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A Prayer for the Protection of Family Life

Father Scottston Brentwood - Thursday, April 30, 2015

The following talk took place at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA. This parish is staffed by the Order of BVM of Mercy or the Mercedarian Friars. Each Wednesday during the Lenten Season the parish sponsors “Soup and Salvation”. Parishioners prepare a particular soup and a reflection is given on a particular topic. In preparation for the World Meeting of Families, this year’s theme is marriage and family. Fr Matthew Phelan, O. de M. gives the following talk based on the St Raymond Nonnatus Prayer for Family Life:

Audio of talk Part 2


Mercedarians in the United States are in process of developing new family apostolate. It is just in its beginning stages. This apostolate is in many ways based on the St Raymond Nonnatus Prayer for the protection of marriage and family.

 

In this talk we will use the Prayer to St. Raymond Nonnatus as a source of reflection. The prayer to St Raymond Nonnatus for Christian Families goes back at least 60 years. It first received the imprimatur in 1955. Who could have known how much more relevant this prayer would be today? We will attempt to reflection on it at line by line:


1st line: Lord, Father Almighty! The family is the most ancient institution of humanity, for it is as old as man himself.

 

The beginning of the prayer brings us back to creation. The word man is used, but it is meant to represent the fullness of man in creation of man & women. Man is told to “Increase and multiply and subdue the earth”. The creation of the family is found in the beginning. Man and woman are united in marriage together and with their children they form the family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authorities. Marriage and family (rightly composed), therefore, should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of relationships should be evaluated.

 

The point of all this is that Marriage and family is a natural right or God given right. It is absolutely unchangeable and is the foundation of all positive rights. Natural law is the basis of positive rights (those granted by the state). Natural rights are inherent to our human nature. All civil law, therefore, is only valid when based on the Natural Law. In the tradition of our nation, the Declaration of Independence recognizes the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

Looking at this more deeply from a Catholic perspective: St Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963). Paragraph 11 of this document tells us:

“But first We must speak of man's rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.”


We hear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated (CCC 2202).” So the necessary social services are actually rooted in the family.

 

The social teaching of the Church is also based in the family. In regard to these social services, St Pope John XXIII states,

In consequence, he has the right tobe looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work;widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of hisown he is deprived of the means of livelihood.Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris. . . ), #11”

First, this is the responsibility of each family. Secondarily, it is the responsibility of the community or State. However, problems arise when the State seeks to take the place of the family. To supplant the family or take over what is first the rightfully role of family. It is legitimate for the State to facilitate the role of the family, but never to supplant.

 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops state,

“The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society (7 themes of Catholic Social teaching USCCB).”

 

The term “fundamental rights” here is the same as natural rights. And the natural rights belong to us by the fact that we exist as human persons. But once one rejects any concept of natural law or objective truth (relativism) then it becomes a very Darwinist or “survival of the fittest” and tyrannical approach to rights. Without the natural law the only “rights” that one would have are those determined by the State (whoever is in charge). These rights are established by the majority opinion as Pope Benedict XVI spoke of in his Theory of Relativism. Or they are determined by the mandate of those in charge as in the tyranny of totalitarianism (dictatorship).


As the Prayer to St Raymond Nonnatus states and the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: the institution of the family predates the institution of the State. Therefore, the family is to be the model or reference point for the state and not vise versa. When there is a dysfunction in the family then it very well may “take a village”, but only when that “village” is modeled on a functional family. If that “village” has another model than in reality it ends up destroying the natural rights.


Line 2 But because it is Thine own institution and the only means by which man can come into this world and develop to the greatest perfection, therefore the forces of evil are assaulting it, causing men to despise this basic unit of Christian civilization .

 

The basic idea of this sentence is that “the forces of evil are assaulting” the family. Then it identifies two reasons for this assault. The first reason that evil assaults the family is because it is God’s own institution. Thus this attack resembles the original assault on human communion as represented in the account of the fall in Genesis. God creates human beings as male and female. He creates them to be in communion. Satan attacks that communion and seeks to break it down.

