The Catholic Family on Mission
While my daughter Elisabeth was still with us – before the Lord called her home – we had a health visitor come to the house once a week, on account of my daughter’s health. After some weeks, the health visitor announced that if we still wanted her to come then we would have to pay for it directly, since the national insurance only covered the first few weeks of the visits. Seeing as we had all the help we needed, we said that we would not continue. The health visitor – let us call her Katherine – looked very disappointed with this. The next week, Katherine phoned and said that she had spoken to her boss and he had arranged that in our case “it was half price.” However, seeing as we really didn’t see the need for her visits, we declined their kind offer. She was clearly disappointed. The next week she simply turned up at the door and announced: “it’s free!”
Now, in our conversations with Katherine over the next year or so, it transpired that she just wanted to come and spend time in our home. She had never met a Catholic family and she could see that we had a different way of living from most of the families she visited. She liked it! She liked it very much and I think she saw for the first time a vision for living a happy family life. Katherine herself had two children and lived with her ‘man’ (as she called him). Over the time she spent with us she married him: though I cannot say for sure whether that was a coincidence or not, I know she definitely saw something in Catholic family life that gave her a new horizon for her own life and the life of her family.
Moreover, despite having lived in a traditionally Catholic country for more than thirty years, Katherine knew almost nothing about the Church. The Church simply made no impact upon her life. Reflecting upon this, I came to see how the Catholic family in modern post Christian Europe is like an embassy of the Church. Just as the only contact that most people in China have with Britain is via the British Embassy, so (more and more) the only contact people like Katherine have with the Church is by meeting a Catholic family. No wonder John Paul II used to say that the future of the New Evangelization rests upon the family. And, if the experience of Katherine is anything to go by, all that we need to do is live an authentic Catholic family life.
Claire and I met in Lourdes in France on a pilgrimage without diocese. She as 17 and I was 21. We are both from the south of England, but we have lived in Austria for the past 11 years because of studies and work. I am a professor of theology and chair of the Austrian campus for the Franciscan University of Steubenville as well as a visiting professor at the ITI.