Last week, I had the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist at the North American Western conference of Couples for Christ--perhaps the largest group to whom I have ever preached! The homily follows...
There was a time, not so long ago, when culture was a primary means for handing on the Catholic faith.
Unlike many of those attending this gathering of Couples for Christ, I was not born into a predominantly Catholic culture, but Canada was a Christian nation, for the most part its laws and customs were derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. At the same time, there was a strong Catholic subculture in society, strengthened in part by the Catholic culture of the province of Québec.
I am not telling you anything you don't know when I say that the transmission of faith by culture is virtually extinct in this country. Even within Catholic homes and schools, the drumbeat of social consensus, expressed through the news and entertainment media, dominates the hearts and minds of the young.
I will not go so far as to say that the culture of death has triumphed in this nation, but it is certain that nothing resembling a Christian culture helps us transmit the faith today in Canada.
How then are we to pass on the faith, unaided by culture? How do we adapt to a changing reality – we who have been accustomed to the support of social consensus, moral laws, and the presence in our neighborhoods of many lively non-Catholic Christian communities?
Where do we start in a post-Christian culture?
One answer, perhaps the most obvious answer, emerges clearly from our first reading: the family.
In the face of famine, Jacob is taking his family away from the Promised Land and moving to Egypt. Egypt is precisely the anti-culture of the Chosen People, as we will see when we finish reading Genesis and open the Book of Exodus. Jacob—or Israel as he is now called—has established his family in a foreign culture, with values far from those of the God of his people.
How does Jacob respond to God’s invitation to go down to Egypt? Through the family—“the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him.”
They entered Egypt, “Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.”
That small community kept Israel’s faith alive without help from the society in which it was placed until—as we read in the Book of Exodus—the society turned against it.
How does the plan of God continue to unfold? Not through culture—through the family.
Today’s Gospel reminds us, though, that the family, like culture, is not immune from the effects of sin. Sin has its effects in society, and sin has its effects in the family. God offers no guarantees, and the family can be a place of conflict and division—even a place where faith becomes a cause of division.
I don’t need to keep you from dinner by listing the signs of the decline of Western culture or the signs of weakness in the modern family. They are all too familiar, and they are not unrelated. But even our best efforts cannot transform society immediately; thus we must turn our attention squarely to our families and to the tasks of inoculating our children against the viruses of the culture of death.
When I was young, the basics of Christian morality could be assumed. Now the young must be convinced of virtually every point of even the natural law.
Faithful attendance at Sunday Mass, sending the kids to Catholic schools and the parish youth group were enough to produce, in most families, children who believed and practiced their faith. Today this is a formula for failure.
Now, we must defend our families like shepherds facing down wolves, like convicts in the dock speaking the truth to the powers and principalities.
Now we must, in a word, do more of exactly what you are doing in Couples for Christ. You do not, in this movement, live a “business as usual” Catholicism. You have risen up in defense of the family, taking seriously the challenges of renewing and restoring the family according to the plan of Christ.
Couples for Christ responds courageously to Blessed John Paul’s call, made in his stirring exhortation on the family in the modern world, to live fully according by the Gospel and the faith of the Church, to form consciences according to Christian values and not according to the standards of public opinion and to make your families a true source of light and a leaven for other families (Familaris Consortio72).
The trip to Egypt was easier for Jacob than the Exodus was for Moses. But both journeys were in response to God’s direction and plan. Let us never give up our efforts to restore and renew society; but let us begin at home—with parents, sons and daughters, and the daughters and sons of our sons and daughters.
Let us not be afraid of this modern Egypt in which we live, because God himself has brought us here, and he will yet bring us where he wants us to go.