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:
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.