Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is it time for World Family Day?

Printed in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam, August 14, 2011.

I don’t think he’ll reply, but I was thinking of sending a letter to Pope Benedict to see if he would consider making World Youth Day, World Family Day. Given the massive attack on the Family from every side, if there ever was a time to do something in a big way for the Family, it is now! And perhaps it wouldn’t be so much of a change as it would be the fulfillment of John Paul II’s long range plan.

I was trying to find where I read this, but in one of the books about John Paul II, the author told of how the Pope had conceived of WYD as a tactical move in his effort to address the moral malaise and indifference to the Magisterium that had set in after the Council, particularly in the West. The apathy and skepticism was particularly pronounced in my generation (baby boomers), who had come of age in the era of “question everything” and “if it feels good, do it.”

By the mid-1980’s, it had become apparent to the Pope that it would be easier for him to turn the Nile into blood than to convince us, the children of the Sexual Revolution, to leave the “fleshpots of Egypt” and come home to Rome. So the Pope decided to do an “end run”. WYD would give him a vehicle by which to reach around my obstinate generation and go directly to the next.  

It was a rather natural choice for the Pope since he had been particularly involved with young people throughout his priestly life, and in effect, WYD would allow him (through the Holy Spirit of course) to breathe new life into the Church from “the bottom up”.

Of course, World Youth Day is not a “day”, it is a movement, and is unique, as movements go, in that it was conceived, instituted, and energized by the Pope himself. It was an ingenious move and it worked.

Today we are beginning to see great fruits from what has become the "John Paul II Generation": more vocations, increasing openness to life, desire for a traditional family, closer adherence to the Magisterium, love of the Mass, greater reverence for the Eucharist, and more.

In a sense, John Paul II, via WYD, led this Next-Generation out of the post-conciliar wilderness, crossed the Jordan, and established a beachhead in the land of the “new Spring-time” promised us by Vatican II. But now what? Sticking with the Exodus metaphor, God didn’t bring his people across the Jordan to establish a beachhead, but to establish His Family in the Promised Land.

So here we are 25 years after the first WYD. Millions of JPII generation types, fresh from their “trans-Jordan” experience, are now parents themselves and facing the hard reality of staying married and raising a family in a land where Canaanite hordes (a.k.a. the secular culture) still roam. Additionally, the supply line seems to be cut: whereas one can easily find a vibrant support group or catechesis for the young, a similar find for their struggling parents is rare.

John Paul II didn’t start WYD to reconcile wayward youths, but to reconcile youths before they became wayward. It worked and its working. But there is no comparable movement in the Church to reconcile marriages before they become wayward. And, as has been said: “As marriages go, so goes the family. As the family goes, so goes the Church. And as the Church goes, so goes society.” And we are seeing where society is going!

Certainly, troubled couples may always avail themselves to their pastors who are normally very generous with their time and efforts. But by then the marriage is usually in crisis mode and marital counseling often amounts to little more than damage control.

True, there is Marriage Encounter, Retrovaille, Couples for Christ, and other ministries, and all are good, but they don’t have the status of a World Youth Day and the movement that accompanies it. And while the Church as a whole devotes great energy and resources to the movement that is WYD, movements that try to help and save marriages, the most critical of all institutions, are often only marginally supported.

As a matter of fact, support for couples and marriages is one of the main reasons so many Catholics join non-Catholic Christian support groups (usually a Bible study). For some reason protestant churches, in many ways,  are far ahead of us in the practical ministry of addressing, in an organizational way, the daily life hurts and needs of married people. (Needless to say, many end up joining those churches.)

John Paul II understood the modern attack on the Family probably more than anyone which is why he devoted the first seven years of his pontificate to addressing what he knew to be the central crisis of marriage and family in what came to be known as “Theology of the Body”.

But he seems to have left it, in the words of George Weigel, a “ticking time bomb set to go off in this (the 21st) century. In other words the Pope’s work was not accompanied by a concrete signature event the equivalent of WYD and the ongoing worldwide network of support that it spawned at every level.

I suspect that this seeming neglect was, like WYD, part of a larger strategy. Perhaps the Pope knew that the particular approach to human loving embodied in Theology of the Body could only bear fruit in a generation that was prepared for it, and thus chose to first create that generation through his WYD operative.

If so, then it has worked as planned as there is now a generation wary of the chemically, mechanically, and surgically controlled fertility of the previous generation (many of whom are still wandering on the other side of the Jordan) and are ready to embrace God’s original plan for life and love. The question now is: will they be embraced with the same fervor, commitment, support, and access to Church leadership that they came to know in a generation of World Youth Days?

I’ll let you know if I hear back from the Pope. My guess is, he’s already thought of it.

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