 

The second reason for this assault is because it is the means by which new life is brought into the world and can develop to the greatest perfection. This developing “to the greatest perfection” is a part of creation and redemption. We are made in the Image and Likeness of God and so we seek through Grace to become like the Creator. This does not occur through our own power, but through the Lord’s pure gift.

 

Returning to the earlier quote from Paragraph 11 of Pacem in Terris “Man has the right to live…”. New life is brought into the world through the family. No matter how dysfunctional the family might be. We still need a father and a mother. We still need a sperm and an egg. No matter what science is able to manipulate it will never be able to create life without those basic building blocks of life which man did not create himself. Also in Pacem in Terris #11 St John XXIII states, man has the right “to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life” This is expressed in the St Raymond prayer as “developed to the greatest perfection.”

 

This attack has become more obvious in recent times. Listen to these Chilling words from Supreme Court Justice RuthBader Ginsburg in a New York Times interview in 2009 “Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion." Again…populations that we don’t want to many of…this is frightening!

 

This despising of this basic unit of Christian civilization has even infiltrated Catholic institutions. Professor John McAdams of Marquette University described on his blog a classroom situation where a junior faculty member shut down a student who wanted to discuss his opposition to same-sex marriage, because she considered it an unacceptable topic in her ethics class. She stated that this would be on par with a discussion which favored racism or sexism. Such a discussion would offend any gay students in the class. This women felt that speaking in opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption were homophobic. So to give support in a Catholic university for the most ancient institution created by God is on par with racism, sexism, or homophobia. Professor McAdams supported the student’s right to expressing the Church’s teaching in the classroom which is a free speech zone. The University responded by suspending McAdams and attempting to revoke his tenure. These is just a few accounts, but there are many other examples of how many segments of society are despising the Natural law and Divine Revelations concept of marriage.


Line 3: In suicidal fury they seek to deal it a mortal blow. Let them not succeed, Lord, in their destructive designs on the Christian family.

 

The end goal is not just to have many different types of families, but to eliminate it altogether. Just like we have a variety of lentil soup here present (many parishioners brought lentil soup). If we were to keep changing the recipe. Say eventually we leave out the lentils entirely. In time, it would cease to be the same soup. We would not be able to rightly call it Lentil Soup. Just so if we keep changing what constitutes family, marriage, and/or sexuality we will eventually no longer have anything which resembles these things.

 

I was looking to find out how many genders are recognized today. I had heard that some groups recognized as many as 14 or 15 different genders. I came across the Gender Equality Resource a Cal Community Center (http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms.) Almost 85 different definitions relating to the different genders and their lifestyles. It has gotten so complex that we need a “definition of terms”.


The prayer says “in suicidal fury”. This is a strong word. The family as it exists by Natural Law as we have discussed is the building block of civilization. So to destroy the family actually ends up being the suicide of the civilization. I brought a book with me: Civilizing Sex: On Chastity and the Common Good by Patrick Riley. Riley offers wonderful historical and philosophical presentation that marriage and marital fidelity are necessary preservatives for every society. And they are indispensable means of rescuing our own society.

 

In addition, Riley demonstrates that marriage actually built society.In creating a family and giving stability, marriage provides civil society with its primary cell. Riley demonstrations this through history. The great civilizations such as the Israelites, Canaanites, Greeks, Roman Empire, and Middle Ages all eventually fell. Their fall was proceeded by a breakdown in chastity. And it was only in a return to martial chastity, first through the Israelites and later with Christianity, that the civilization began to flourish or grow once again. Greater self-indulgence leads to the rejection of children leading to a society that does not reproduce itself.

 

It is not an exaggeration to say that the fight for marriage and the defense of the family is really a fight for the life of our very civilization. Our current society in attacking the family and redefining the family/sexuality…our society is committing suicide. While western civilization destroys itself, Islamic Jihadists (ISIS) are “licking the chops” because we are making their job much easier.


