Ingeborg and Richard Sickinger, Austria •
“What moves us, is: What does Schoenstatt have to give to the church?”, asks Ingeborg and Richard Sickinger. Their answer: Free, strong, catholic families – and not as an idea or a theory, but with a master plan of how this can be implemented. This is a message that the couple share repeatedly, most recently at the World Meeting of Families in Ireland in the context of a talk entitled: Who is doing the dishes? – Pope Francis on the little things that matter in family life. We proudly accept the offer to publish the text of their talk. —
Looking into the world, discerning the signs of the times, we recognize that the culture which surrounds us is no longer Christian. It has become a secular world with secular values.
A small example: One day we were walking to church on a Sunday morning, talking and looking around, and all a sudden we noticed that there are more people in sportswear going for a morning run than people going to Sunday Mass.
I can clearly remember the exact moment when we stood there; it became apparent to us: Sport is a great activity, it attracts more and more people – but time for God has somehow vanished along the way…
And this secular world is not neutral, it has a strong drive to influence each one of us in what we think, our values, our opinions – with all its impressions and enticements – thus shaping our way of life as a family in the small things such as sports or clothing to big issues such as abortion or euthanasia.
This is a natural occurrence: living in a culture makes us part of the culture, just like going into a pub puts the smell of the pub on our clothes. When we arrive home and hang up the coat you can still smell the pub on your coat.
What is God telling us through these signs of the times? What is the mission he is giving us? We need to become strong, free, Catholic families who can withstand the influence of secular culture, who can grow in holiness and become beacons of hope for other families in this new secular age.
Live authentic lives! – Each family can be an island of Catholic life
Father Josef Kentenich, the founder of Schoenstatt, invites families today to become “islands of authentic Christian life” and says: “If a Catholic family does not shape its everyday life, it will be washed away by the trends of secular culture.“
How can we fulfill Gods plan and build such an authentic Christian life?
An example: At the beginning of this year a new government came into power in Austria. 100 days later a panel discussion took place at the University. One of the experts said that within these first 100 days around 60-70 new topics had been raised by the government (new labor law, new strategy for social security, etc.). Almost every day, a new topic appeared in all the news and social media channels – he called this information overflow the “age of distraction” – the effect: after 3 days you cannot remember what the exact topic was, so the individual lets the information go in one ear and out the other and it becomes superficial.
What is God telling us through this “Age of Distraction”, what is the message?
– Firstly, do not be surprised when you become superficial yourself (it can happen that you don’t remember what your wife said 5 minutes ago)
– But, secondly: Live differently, go beyond this! Make your home a place where you go beyond this superficiality!
What is our mission as a family? To develop new traditions in our everyday life. Father Kentenich says that the ability to listen is “a rare but vital skill!”
Being Catholic means to listen respectfully to my spouse, to the needs of our children, to what God says to us.
We can make this a practical way of life: we can make our meals a time and place for sharing and listening with all distractions removed. Emily and Stephan, with two kids, are such a family: when you visit them there is a special shelf beside the dinner table with a sign on it saying “mobiles please”. Guests and family members are invited to deposit their phones there and the dinner evening becomes a mobile-free-zone. We even noticed that the eldest son Lorenz (4) didn’t even twitch when he heard one of the phones buzz … (normally, he can tell a text from a Whatsapp or email coming in).
To survive and thrive as a Catholic family today means living differently from our surroundings, living like monastics in the world, building the structures and habits to sustain our pilgrimage and actively living our faith by cultivating a unique Catholic way of life. But how?
The Catholic Way: act & pray!
Developing an authentic holistic Catholic lifestyle builds on combining both dimensions of Catholic life: the two age-old principles of the monastic practice of work and prayer, of action and contemplation, to both open ourselves to God’s initiative and to act out of love, because as Amoris Laetitia states: “Love is more than a mere feeling. Rather, it should be understood along the lines of the Hebrew verb ‘to love’; it is ‘to do good’”, to act. (A.L. 94).
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarized his speech with the words “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of My Father in heaven” (Mat 7,21).
The question “who is doing the dishes” – is therefore not trivial, but an important one!
When it comes to love (for God, or our spouse) it is not so much the words, but the deeds that count. The little things in family life really matter!
