women.  As I walked to get out of the shot (not wanting to be that millennial on her cell phone in the back of a news shot), I realized one of them was wearing a Roman collar.  Later, when the other woman was getting interviewed, I saw that she was as well.  Of course, it was a white clerical shirt, which she was sporting with a purple suit jacket, khakis, and sneakers, but it was clearly a collar.  They had a big banner they spread out for the reporter and her camerawoman that read, “Support Roman Catholic Women Priests.”

At first I was annoyed, and I wanted to ask the reporter if she wanted to interview me as well.  Let’s get another woman’s view of women priesthood.  Then I got angry, because the reporter was clearly excited to report this story, and I worried it would be the only thing mentioned about the incredible event that we’ve witnessed thus far.

Why? Why are they allowed to hijack this incredible event?  If we could survey the 20,000 people in attendance, would that be the story they would want reported?

It’s easy to get discouraged when you witness so much truth and beauty and goodness and you wonder how much is getting through to the world.  You feel helpless because you’re at the mercy of the mainstream media.  The catechist in me wanted to talk to the reporter about why the Church teaches what She teaches.  I want the beauty of our faith to be known and loved.

So what keeps us from getting discouraged?  Well, luckily I had a whole day of talks after that incident, to remind me why we are here and to keep me from getting frustrated.  I was thinking on the way home about Helen Alvare’s keynote on the “Creating the Future: the Fertility of Christian Love.”  She, more than anyone, knows the bleak times we live in when it comes to the family.  She’s in the religious liberty trenches, for heaven’s sake.  But despite that, her talk was very hopeful.

She pointed out that not many people will read studies like she does, or pick up a book on the Church’s teaching on the family.  But they do see us.  We must be the witness of what authentic family life is and what it does for society.

So who cares what the media wants to say about us, the Church, or the World Meeting of Families. We can speak louder than the media, because we can be witnesses to the real, selfless love and joy of self-gift.  The world wants to preach the Gospel of Me (another great Helen Alvare quip) but joy is only found in living for the other.  We can have that joy, and we can share that joy with the world. We can preach that Gospel of love that the world so craves.

Imago Dei: Priest, Prophet, and King

Since I was late to Bishop Barron’s talk this afternoon (I have an excuse! I went to Confession! … that’s why I was late. I didn’t go to confession for being late. Anywho…) I had a seat way in the back, but it didn’t matter- the man has a way of delivering the message that draws you in so it doesn’t matter where you are – he has your attention.

I missed his introduction, but it didn’t take me long to see where his talk was headed.  He spoke about man being created in the image of God, and what that means in our role as priest, prophet, and king.  Archbishop Fisher tweeted, “His big idea is that ‘the image of God’ is not a private treasure but a mission.”

The thing about Bishop Barron is that he says the most profound things in the simplest ways.  Who else could bring Jean-Paul Sartre and Servais Pinckaers down to a level where a ballroom of families could understand at least part of what you were trying to convey? I know a lot of people have compared him to Fulton Sheen, but he reminds me of Frank Sheed.  The profound truth, said profoundly, but in an understandable way.  I feel like I could meditate on Barron’s talk for quite some time and still not reach the depths – but while he was speaking, I didn’t feel like my brain was going to explode.  Does that make sense?

He went through the three roles — priest, prophet, and king — and what the roles require, but then how original sin compromised them.  The one that really blew my mind was our role as prophets.  In the Garden, Adam was given the mission of cataloging the world according to God’s Word.  He named the animals.  He preached the Truth by defining things according to their nature.

The Imago is compromised today when we start defining things ourselves.  We preach the lie that we give things meaning.  Words mean whatever you say they mean.  The human person is defined however you want to define it.

We would do this with nothing else that mattered to us, Bishop Barron pointed out.  No one tells someone who wants to play golf, “Oh, just express yourself!  Swing however you want to swing!”  That’s ludicrous.  If you want to play golf, you are “freed” once you know how to golf – once you know the laws of golf.

I would try to explain how he connected this to God’s extravagant demand for perfection and extravagant mercy, why Pontius Pilate is the first evangelist, and why we have a crisis of the laity, but I would rather you just somehow listen to the talk yourself some day.  Because he was incredible.

He left us by reminding us that if we remembered who we were, created in the Image of God as priest, prophet, and king, we would not be living in a secularized society.  We would have “Edenized” the world. Sanctifying the world is our mission.  The importance of the family today is that it is the place where the Imago Dei is burnished – where we learn how to be priest, prophet, and king, where we are prepared to go out on mission.

It made me want to get in a big circle, put our hands in, and then yell, “Go Family!”

Until tomorrow…