by Michael D. O’Brien
It is a great pleasure for me, indeed a great joy, to introduce this anthology of selected articles from Nazareth Journal. For those readers unfamiliar with its origins, the journal arose as one of several works of a Catholic family apostolate that thrived in Canada during the 1980s and 1990s. Its retreat centre in Combermere, Ontario, hosted thousands of families during its lifetime, and had as its particular focus the teachings of Pope John Paul II on marriage and the family. At that time, human sexuality throughout the West had become increasingly infected by dissident moral theology combined with the neglect of authentic pastoral formation, notably in some particular churches of the affluent nations. Yet the outpouring of extraordinary teaching from the Magisterium, through its documents on the family and the encyclicals of her Popes, had never been so rich, so inspired, and now it was opening up a vast horizon for married couples, giving them unprecedented resources for their vocation—a vocation that is simultaneously a most fragile and powerful thing, the “domestic Church,” and the foundation of civilization itself. One thinks of the encyclicals Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio, of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and of numerous other documents that informed us and encouraged us, that deepened our understanding of the greatness of our vocation, helping us to see in all the apparent weaknesses of married life the “glorious ordinary” of Nazareth. In a word, a path to holiness, and to eternal fruitfulness.
As the founders of Nazareth Family Apostolate, Don and Posie McPhee, sought to redress the lamentable gap between formation and practice, they saw that Catholic families drew much strength from each other as they told their personal stories of hopes and struggles, successes and failures. Building upon this phenomenon, the apostolate’s first newsletters swiftly developed into a quarterly magazine that just grew and grew. During the seven years I was the editor of Nazareth Journal, I was astonished at how hungrily and gratefully it was received by thousands of families throughout the world. This underlined for me the practically universal need for solid and lively communication—an integration of orthodox teachings with the ways we can incarnate them in our families. The stories themselves, written from the front lines, sometimes on hill tops and sometimes in fox holes, bridged the gap.
In this anthology you will find many such stories, written by men and women who have sought to live the fullness of our Catholic faith, often against great odds, with courage and with love. There is a self-honesty here, a constant humility heard between the lines, which points to the widespread awareness that we have been to some extent deprived of our sacramental “birthright”, if you will, and that nothing less than Truth can heal and restore us. “The Truth spoken in Love” was the constant guidepost for our writers and editorial choices. Thus, the authors you will meet through these pages are people who, like you, know that much is at stake, primarily the spiritual health of our children and the strengthening of our marriages. Moreover, that we live in what John Paul II called a “culture of death” has escaped no one’s notice, for anyone who strives for openness to life, to live according to Natural Law and illumined by sanctifying grace, cannot fail to enter a world of struggle. It is also, it should be noted, a world of great and unexpected joys—joys that are united to the path of sacrifice and trust exemplified by the Holy Family of Nazareth. In short, the “ordinary” life of faithful Catholic marriage and family is one that leads to the Cross—and thus, it is also one of Resurrection.
If the dimension of resurrection has been too often neglected in reflections on the state of the family in the modern age, in this collection can be found the proper integration. Too often, a conscious or subconscious rationalism has infected the thinking of contemporary man, even men of good will, and one could go so far as to say many a churchman as well. In their assessments of what is “reasonable” and possible for marriage in our times they minimalized, or dismissed altogether, the factors of grace and the transforming power of sacrificial love.
The authors of the articles included in this collection learned to see how crippling such an attitude really is and turned instead to Christ. Invoking his aid, nourished by the universal Church, little by little they advanced in the Great School of the Soul that is married life and family. For none of them was it easy. In taking their first tentative steps of trust, they grew stronger, wiser, and then their strides became longer and more sure. Trust grew, and with it love grew, and in the process they bore fruit that will last.
Michael D. O’Brien
Combermere, Ontario, Canada
Nazareth Family Apostolate closed its retreat centre in 1992, yet the work it had begun continues in similar new apostolates to the family throughout the world. Nazareth Journal published its final issue in 1998.
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