Mercedarian Redemptive mission in the United States:

 

The Mercedarian Order was founded to ransom Christians who were in danger of losing their faith These Christians were taken captive by Muslims in the 13th Century and being pressured or even forced to convert to Islam. This was the original form of “captivity” that the Order was founded to free Christians from.

 

Throughout its history, the Order always looks for new forms of captivity as the object of its redemptive mission. In looking for new forms of captivity, the Order in her modern Constitutions had developed four criteria for the new forms of captivity which endangers people’s faith. These forms of captivity constitute the proper field to exercise our 4th Vow (being willing to offer our lives for those endanger of losing their faith). They “occur where there is a social situation which contains the following conditions: i. It is oppressive and degrading to the human being, ii. It springs from principles and systems opposed to the Gospel, iii. It puts the faith of Christians in danger, iv. It offers the possibility of helping, visiting, and redeeming people who are in such situations (CO 16).”

 

With this prayer to St Raymond Nonnatus which the Mercedarians have been praying for over 60 years and looking at our cultural situation today, the friars over the last decade have recognized this “attack on the family” as fitting all four of these criteria for what constitutes the proper object of the redemptive mission. The attack on the family is oppressive and degrading to the human person. In fact, it is a denial of who we even are as human persons. And it is born from principles and systems opposed to the Gospel. It has put the faith of Christians in danger through persecution: labeling of Christian belief as “hate speech”. We certainly have that possibility of helping, visiting, and redeeming families since we deal with them every day in our apostolates. The Mercedarians in the United States are working on making this redeeming and freeing families as the centerpiece of our apostolate or work in this country.

 

We haven’t been able to complete the whole prayer, but just from the first few lines we see how profound and prophetic it is. Maybe in the future we can conclude this detailed analyses of this prophetic prayer for marriage and family life.

 

The Life of St Raymond Nonnatus Video

Wiki St Raymond Nonnatus

Reflection in Preparation for the World Meeting of Families

Father Scottston Brentwood - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The following is a summary of a talk given by Dr. Jonathan Reyes to the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on October 4, 2014. It is hoped that the essence of Dr Reyes’ inspiring words are captured accurately.

Archbishop Chaput introduces Dr Jonathan Reyes as the primary speaker for this workshop intended to kick off the clergy’s preparations for the World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia September 21st -25th 2015.  Dr Reyes is one of the founding members of FOCUS or Fellowship of Catholic University Students. When the Archbishop was the Ordinary of Denver, CO, he first got to know Dr Reyes. At this time he was the president of Augustine Institute. Recognizing Dr Reyes’s skills and leadership, the Archbishop appointed him as the Director Catholic Charities in Archdiocese of Denver. Currently, our speaker holds the very important position as the director of the Office of Peace and Development for USCCB.

Dr Reyes introduces himself candidly admitting that he was a bit apprehensive about speaking to a room full of priests. However, he will take the same position as C. S. Lewis who on May 11th 1959 spoke before Anglican clergy and proclaimed, “I am a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them. And now I begin my bleating.”

Dr Reyes’ talk will have 3 parts: 1st the history of family life & challenges, 2nd the ordering of family life in way that helps us deal with these challenges, & 3rd  speaking as sheep to shepherd (as a dad telling us the clergy what fathers need to hear or know).

 

On July 27, 2013, Pope Francis gave an address to the Bishops of Brazil in which he stated, “Ours is not an age of change, but a change of age. “ Dr Reyes emphasis that we are in an age fundamentally different from centuries past. Other authors have expounded on this supposition. In the last two centuries, the human race has experienced a change greater than any in its history.

 

Christendom to Post-Christendom

 

To understand this we must go back into the history of Christendom. Christendom can be described as a period of time when society and what guided social life came from the Church. For example in Medieval France there was a law which stated that if anyone who was seriously ill went for 10 days without anointing of sick then could not receive a Christian burial. The assumption was that no person would be so clueless or foolish in such a Christian society as to go for 10 days without the Sacrament?

