Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
There is an attack on family life; and the only way back is through prayer. That's the message from Msgr. Anthony J. Figueiredo, a full-time Consultant to the newly established Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development.
Monsignor Figueiredo will travel to the United States this week to speak at the 20th Annual Holy Trinity Apostolate Lenten Symposium in Michigan. He talked to the Register from his offices in Rome.
“You know,” he said, “that the theme for this year's Conference is 'The Family That Prays Together... Stays Together.'” And indeed, without prayer, there is a decline in family life. “I was just reading the news here in Italy,” said Msgr. Figueiredo, “and one of the headlines was that in the last year, the birth rate here in Italy fell by 86,000. This represents a historic low in the birth rate – and Italy is a Catholic country!”
The attack on the family, Msgr. Figueiredo acknowledged, occurs on two fronts: against marriage, and against the child in the womb. We see many permutations of marriage: unions between two persons of the same sex, couples living together without benefit of sacramental marriage, and more. As for the attack on the womb, there is, of course, the prevalence of abortion; but also, many women make the decision not to have children at all – with the result that the children who should be in the pews are not there, and the Church cannot thrive. “Every child born,” said Figueiredo, “is a victory over death, over the evil one.”
But too often, Christians have not responded (or are not responding) to the message of the Church. “If we were really true to our beliefs and our faith, to the teaching that Pope Paul VI gave us in Humanae Vitae,” Msgr. Figueiredo argued, “we would have an answer. What is happening in society today is exactly what Paul VI warned would happen, if we entered into a contraceptive mentality.”
Msgr. Figueiredo worried that there is a brief window of opportunity, and that if Christians don't respond to what is happening in the world today, it may be too late to effect change. If the birth rate continues to fall, while large Muslim families continue to have more children, Catholic believers will become just a small minority of the population – with wide-ranging results: Churches will close, parishes will be forced to merge. There will be a decrease in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. “How much more,” Msgr. Figueiredo asked, “do we really need, before we begin having a strong word of faith? We need to begin again to pray.”
Saints As Models for the Catholic Family
Monsignor Figueiredo cited several saints whose lives exemplify the life of faith to which we are called.
St. John Paul II grew up with the example of strong faith. He would often wake in the night to find his father on his knees in prayer. That, he said, was his first seminary.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux also saw firsthand the faith of her parents, who were incredibly prayerful and charitable. Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, Thérèse's parents, are the only married couple to be canonized in the history of the Church. Both had hoped to enter religious life, but they were rejected by a convent and a monastery. Later, they met on a bridge in their hometown, and eventually decided to marry. They were married in July 18 at midnight, as was the custom of the time, and for the first nine months of their marriage, they lived simply, as brother and sister. When their parish priest learned of this, he told them that they should fully live their married life together. The Martins did as he instructed, and they had nine children in all: four who died in childhood; and five daughters, all of whom entered the convent.
The Martins, Msgr. Figueiredo said, gave their children three gifts:
1.The parents really loved each other. They were an enormous witness to all the girls, but particularly to Thérèse. Her “little way” was based on her parents' love for one another.
2.The gift of faith. In her family, Thérèse learned a powerful prayer life. The Martins imparted the faith to their children.
3.The gift of charity. The Martins were charitable people, committed to helping others. Thérèse and her siblings saw that – and were influenced so greatly that each chose to enter the convent.
Zelie Martin died at a young age of cancer. After her death, her husband Louis fell ill and was eventually confined to a mental asylum. Even there, he was able to draw others to prayer and to a life of faith. He would often say, “I'd prefer to be somewhere else, but if God has put me here....”
Monsignor Figueiredo offered the Martins as examples of intercessors for the family today. Of their children, already Thérèse is a saint. One of her sisters, Leonie, is also on the road to canonization – and Msgr. Figueiredo reported that Leonie's body has now been found to be incorrupt.
The Martins experienced suffering, but that suffering brought a lot of fruit to their family. Louis and Zelie Martin are great intercessors for the family, for openness to life, for fidelity to one another. They are effective intercessors for the life of prayer, and intercessors to raise up priests and religious in today's world.
About Monsignor Fiueiredo
Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark. Before entering the seminary, he enjoyed a career in international banking. After three years in London, he left that career to do missionary work, and then to pursue the priesthood. He has been a Professor of Theology and a member of the Formation team at Immaculate Seminary School of Theology, Seton Hall University. He was named Executive Director of Mission and Ministry, overseeing the Catholic identity of the university.
In 2006, Msgr. Figueiredo was named an official at the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in Rome. In 2011 he was appointed to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he served first as Director of the Institute for the Continuing Education of priests, then as Spiritual Director to seminarians. He has served as a Vatican consultant to news organizations including CBS and EWTN.
Since 2008, Msgr. Figueiredo has visited China annually to assist the Holy See's efforts at reconciliation. As of January 1, 2017, he is serving as a full-time Consultant to the newly established Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development in the Migrants and Refugees Section, which incorporates Victims of Trafficking, under the direct jurisdiction of Pope Francis.
Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo is among presenters at the Holy Trinity Apostolate's 20th Annual Lenten Symposium on Saturday, March 11. Also speaking are Bishop Robert J. Fisher, auxiliary bishop of Detroit; Father Wilfred “Willy” Raymond, C.S.C., president, Holy Cross Family Ministries; David Geissler, author of the Vatican Cookbook and a member of the Pontifical Swiss Guard; Sister Donata Farbaniec, O.L.M., of Washington DC and Krakow, Poland; Erin Mrsino, senior legal counsl at Salt & Light Global; Fr. Stephen Pullis, pries secretary to Archbishop Vigneron; and Fr. William Wagner, O.R.C., Canons Regular of the Holy Cross.
To learn more about the Lenten Symposium or to register online, visit www.holytrinityapostolate.com.