From the Bishop - November 2014

An Extraordinary Mission: Healing Families

As you know, I have only been a bishop a short time, not yet two years.  Happily, therefore, I was grateful for a gift I received at my ordination, a book which outlines for the bishop how he is to carry out his duties, particularly those which involve liturgical ceremonies.  After 40 years as a priest, I had a pretty good idea of what I was supposed to do at Mass but being bishop added some new things.  For example, my nephews were particularly fascinated by the hats worn by the bishop and wanted to know how I remembered when I was to put them on or take them off.  The book helpfully gave all those directions.

This book also suggested that, once ordained a bishop or once assigned to a new diocese, the bishop could personally greet the Holy Father and express gratitude for the assignment and promise to serve in communion with him. Since February, I have been somewhat busy traveling about Maine.  In September, I had a chance to visit Rome and attend an audience with Pope Francis. It was an opportunity to greet him, to thank him for entrusting me with the care of the hospitable and faithful Catholic people of Maine, and to promise him the prayers of those same people. He was grateful.  He asked me where Maine was in the USA.  It was a very warm day in Rome, and the audience was outside.  I told him that Maine was in the northeast corner of the USA and had a beautiful climate at this time of year.  It would be much more comfortable than Rome.  I urged him to stop next year in September when he comes to Philadelphia for a visit.  He laughed and was grateful.  Somehow, I doubt the schedule will include Maine, but I thought I should let him know he was welcome.

On a more serious note, Pope Francis did ask me repeatedly to request that you, the people of Maine, keep him in your prayers.  I assured him that we did already and that we would continue to do so.  I also assured him of the love of the people of Maine.  These are days of much activity in Rome.  Pope Francis’ responsibility for the whole Church is immense.  At times, it must weigh heavily on him. Please, then, do keep him and his important ministry of uniting the Church in the communion of Jesus Christ in your prayers.

One very important conversation during my visit to Rome involved the Extraordinary Synod on Families.  This is a most important topic and the discussion will certainly be significant.  The family, from the earliest days of the Church, has been called “the domestic Church.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes for us the rich teaching of the Church on marriage and family: “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature, it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children” (CCC 1660). All is not well, however, with marriage in the Church or in our society.  The family is suffering in our world.  I read recently that, in our own country, the marriage rate is the lowest ever recorded.  At the same time, living together without marrying has become an alternative to marriage. Additionally, we note that more than half of births to women under 30 years of age now occur outside marriage. Such a situation often leads to economic challenges, particularly for women and their children who, too often, find themselves in poverty.

The challenges are truly great.  The Church will spend the next two years reflecting on ways to address these issues.  This refection process will ask how we can preach the  Gospel of the Family anew, how we might assist families to respond to these new challenges to family life, and how the Church might better assist parents both in developing an openness to life and in bringing up their children in this changing environment. The Extraordinary Synod of this year will be followed by a larger gathering next year in an Ordinary Synod.  In between, there will be the International Meeting on the Family which will occur in Philadelphia in September 2015.

Recognizing the great challenges involved Pope Francis has entrusted the work of this whole discussion on the family to the intercession of the Holy Family at Nazareth.  This is one of his special prayer requests.  As we make this prayer our own during this year, may it also help us to seek ways to strengthen marriage and support family life.

Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
12th Bishop of Portland

Prayer to the Holy Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer!