God’s Promise – I will be with you always
Couples for Christ National Conference
At this conference you have been celebrating 30 years of the presence of Couples for Christ in Australia. Thirty years! Congratulations!
I would like to reflect on God’s promise that He will be with us always, by considering what God is doing in raising up a movement like Couples for Christ. Belonging to Couples for Christ is not just participating with a good group of friends and carrying out good works. Couples for Christ is part of something bigger. Seeing this can inspire us be a real part of God’s promises.
What God has done in raising up Couples for Christ is part of a greater work of God across the Church, particularly in the years since the Second Vatican Council. In many ways, Couples for Christ is a fruit of the Second Vatican Council. We can say that Couples for Christ is a special grace for the Church. God is doing something new. The Second Vatican Council proposed a new mandate for the Church to find ways of being an effective presence of Christ in the contemporary world.
Couples for Christ is a manifestation of what the Church describes as the ‘new movements’. Some of these movements, or communities, in the Church embrace not only lay members but include members from different states of life – lay married or single, consecrated and priests. These are called ‘ecclesial movements’.
Living out our baptism
The document on the Church in the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, presented a renewed vision of the Church grounded in the dignity of each member by virtue of baptism. The document on the laity breathed new life into the opportunity for fuller participation in the mission of the Church. And the post-synodal document of Pope Paul VI on evangelisation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, gave fresh agenda to the Church to place evangelisation at the absolute heart of all the Church’s life and activity – “the Church exists in order to evangelise”.
This is now the context in which we can understand the identity and mission of Couples for Christ.
The ground upon which people from all states of life in the Church can become involved in an ecclesial movement is their common baptism. Indeed, we can say that the movements are simply the actualisation of baptismal grace. Pope John Paul II commented on this when he said, “Even in the diversity of their forms, these movements are marked by a common awareness of the ‘newness’ which baptismal grace brings to life, through a remarkable longing to reflect on the mystery of communion with Christ and with their brethren.”
Baptism is a sacrament that endows us with the Holy Spirit. Many in Couples for Christ have experienced a release of this gift through a personal experience of the Holy Spirit. The full power of the sacrament of baptism has been released in your lives. Is this true?
We know the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our faith has been transformed. We have a thirst to know the Lord. We have a new found love of the Sacred Scriptures. We have a fire lit within us to proclaim Christ to the world. Am I right?
Members of movements in effect live out the full reality of their Christian identity and calling. Again we refer to the words of Pope St John Paul II when he said, “Members of the Church who find themselves in associations and movements seek to live, under the impulse of the Spirit, the Word of God in their concrete lives. They do so by stimulating, with their witness, constantly renewed spiritual progress, by evangelically vivifying temporal realities and human values, and enriching the Church through an infinite and inexhaustible variety of initiatives in the realm of charity and holiness.” He commented that the movements “have helped you all to rediscover your baptismal vocation”. This is true for you, is it not?
You are living as full Christians. Your life in Couples for Christ continues to nurture you in faith. We cannot be Christians alone. We need one another. Being a member of Couples for Christ enables the flame of faith to be constantly renewed. This conference is igniting the flame afresh.
What is significant about participation in movements like Couples for Christ is that the Christian life of the members is not just partially involved, but their whole Christian life is engaged. Movements are more than associations where individuals contribute to a work or cause in the Church, they are rather a completely involving experience. Couples for Christ creates a total environment for the nourishing of our faith.
This is something wonderful that the Lord is doing in His Church in our days.
Couples for Christ represents one expression of a remarkable phenomenon in the Church – an expression of a special grace given to the Church in our time.
One could say that Couples for Christ represents a new era for the Church. In times past spiritual movements (and there have been many) gave rise to the emergence of new religious orders – the hermits of the desert in third and fourth centuries gave rise to monasticism, the pursuit of mendicant poverty in the twelfth century gave rise to the Franciscans and Dominicans, the counter-reformation zeal in the sixteenth century produced the Jesuits, and so on. But in our days strong spiritual movements have taken on a peculiarly lay expression which have embraced both consecrated and priestly vocations as well.
Pope John Paul II recognized this is his post-synodal document, Christifideles Laici, when he said,
The Council, in particular, with its rich doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral patrimony, has written as never before on the nature, dignity, spirituality, mission and responsibility of the lay faithful. And the Council Fathers, re-echoing the call of Christ, have summoned all the lay faithful, both women and men, to labour in the vineyard: “The Council, then, makes an earnest plea in the Lord’s name that all lay people give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment. Young people should feel that this call is directed to them in particular, and they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously. The Lord himself renews his invitation to all the lay faithful to come closer to him every day, and with the recognition that what is his is also their own (Phil 2:5) they ought to associate themselves with him in his saving mission. (Christifideles Laici n.2)
Recognition of the gift of the new movements
In May 1998 a World Congress of Ecclesial Movements took place in Rome. On May 30 (Pentecost Sunday) a meeting with the Pope took place in St Peter’s Square. The Square overflowed with people. Between 300,000 – 400,000 members from approximately 60 of these ecclesial movements were present. As the Pope said, “Today’s event is truly unprecedented: for the first time the movements and new ecclesial communities have all gathered together with the Pope.”
The Pope, speaking (on Pentecost Sunday) of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit prophesied by Joel, said, “You, present here, are the tangible proof of this ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit. Each movement is different from the others, but they are all united in the same communion and for the same mission.”