 

In Europe, we begin to enter post-Christendom with the French Revolution. It was more than just a power struggle or desire for democracy. There was truly an anthropological revolution going on. The ideas and concepts were brought in by the Revolution, which fundamentally changed society. The most important of these was that God no longer had much to do with human affairs. Basically, the premise was that God created the world, but then “stepped back” to allow science and reason to govern creation. Another aspect of this was the belief that man didn’t have Original Sin or the tendency toward sin.  With education and time, human beings could overcome their weaknesses and “get things right”.

 

In the United States of America things were a little different. We could have described the nation as a Protestant country. Most of the cultural norms and modes of thinking were grounded in a deeply Protestant worldview. In the States, the bible was universally accepted as Divine Revelation or at least an authoritative document. Even in the Civil War, commonly regarded as the nation’s bloodiest and most divisive battle, both sides justified their position from biblical quotes. Yes, the nation remained primarily Christian long after Europe’s substantial break with Christendom.

 

Things would remain the same in the United States until the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s. Nearly, 160 years after the French revolution, Christendom began to break apart in the nation and the Post-Christendom period began. Christian ideals were replaced with the same secular humanist concepts of the French Revolution. Divine Providence was not seen as governing all of creation. Sin could be eradicated.

At this time, Dr Reyes took a closer look at the history of Catholicism in the United States. From the beginning of the nation, Catholics were a minority group which was marginalized. This would continue until World War II. After the War, Catholics stepped into the mainstream for the first time. Many Catholic men returned from the War to take advantage of the GI Bill. They became the first members of their family to receive a college education. Ironically, Catholic were stepping into culture right at moment of a profound cultural revolution. Despite this we can say that for 30 to 40 years Catholicism and the Nation got along very well.

 

What was seen as revolutionary thought in the 1960’s was really practical relativism. Everyone on their own is free to make up their own norms. Culture grows around assumptions, which become norms. This has happened in the Post-Christendom era as the society has embrace practical relativism as the norm. This effects the family profoundly. Today faithful Christian families do not have confidence that their children will go to school and get the Judeo-Christian worldview. This problem goes very deep, because we cannot trust culture to support the family as before the “revolution”. Christendom had its disadvantages, but the advantage was that parents could trust that they were supported by the culture.

 

Building a Culture in the Family

 

Dr Reyes explains that parents must be proactive rather than reactive. The parents today must be intentionally building a culture in their own families that is different than the one around them. Dr Reyes uses the Religious Life as an example. Each community has a “rule of life” which they follow. The presumption is in each institute that if you follow this life you will grow closer to God. “You build the life and it builds you.” Parenting must be thinking about what kind of cultural life can I build within the family?

What would such a life look like? Dr Reyes offers several life principles to go by. He does so by presenting five challenges and five things (goods) we can order family life to.

 

1) The first challenge is that the modern culture is ordered to fragment or to break up relationships. Individualism is a foundational value in the United States. However, in reality it is bad for relationships. Individualism permeates the culture in such profound ways. It can be found in our language and daily experience. One of these ways is through consumerism. The person is told that they are a consumer who has certain resources. This orders us to think more in terms of the individual than the community. Social Media only adds to this individualism by encouraging superficial relationships. The response to this is that we need to build family lives ordered to solidarity. Parents must find ways of being and speech in the family culture which are ordered to solidarity or communion.

 

2) The second challenge is that the current culture undermines all authority. Just look at the movie “Back to the Future”. In this famous movie, all the adults are idiots and children save the universe. What is constantly being spread is the primacy of the child and foolishness of the adults. This is an attack on authority at its heart. The God given authority of a father and mother are under attack today. Men and women need to recognize that they are the parents given authority by God. A culture must be created in the family which promotes a healthy honoring of authority.

