This workshop was led by Francine and Byron Pirola, directors of the Marriage Resource Centre. For 28 years they have been married, and have been blessed with 5 children and an international ministry.
You can follow them under Smart Loving MRC on Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you for coming to this workshop. Why did you choose us?
•We want more for the families doing baptismal preparation, to help plug them into parish life
•We belong to Teams of Our Lady, and are looking for more input
•The topic of the Joy of Love was enough to get me here
•I have a young family, and I'm feeling alone
•Our parish has lots of young families
•Family is the domestic church, so family is crucial
•I'm looking for tips on how to help 3 adults in my life to choose Jesus
•I want to know how to improve on 42 years of marriage
•I want to find out how to engage the families who only seem to show up for sacraments and are never seen again.
In this workshop we'd like to achieve 3 things:
•Give you a fresh mindset for family and parish
•Reflect on Pope Francis' post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia
•Get practical with ideas for what you can actually do in a parish
Family as a force for Evangelisation
Gifts vs Needs.
We can choose to see the families in our parishes as gifts and resources, and not as consumers of resources. The charity model breeds dependency and encourages people to say, 'What's in it for me?'. We have grown up seeing ourselves as consumers, rather than seeing ourselves as co-responsible for the mission of the Church.
'What's in it for me?' thinking actually encourages criticism and comparative evaluation. We can't win that kind of competition. The lure of the beach or the sleep-in eventually wins out.
We need to see families as agents for evangelisation. This requires lay leadership. Inspired by priests, supported by religious, - but done by laity. For this shift in thinking to happen, we have to start searching for the gifts.
Families evangelise in the ordinary
•They disciple their children, and pass on the faith to them
•They disciple the friends of their children, and the families they come from
•They give hospitality and welcome
Our family homes contain the expression of our faith as the domestic church. Somehow we seem to have forgotten the impact of opening up our homes and have got into the thinking that our homes are not good enough and that everything has to take place in parish meeting rooms. Why is it that we seem to have lost the art of hospitality? Let's start seeing our homes once more as places for evangelisation.
When we go to a zoo, we see the giraffes and lions in artificial environments. It is only when you go on safari that you get to see them in their natural environments. The way we experience those animals and the way we relate to them in those environments is completely different. In the same way, a parish meeting room or gathering area is an artificial environment for experiencing and relating to family life.
In our homes, every day, there are at least a dozen evangelising opportunities: tradesmen, postman, passers-by while gardening, children, relatives, phone calls etc.
A friend of ours who believes in the sacrament of marriage has a dream. He'd like to stand at the door of the church on Sunday mornings and ask each married couple how they would rate their passion for each other on a scale of 0 to 10. For anything less than an 8, he would send them home to the bedroom to work things out – so they could come back and celebrate Eucharist properly.
With happily married couples in our pews, our churches would be full with the people who want what they can see we have in the joys of married love.
Our primary evangelising unit is the family.
When we go to Mass we sit together, we go up to Communion together, and we are warm and responsive to each other. Just doing this makes us witnesses to God's love in a gentle natural way.
However we do have to stop and remember what we are about. We have to make real choices. I can choose to pick at the faults of my wife every day OR I can be surprised that this wonderful woman is still with me.
The families in our pews are the biggest gift we have.
Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis
What an extraordinary document! It is not a hard read, but it is a long read.
Pope Francis uses two images of the Church. The first is the Light on the Hill, where truth is emphasised: teaching, doctrine, vision, ideals for holy living. The second is the Field Hospital, where hope is emphasised. A Church that ministers to the wounded, and accompanies them, and embraces the process of gradualism (it will take many steps in the right direction, but we'll take it one step at a time). Imperfect love is still valuable. A field hospital deals with the reality of life as it is.
There is a gap between our ideals (Light on the Hill) and the reality (Field Hospital). There is a gap between teaching and practice. What are our options?
•Change the teaching? No
•Shout it louder? Make it clearer? No
•A third way, according to the call of Pope Francis.
Archbishop Prowse uses the analogy between referee and coach.
Referee: defines the rules, pulls up players when the rules are broken.
Coach: encourages and supports, seeks to help players improve performance.
We need BOTH.
Anyone who has raised a child - is a skilled evangelist.
That's because they understand that there is a process: Just as there are stages in teaching a child how to cross a road safely there are stages in bringing someone into full relationship with Jesus: 1) Don't cross the road 2) Look right, look left 3) Be careful 4) Go for it. The process works because we take them on a journey, and we share our life with them.
If we really understood the Eucharist, we would crawl on our knees in unworthiness. Yet so many of us look at the Eucharist with the wrong lenses: 'It is a right. I've earned it.' We are worried sick about those who do not understand, but we choose to love them and work with them.
When you hear a homily at Mass on Sunday, are you listening with the ears of criticism or with ears open to being challenged?
Back in the Parish: Practical Tips
It is time to see more married leadership in the Church. It will be good for the couples, and good for the Church because it will utilise the charisms of marriage that don't burn out.
We have to see marriages as evangelising opportunities.
Go looking for the sacramental charisms that come from the sacrament of marriage, and that become operative when the couple is ministering as a couple.
It is no longer the case that just showing up is the right qualification for any kind of ministry.
The gift of charisms is part and parcel of the sacrament of marriage. There is the inner dimension for the couple, and the outer dimension for the Church. The graces are given not just for us as a couple, but for the whole Church as well.