A lot needs to be done to run a household of 2 or 5 or even more (cleaning, cooking, shopping, laundering, doing the dishes…)
The division of housework is actually one of the most common areas of conflict in families. The goal is not so much to split the tasks in equal parts (50:50), but to divide the housework so that all find it fair!
As a Catholic family we have this big advantage: Small things make a lot more sense with a view to the big picture – we don’t just share housework, but we are building a new world together.
Love is a verb: on the one hand, we pray for another and on the other, we take responsibility and contribute actively. As Catholic families, we have the mission to combine both principles – to act and to pray – in our homes and our hearts. “Love is experienced and nurtured in the daily life of couples and their children” (A.L. 90). This witness makes us relevant (being Catholic works!), credible (They walk the talk! They believe what they say!) and attractive to other families (we want to be like them!). In Amoris Laetitia (A.L.), e.g. in the chapter “Our Daily Love” we can find many ideas that can be put into practice in daily family life.
The power to love: Mary, mother of the families
But is this vocation not too much, too big, too far for a family to achieve? Sometimes we feel helpless or weak – how can our capacity to love grow? How can we develop our potential?
We would like to share the experience of the Home Shrine – the experience of many families shows that giving the Blessed Mother of Schoenstatt a place of honor in our home creates a platform where a personal, Catholic lifestyle can develop; it gives us access to the graces we need to build a Catholic home.
Mary brings Jesus into our homes, as Archbishop Gracias said during Holy Mass yesterday. Her heartfelt wish is to come into our home, to take up residence and to help us grow into an “island of authentic Cristian life” by bringing Christ into our marriage and our hearts. But she is an educator and mentor, she seeks our cooperation, she desires our help in exchange, and turns to us with her request: “Prove first by your deeds that you really love me. Then it will please me to dwell in your midst and dispense gifts and graces in abundance”, as stated in Schoenstatt’s Founding Document.
This is consistent with the miracle of Cana (Joh 2,1) Mary noticed the difficulty of the newly-wed couple: They had run out of wine. She told Jesus: “They have no more wine” and his reaction was: “Fill those jars with water”. Through the intercession of Mary he transformed their water into tasty wine.
This is what many families experience in their home shrine. They give their actions of love: their efforts in their personal development, self-education and in loving each other day by day – the little things that matter in family life – and they trust that their “water” is transformed into wine. We do not have to do everything by ourselves – but we are ready to do our part. There are hundreds of little things – from doing the dishes to listening with an open heart – to show our “daily love.” (A.L. 90)
This is the synergy of love which we as a family need: We do our best and at the same time we are fully reliant on Jesus to perform miracles in our daily family life. This is the synergy which can transform our home, turn it into a spring of living waters or a light on the hill.
Families as active agents – God’s plan for a new world
Our vision is that many such families, such homes, connect with each other forming collaborative networks and connecting to the parish to create a credible and dynamic organism of new Catholic life based both on a grounded Christian way of life, as well as on God’s initiative, both in action and prayer!
This is a realistic plan to renew our society through the sacrament of marriage, taking fully into account what Pope Francis says: “Every love which springs up is a power for transformation” (P. Francis, general audience 20.9.17) and changes the world.
We care for one another – and we care for others, for the “larger family” (196) around us. It is not just us and the children, but “the entire network of relationships” which is “strengthened by the sacrament” (74)
Example: It was a busy morning and I was just about to leave when the phone rang.
It was a friend – he had met a very nice partner, but they were having difficulties in building their relationship and it was reaching crisis point.
They were going to have a decisive talk that evening and he wanted advice on something. I was listening and trying to help him – but in the end I had to go.
So I went to the home shrine, had a look and said: “Look, I have to go now. But when I get home I will light a candle and pray for you.” He is not exactly Catholic, but I felt it was the best I could do.
It was a tough day – filling the jar. When I returned I lit the candle and prayed for him and their talk. Later that evening he phoned – all he said was: “When did you light this candle?”
As Catholic couples we have a vocation for love, which is a “process of constant growth” (A.L. 134), and we have a call for the apostolate. Our Church takes us seriously when we hear the calling that families are the “principal agents”, they are the “active agents of the family apostolate.” (A.L. 200) with the mission to become “a domestic church and a vital cell for transforming the world” (A.L. 324).
Foto Titel: iStock Getty Images, evgenyatamanenko. Licensed for schoenstatt.org
Edited: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa