Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Faith, the Family, the Future (Part One)

...So is the title of a bold new weekend conference which has just taken place at the All Saints Pastoral Centre in London Colney. Unfortunately we forgot to take our camera with us, and so were unable to take any photos of the beautiful location. Below is a linked photo from their website. The building itself was built in 1901 by Leonard Stokes as a convent for the All Saints sisters, with an adjoining chapel designed partially by Sir Ninian Comper completed in 1927. I noted the area designated as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was set up with Old Rite altar cards, but I was unable to ascertain the significance of these!

Accommodation for families and delegates was provided in the nearby SPEC centre, which is designed as a youth centre for the Archdiocese, in what must have been an adjoining house for the old convent. I am sorry not to have been able to share with you photos of all of this, but you can follow the links to find out more. Although these rooms weren't quite as well designed for adults, perhaps in subsequent years some rooms in the main Pastoral Centre building will be acquired. The SPEC centre did provide a welcome focus for the residential delegates to eat meals together and share company. It was also the location of lots of children's activities which ran alongside the main lecture programme. Under 7s enjoyed such fun as Catechism from the Sisters of the Community of St John, Saints Trail, Amazing Saints, and Music Workshop! There was also a programme for 7-12 and 13-18 year olds.

The main programme of lectures will have caught the attention of most delegates. Fr Roger Nesbitt gave a talk entitled "Re-Affirming the Family" which drew from material he presented at the 2008 Faith Summer Session. This focussed especially on the difference between the sexes, and the way that all this has been preordained by God to serve Christ, just as the whole of creation has.
He chose us before the foundation of the world... his purpose he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:3, 9-10

He then demonstrated that Marriage was originally conceived as a perfect, indissoluble union of Man and Woman, as outlined in the book of Genesis. This material I am familiar with from the little I have read from John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

The establishment of Marriage as a Sacrament of the Church followed Christ's words as recorded in St Matthew's Gospel (19:6) whereby he returns Marriage to its original dignity, following a period of corruption by Sin; throughout the Old Testament it is demonstrated that the original relationship between man and woman became threatened by discord, domination, jealousy and conflict. It is ultimately this pattern we have become accustomed to, as had the Jews at the time of Jesus who were familiar with Moses' teaching on divorce. The best way Marriage can be seen prefigured in the Old Testament is through God's nuptial covenant with his people Israel: a commitment of true fidelity. We then see in Jesus' early ministry his self-manifestation at the Wedding of Cana; Marriage thus becomes an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.
By coming to restore the original order of creation distrubed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1615

This talk therefore helped to introduce the divine purpose of this weekend's conference: to encourage Catholic families to grow in Faith and Love, confident that their chosen way of life is built upon and nourished by God Himself.

A fitting question from the audience asked Fr Nesbitt to address the popular suggestion (not least from among whole Bishop's Conferences) that the discipline of the Church should be relaxed upon those couples who have become remarried after the so-called 'death' of a previous marriage. Fr Nesbitt was adamant that he could not envisage a change in Magisterial teaching on this issue, simply because it is based on a faithfulness to Christ's specific teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. "For the Church to do so would lessen Her devotion to Christ." I thought this an important point to stress, since relationship breakdown is often the cause of antipathy towards the Church by Catholics. I feel that more needs to be done to encourage a positive and pious state for those who suffer a marriage breakdown. Instead, what often seems to happen is poor individuals feel themselves "damaged goods" and open up to any relationship which seemingly eases the pain of loss they feel.

I will continue with a commentary on another talk I attended; Fatherhood by Johannes Waldstein, and my own reflections on this topic. My congratulations to all those who were responsible for this endeavour, and everyone who helped make it possible. Our family benefited from the intellectual drive which is aimed at bringing about a Culture of Life amidst our often dark and hostile culture.

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