The Pope said that the movements “represent one of the most significant fruits of that springtime in the Church which was foretold by the Second Vatican Council”. He went on to add that the movements have “a very precise – we can say irreplaceable – function in the Church”. In his encyclical letter, Redemptoris Missio, 1990, the Pope saw the movements as “a true gift of God both for the new evangelisation and for missionary activity properly so-called”. He spoke of the movements as “a new Pentecost for the Church”.
Pope John Paul called on all those involved in the movements to an “ecclesial maturity”: “The Church expects from you the “mature” fruits of communion and commitment.” At the meeting the Pope expressed what he saw as vital: that the movements do not exist for themselves or even for their own very good and inspiring works. The movements are a grace given for the Church. The movements exist for the Church. And the sign of the maturity of the movements is that they are able to look beyond their immediate concerns towards the whole Church.
In the post-synodal exhoratation, Christifideles laici, Pope John Paul II explored what he called the “ecclesial criteria” of the movements. He provided a set of expectations as to how movements can be soundly in and with the Church. It is worth listening to his criteria to see how Couples for Christ measures up.
He listed five key criteria (“Criteria of Ecclesiality”):
- The primacy given to the call to holiness – the Pope recognised that movements must be instrumental in leading its members to holiness. There must be “a more intimate unity between the everyday life of its members and their faith”.
- A responsibility for professing the faith – here the Pope saw that authentic movements do not just teach the faith but enable their members to profess the faith.
- A witness to a strong and authentic filial communion with the Pope. The Pope is “the visible principle and foundation of unity”.
- Conformity to and participation in the Church’s apostolic goals. The movements are to be united with the missionary spirit of the Church.
- A commitment to a presence in human society. The Pope here is conscious that the movements need to have an awareness of contributing to the strengthening of human culture.
He concludes this consideration of the “Criteria of Ecclesiality” by saying:
The fundamental criteria mentioned at this time find their verification in the actual fruits that various group forms show in their organisational life and the works they perform, such as: the renewed appreciation for prayer, contemplation, liturgical and sacramental life, the reawakening of vocations to Christian marriage, the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; a readiness to participate in programmes and Church activities at the local, national and international levels; a commitment to catechesis and a capacity for teaching and forming Christians; a desire to be present as Christians in various settings of social life and the creation and awakening of charitable, cultural and spiritual works; the spirit of detachment and evangelical poverty leading to a greater generosity in charity towards all; conversion to the Christian life or the return to Church communion of those baptized members who have fallen away from the faith.
The Pope expects a lot of the movements! He clearly sees that the movements are for the renewal of the Church and for the development of the mission of the Church.
Your name and your special sense of mission highlights the importance of the movements in the Church having a goal of nourishing and promoting Christian family life. Marriage and family have been very weakened in our society. The Church has a special need to find ways to strengthen marriages and families as these of the bedrocks for human life and for the flourishing of society.
Your focus on marriage and family is a distinctive characteristic of your particular charism. I would like to offer some comments on the notion of charism.
A charism is as the word implies a gift, a gift for the Church. Thus, a charism is for the Church. The notion of charism which received special notice in the Constitution on the Church in Vatican II, is of vital significance when speaking of the movements. It proposes that movements are not merely human undertakings, but have a divine source, an inspiration, which is usually a pastoral or spiritual vision.
Pope St John Paul often referred to the complementary role of charism and institution. He saw them as “mutually complementary”. In his 1987 address to the movements he said,
In the Church, both the institutional and the charismatic aspects, both the hierarchy and association and movements of the faithful, are co-essential and share in fostering life, renewal and sanctification, though in different ways.
Pope John Paul addressed this phenomenon in these words,
In the Church’s history we have continually witnessed the phenomenon of more or less vast groups of the faithful, which, under a mysterious impulse of the Spirit, have been spontaneously moved to join together in pursuit of certain charitable or sanctifying ends. This has come about in relation to the particular needs of the Church in their day, and even involved collaboration in the Church’s essential and permanent mission.
What is important is that the forming of a movement is somehow a fruit of the impulse of the Spirit, with the free will of those who embrace the life of the movement.
It is important that any movement always consider what its particular charism is and test to see if it is remaining loyal to the charism that created it in the beginning.
In union with the Church
Movements can be composed of Catholics and have a Catholic identity but there is a danger that they can operate outside the structures of the Church.
Sometimes they can be elitist or be critical of the “ordinary” life of the Church. This can be a temptation at the beginning in the first flush of enthusiasm and discovery of their charism and life. Pope John Paul recognised this and particularly at the 1998 gathering of communities called for a new level of maturity by which the movements could come to a better sense of their place in the Church. He said, “Today a new stage is unfolding before you: that of ecclesial maturity…. the Church expects from you the ‘mature’ fruits of communion and commitments.” I believe Couples for Christ has shown this ecclesial maturity.
To bishops meeting one year later he said, “This journey requires of movements an ever stronger communion with the Pastors God has chosen and consecrated to gather and sanctify his people in the light of faith, hope and charity, because ‘no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastor of the Church’.” Again, Couples for Christ has always sought to be in close collaboration with the bishops and priests. For this I commend you.
The Lord is with you
My brothers and sisters in Couples for Christ, go forward in faith and hope and love. Live your calling in the community, be part of God’s plan for the Church of our time.
The Prophet Isaiah said (41:10),
So do not fear, for I am
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my right hand.
May Couples for Christ continue to be a place where men and women discover how to be true, faithful and fruitful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the strengthening of their own faith, and for the upbuilding of the Church.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, April 25, 2018