How many married couples are on your parish council? How often do we put individuals into roles of service and not the married couple he or she is part of? It happens because we don't think of the married couple as an evangelising unit. Their sacramental witness of their married love is what makes them God-like – because there the power of the Holy Spirit is active.
When we do things from our own skills and strengths, we burn out. However, if we minister from spiritual and sacramental charisms, we don't burn out.
When we are together, we are nicer together. We pull each other up gently and effectively. For example, if a wife is present at a meeting with her husband, and he is beginning to ramble, by a gesture she can get that message through and acted upon - before the others at the meeting get restless. We are much better people together than individually.
How to find them
Pick busy people, because they are natural leaders. Look for couples that radiate energy, joy and love. Affirm them. Tell these couples that you need them, and why you chose them. 'You have a gift. We need you'.
Don't ask for volunteers. If you do that you won't get the best, you will get people with spare time.
Seek people who are joy-filled. Don't get old grumpy-pants.
Think about picking married couples to lead ministries.
When faced with a choice between couples with the sacramental impact of holiness or couples with secular skills, go for the ones with holiness. You want the ones that make you say, 'They are great to be around', not the ones who make you say, 'I'm so glad I'm not like them'.
Marriage Mission Team
Every parish should have a Marriage Mission Team, who can plan, build and grow the marriage mission.
To begin with you need at least 2 married couples in each parish. No committees and no reports are required. What are needed are eyes that are out and about seeking talent in other married couples: Couples that can recruit other couples as parish mentors for younger couples, and who will continue to affirm and support the recruited couples.
Initiatives can be added. Events for anniversaries, Valentine's Day, Blessings for the Engaged (we need to celebrate them and pray for them).
On average couples spend 30 seconds a day in personal intimate conversation. Aim for 4 minutes a day. The biggest impact is from 0-10% not from 90-100%.
Tell your families in the parish how stunning they are. Tell them.
The best most dramatic results come from marriage preparation that is married couple community based. The resources are there, not just in the couples already in your parish but also the very good married couple community based programs that are available to help them.
Affirm your married couples in their greatness.
Smart Loving is the result of 20 years of work developing parish based marriage preparation courses. This couple to couple mentoring program is now available in an online version, accessible cheaply and easily. The programs for both the engaged and the married are successful in helping them as couples and in engaging them in parish life.
50% of separations happen in the first 5 years of marriage. That's why a safety net for the newly married in their home communities is so desperately needed. Marriage Mission Teams and Smart Loving programs are ways to provide this.
A question was asked about how to deal with the battle of weekend sport and keeping the family unit together for Sunday Mass. The answer was to start small. It really helps finding another family, and working out which Mass both families could go to together.
This was an eye-opening workshop.
So what are the charisms of marriage, and what should we be looking for?
"Some people have an extraordinary gift of making people feel welcome, at home, and loved. When I was a seminarian, a Catholic family welcomed me and several others from the seminary into their home for fellowship and relaxation each Friday evening. The experience of their home had a significant effect on my life. They welcomed us as if we were Christ and we were all built up in the Spirit as a result. Hospitality flowed from their charism of marriage (see 1 Cor. 7:7) which they regularly nourished and exercised. It was the first time I saw married life with Christ as the centre, lived out as a prophetic sign. Their life together was so radical and open to others that on feast days they could sometimes have up to 22 people around the table basking in the warmth of their home." Marcellino D’Ambrosio 11 May 2016
Unity: The gift of being one in mind, heart and body.
Procreation: The gift of welcoming new life.
Reconciliation: The gift of restoring relationship.
Hospitality: The gift of welcome and belonging.
Nurture: The gift of care and education.
Fidelity: The gift of faithful dedication.
Generosity: The gift of sharing without reserve.
Mercy: The gift of forgiveness.
Friendship: The gift of companionship and encouragement.
And it might look like this: (from the same link given above)
Sarah and Henry are passionately committed to growing deeper in intimacy. Following prostrate surgery that left Henry impotent, they persisted in seeking new ways to express their unity. Their joyfulness is contagious.
Michelle and Mark have four children. Their home is an open door for the parish youth who are often found at the family table talking to Michelle and Mark about important life decisions.
John and Barbara are the focal point of their parish community, welcoming people each Sunday by name and serving refreshments afterwards. They are often the first ones people call when there is a pastoral crisis.
But there definitely isn't enough research around into the ways that the Holy Spirit gifts married couples as married couples for the good of the Church. There must be other charisms of marriage that we have yet to discover because we haven't been looking for them, calling them forth and celebrating them.
I do think they are right, and that the time has come to treasure the couples living out the sacrament of marriage among us, to call them forth, and to help them to shine and put their married charisms at the service of the Church's mission to make disciples. They are our very best response to the crazy political ideologies of our day.
Our homes should be the hubs of where the evangelistic action is, with less reliance on the parish office and parish meeting rooms. Romans 12:13b 'You should make hospitality your special care', is a call from God through St Paul that we need to be more responsive to. It is something that I have been doing less of, and that needs to change.
What a difference it would make to the effectiveness of our parishes in bringing people to Jesus if we took seriously 'our primary evangelising unit is the family'!
Big positive changes would happen too if we kept on the lookout for people on whom the Holy Spirit is bestowing charisms (individuals and married couples) and encouraged them to use those special gifts for the good of others.
Marriage Mission teams sound like a very good, very workable and very fruitful idea to implement in parishes.
In the next issue will be notes from the keynote speech of Dr Susan Timoney on parish outreach to neighbourhoods.