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10/11/2002
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Family life ministers address challenges
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

1011murray.jpg
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray, director of the Office for Pastoral Liturgy in Cleveland, spoke at the National Association of Catholic Family Life Minister's conference Oct. 2-5 in Kansas City.
KANSAS CITY - The challenges facing family life were summed up in the list of workshops during the National Association of Catholic Family Life Minister's 22nd annual conference Oct. 2-5 in Kansas City:

  • "Building Bridges: A Remarriage Program."
  • "Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends."
  • "When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence."
  • "Reach Out and Touch: How to Minister to the Grieving."
  • "Protecting God's Children," the bishops' national program to prevent child abuse.
Never has the nation needed Catholic ministers to families more than it does now, keynote speakers told the 200 lay ministers who came to the nation's heartland.

"You witness to the presence of God's love in the world," said Savannah, Ga., Bishop J. Kevin Boland, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life, in brief remarks Oct. 2 to open the conference.

"You are an instrument of the God of the possible," said the Irish-born bishop, brother of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Raymond J. Boland. "You are an instrument of all God has offered us. You have a difficult calling. Because it is difficult doesn't mean it isn't enriching."

Picking up the conference theme, "Rhythms of the Heart," Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray, director of the Office for Pastoral Liturgy in Cleveland, told the lay ministers that he was going to change the rhythm of the conference.

Father Murray then launched into a fast-paced keynote address, punctuated by song and weaving quotations from such thinkers as Cornell West, Maya Angelou, Tom Beaudoin, and the Rev. James Perkins.

"These are not easy times we live in," Father Murray said, as he recounted sins of the modern world, including drugs, depression, stress, child pornography, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and racial profiling.

He called on the ministers not to mourn, but to celebrate with poet Lucille Clifton who wrote: "Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed."

"Evil has wanted to kill us," Father Murray said. "Evil stalks us on our jobs, and in our marriages, and has even tried to turn our children against us. But we have survived."

Humanity survives because God's love has willed it to survive, Father Murray said.

"The cross of Christ is life and it is love," he said. "We are alive because he died in love. Because of his death, we are able to tell the whole world we are free at last."

There is much to mourn, the priest said, but much to celebrate. Father Murray called on the ministers to celebrate their own racial and cultural diversity, and that of the entire universal church, that is still drawn to unity in Christ.

"There are people here you wouldn't have lunch with if your life depended on it," he said. "Yet the spirit of Christ drew us here and made us one." Eileen Raffaniello-Barbella, opening the conference's second day, told the family ministers to think of marriage as a monastery, secluding its members from "all kinds of demands that pull at us."

"The monastery of marriage preserves the center - the center of each of us and the center of our marriage," said Raffaniello-Barbella.

Speaking of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the sex abuse scandal that has embroiled the Church throughout this year, she said, "The 21st century has not gotten off to a very good start."

But rather than shrink away, Catholics should be grateful, Raffaniello-Barbella said.

"What can we be grateful for? For acknowledging that there is sin," she said. "We needed to be reminded of the reality of it. Only by facing the reality of sin and death can we be open to hope and resurrection."

Raffaniello-Barbella told the family ministers that they don't have a mission. The mission has them.

"The call to holiness that comes from baptism, that is the mission that has us," she said.

She noted that the sacraments of service to the church - Matrimony and Holy Orders - are both in decline and it is no coincidence.

Both sacraments require personal sacrifice, and both demand a choice for life, she said.

"Sacrifice is another word for love. Sacrifice is another word for truth," Raffaniello-Barbella said.

"If we are going to invite people to live fully, we must invite people to be their own best selves, and live out their baptismal calls in a sacrament of friendship and fidelity," she said.

Fidelity in marriage, Raffaniello-Barbella said, is not only about sexual monogamy, but about spiritual fidelity "in which each I promise to be the best person I can be and create the space to allow my spouse to be the best person he can be."

Marriage isn't easy, she said, "It's bloody, it's dirty, it's hard work."

But, she said, "I am here to witness to the fact that marriage is wonderful. I am talking about the happiness that comes from responding to God's call."

END


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