 

3) The third challenge is the comfort culture. Our cars are made with heated seats and all kinds of things to make the driver comfortable. This is true of so many things in the United States. In general everything is ordered to our comfort. We as citizens begin to expect to be comfortable all the time. No suffering and no disappointments should happen to us. We become selfish and soft. Instead, the family must be ordered to the love of Christ through mortification and discipline. Parents must find some way to create a culture in the home which recognizes the value of sacrificing for God and others.

 

4) The fourth challenge is a massive confusion of where the human person comes from and who we are. There is no understanding of the dignity of the human person and the universal call to holiness. Dr. Reyes suggests that we go back to the Aristotelian/Scholastic notions of the person. Actions produce habits. Habits produce character. Character leads to true happiness. Vices can be overcome and virtue can become easier to achieve.

 

5) The fifth challenge is that in our current culture the unseen is not real. We are taught by the culture that the only thing that matters is what we feel, smell, and/or touch. Anything that is unseen is not real. To combat this a family must order there life around what is unseen (spiritual realities). This can be done by the way we talk in the home. An example of this would be simply telling a child that they are not alone because Jesus is present as well as the angels and Saints.

 

Finally, Dr Reyes adds a thought about the media. Technology has access to shape public opinion. Parents must understand that their children are being influenced by hundreds of people through technology and social media. This is a big change. Fifty years ago if someone wanted access to a children they first must go through the parents. Now many people have direct access to our children. With this in mind, we must order the use of media in the family. Dr Reyes’ personal opinion is to get media out of your life to the extent that you can.

There are 3 things that a family must do: 1) Pray as family, 2) Tithe (give away 10 percent to God) & 3) Honor the Lord’s Day.

 

How to inspire fathers to leadership

 

The third part of Dr. Reyes’ talk focused on what priests can do to be supportive and helpful to families. Number one is to make it known that fathers have an obligation of spiritual leadership. The priest could say, “I, as a father of a family (the parish), have a certain obligation to care for my family in a spiritual way.” “You too have this vocation to spiritual fatherhood.”

 

Men must be called forth by the priest. The pastor goes to the man and invites him to real responsibilities. He speaks to the father of their call to spiritual leadership within the family.

It is important to remember to encourage community for men. Fathers do well when they have others men to support them in their vocation. When we want men to do something apostolic we must find lay leaders to bring the men together. Men need friends to call them to action and accountability. They need to know that they have an obligation to build-up family life together. In the parish Men’s movements are good, but they have a short shelf life. The key is the parish community which will endure.

 

In our current culture, it is important to avoid the temptation to a mindset of “scarcity and discouragement”. We can look at the current struggles as Catholic’s in society from a very negative perspective. Church used to have… Things were so much better when…. This train of thought leads only to a temptation to discouragement. We are left just grasping at the past trying to hold onto it as long as we can. Over it 2000 year history, the Church has faced these sort of struggles before. Her response has always been apostolic. To go forth and confront the culture with the Good News of the Gospel!

 

Dr Reyes gave some references:

Statistics on the effect of broken families-- Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia

Catholic programs for men: “That man is you!” program &“The Kings Men”


Dr Reyes and USCCB

World Meeting of Family Philly


 

 

 

Patron of Expectant Mothers and Families: St. Raymond Nonnatus

Father Scottston Brentwood - Thursday, May 15, 2014

Much heated debate today is on the family. This only makes sense because healthy families are the foundation of any just society. During a press conference held in Philadelphia, USA Vatican officials announced the theme for the 2015 World Day of Families, which will center on humanity's universal vocation to love. It will be 'Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.'" The Mercedarian embrace this theme since so many families are in danger of losing the faith. We offer this reflection on the Patron Saint of Christian Families:

Nearly all women hope for the safe delivery of the child in the womb. And some couples have difficulty conceiving a child, and earnestly pray that God may grant them this wonderful gift.

It’s helpful to know that the patron saint of safe and healthy deliveries is a man who himself was born in a most unusual way.

