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Apostolate of Families to Families

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The article below is from a talk given by the renowned theologian at a Fatima Family Apostolate national Congress in Alexandria, S.D.

  1. What do we mean by “The Apostolate of Families to Families?”

  2. Why is this apostolate so critically important in the modern world?

  3. How are Catholic families to put this apostolate into practice?

What is the “Families to Families” Apostolate?

The apostolate of “Families to Families” is the mission that Catholic families have received from the Vicar of Christ - to preserve, to protect, to heal, to reform, and to restore sound family life in the modern world.

Notice that we say it is a mission, hence apostolate, that Catholic families have received from the Vicar of Christ. Pope John Paul II speaks of the Catholic family’s “responsibility for transforming society.” He says that the Catholic family “is called upon to take part actively and responsibly in the mission of the Church.” The Holy Father further declares that Catholic families are to evangelize by proclaiming the Gospel to other families, not only in their own territory, but even to people in other parts of the same country and to families in distant lands.

As we read these and similar statements about this apostolate, we see what the Vicar of Christ is telling Catholic families to do:

  1. They are to labor to preserve sound family life where it still exists. Why? Because powerful forces, highly organized and politically mobilized, are conspiring against the preservations of what for 2000 years we have come to call the family.

  2. Catholic families are to protect family life against this organized effort which has the power of the state, the power of money, the power of education and the power of the media at its disposal.

  3. Catholic families are to help to heal the grievous even mortal wounds inflicted by these forces that are warring against the family.

  4. Catholic families are to labor at reforming family life where it has been perverted by anti-Christian ideas, propaganda and legislation.

  5. What we have come to call sound family life was established by God with the first human family and renewed with each Covenant God made especially in the Ten Commandments and finally perfected (made a Sacrament) by Jesus Christ Himself.

Why is the Apostolate of “Families to Families” so important?

  1. I would change this statement by saying that this apostolate is not only important; it is imperative.

  2. Either we Catholics who have the fullness of the true faith muster ourselves to come to the assistance of others, or the future of once flourishing societies is predictable.

  3. No society can survive as a sane society, unless it is built on strong family life.

  4. As the family goes, so goes society.

  5. What we have come to call sound family life was established by God with the first human family and renewed with each Covenant God made, especially in the Ten Commandments and finally perfected (made a Sacrament) by Jesus Christ Himself.

  6. Apart from the teachings of authentic Judaism, in the paganism of the society into which the Catholic Church was born, abortion was legalized, contraception was universal, divorce with remarriage was the common practice, infanticide was protected by the civil law, premarital and extra-marital relations were the order of the day, homosexuality was not only widespread but became so prevalent that homosexual women had to be exiled to an island called Lesbos (and to this day the name Lesbian is applied to women who practice homosexuality).

  7. With the coming of Christ, it was the Christian families who converted their pagan contemporaries. How? By their practice of monogamy in marriage, by their practice of continence outside of marriage.

  8. Historians of the early Church tell us it was mainly the two virtues of chastity and charity, practiced by the early Christians, which converted whole nations of the pagan Roman Empire to Jesus Christ.

  9. We return to our question: Why is this apostolate of “Families to Families” so important in our days? Why? Because paganism has returned to seduce once truly Christian societies.

  10. These dechristianized nations will have to be reconverted to Christ. And the principal agent of this conversion in the 21st century as in the first century will have to be the truly Catholic family.

  11. All the travels of St. Paul, and all the preaching of the Apostles, would have been useless, unless the first Christian families had engaged in their own apostolate of “families to families.”

  12. Let me quote a sentence from Pope John Paul II: “Just as at the dawn of Christianity, Aquila and Priscilla were presented as a missionary couple, so today the Church shows forth her perennial newness and fruitfulness by the presence of Christian couples and families who dedicate at least a part of their lives to working in missionary territories, proclaiming the Gospel and doing service to their fellowmen in the love of Jesus Christ.” (Familiaris Consortio, 54)

  13. Among today’s “missionary territories” I would, with emphasis, include the United States. We have become, I firmly believe, a dechristianized and therefore paganized society.

Catholic families are to practice this apostolate

Before we go into further detail, we should first distinguish the two principal ways in which Catholic families can engage in this indispensable apostolate. These two ways are: As individu­als - whether as individual families, or as individual members of a family. As associations, whether whole families join together in this apostolate, or individuals from many families who organize to form associations to work for families.

The variety of ways in which the apostolate of “Families to Families” can labor is immense. Yet, it can be simply identified with the variety of needs that the modern families have. The basic formula can be reduced to several words: “Find a family need and fill it.”

What are these needs? They are mainly spiritual, moral, intellectual, psychological, physical and material.

Spiritual needs of the family. Heading the spiritual needs of families is the true faith. Parents and children must be evangelized if they are not yet Christian believers. They must be catechized if they have been baptized but do not know the faith, perhaps at all, or so poorly that they need religious instruction.

This is what the Pontifical Council for the Family has been urging: the on-going instruction of parents in the Catholic faith, and through them, the on-going instruction of their children.

Along with religious instruction in the faith, families need to receive the sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Communion, Matrimony. Still on the level of spiritual needs, families must be taught and trained to pray. No individual can do God’s will without prayer. No family can survive without prayer. Prayer by the family, in the family, and for the family; prayer by each member of the family.

Moral needs of the family. One of the principles of ethics is that we need other people to enable us to live a good moral life. We need encouragement, fraternal correction, and counsel from others in order to live the kind of life we must practice if we even wish to be happy in this life, and certainly to reach heaven in the life to come.

The moral problems husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, parents and children, meet in today’s chaotic world are beyond commenting. The apostolate of “Families to families” means to seriously try to provide spouses and children with as much assistance in their moral living as we can.

There are problems in marital relations; in the rearing of children. There are problems arising from broken families, fatherless families; mothers who are working full time away from their homes; of drug or alcoholic addictions. There are problems involving unwed mothers; problems created by abortion, contraception and teenage delinquency.

We dare not say that these problems of other people are no concern of ours.

Intellectual needs of the family. One of the spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant. Many people in our country are literally illiterate. And even among those who can somehow read or write, millions needs instruction, tutoring, training, to learn even the basics of what is immoral and moral living!

Many parents are now doing home schooling. But they need help much help. Dedicated Catholics should be ready to provide whatever assistance they can give. Our media oriented age is producing a generation of people who no longer think for themselves. They need the stimulus and encouragement of others to help them in their God-given vocations.

Material Needs. Part of the crisis of family life in countries like ours is Catholic families who want to raise a normal size family finding themselves financially under terrible constraint. My 20 years work with Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity has taught me how much poverty, even destitution there is in nominally prosperous countries like America.

On the last day we shall be judged by our readiness to meet the material needs of others. I believe every Catholic family should examine its conscience and ask itself, “What are we doing, as a family, to help other families who are in obvious material need.”

Copyright © 1997 Inter Mirifica






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