St. Raymond Nonnatus came into this world about the year 1200 in the rugged Spanish region of Segarra. For many years, Raymond’s parents waited for a child to come. Raymond’s mother made a pilgrimage to the St. Nicholas' hermitage in the area with that intention.

She finally became pregnant. But near the end of her pregnancy, she became gravely ill and died. The life of Raymond, still in the womb, was saved by the Viscount of Cardona, who used his dagger to cut open the womb and lift Raymond out. This event earned Raymond the name “Nonnatus,” Latin for “not born.”

Like many saints, the call to holiness manifested itself to St. Raymond during his childhood. His education came from the priests, and often Raymond would visit St. Nicholas' hermitage, drawn to the peace of the monastic cells.

While the Holy Spirit pulled Raymond toward religious life, his father distracted him from this calling. The devil also coordinated attacks to tempt and distract him, but by the protection of the Virgin Mary, the young man persevered.

As a youth, Raymond met the friars of the Mercedarian Order, who inhabited the St. Nicholas Chapel and surrounding buildings. The Order of Mercy, founded by St. Peter Nolasco in 1218, went about collecting alms to be used for the redemption of Christian captives.

To these friars, Raymond revealed his secret — and that was, inspired by the Virgin Mary, he had made a vow of perpetual virginity, and wished to join her Order — the Order of Mercy. Raymond’s father was reluctant about his 21-year-old son’s joining the order. Yet, Raymond’s godfather, the Viscount, convinced him to change his mind. Thus, Raymond donned the white robe of the Mercedarians.

Mature beyond his years in virtue, Raymond soon made his profession and was recommended by the prior to continue his studies and apply for priestly ordination.

The pious Raymond Nonnatus was chosen by the Master General of the Order of Mercy for the sacrificial role of redeeming Christians who had been captured by the Moors. Imprisoned under terrible conditions, the Christians would often be offered freedom if they denounced Christ and followed the religion of Islam.

The special charism of the Mercedarian Order was to ransom these Christians who were in serious danger of losing their faith. Raymond's first rescue mission took place in 1224, in Valencia, Spain. Two hundred and thirty-three Christian captives were ransomed from the Moors. Next was the Moorish city of Algiers, where the Mercedarians ransomed 140 more captives. Over the next several years, Raymond and his companions made two more redemptions, rescuing another 378 Christians.

The final redemptive mission took place in Algiers in 1236. With all the ransom money spent, St. Raymond offered to stay behind as a hostage with the remaining Christian captives. Along with ministering to the prisoners, he preached to the Muslim guards, condemning the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.

So enraged were they that the Moors put an iron padlock through his lips, and he endured this for eight months before returning to Spain.

Not long after, Pope Gregory IX appointed Raymond a Cardinal.

Nearing the age of forty, St. Raymond became gravely ill at the Cardona Castle. Realizing he was dying without a priest, Raymond prayed desperately for Viaticum – the final reception of the Eucharist. It is written that Christ himself appeared in a vision, and after receiving the Eucharist, Raymond's soul was taken home.

His Order sought to bury him in a nearby cemetery of the Order, while the residents of both the castle and local parish wanted the honor of keeping the saint's remains at the St. Nicholas hermitage. To settle their claims, the disputing parties agreed to place the Saint's body on a blind mule, which would lead the body to the place of its burial. The animal plodded along for a long while, straight to the Saint Nicholas hermitage!

Why is this 13th century saint relevant today? St. Raymond is not only recognized as the patron saint of pregnant women, but of infertile couples, families seeking holiness, and travelers. With today's difficulties and threats against the family, his intercession is particularly powerful – and needed!

If you would like to pray to St. Raymond, get the St. Raymond Nonnatus Kit, which includes blessed St. Raymond water, a blessed candle, a brochure, and other items. It is available from the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.

 www.MercySacramentals.org

World Meeting on Families Philadelphia

More on St Raymond

 


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