“Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the Church and the family. I emphasize this: deepen the covenant between the Church and the family.”
Pope Francis, Address to Bishops attending the World Meeting of Families, September 27, 2015
When the pope uses the word “covenant,” it is a big deal in Christian thinking. It’s not a contract which can be severed when mutually agreeable. It’s not a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that provides guidelines for bilateral expectations.
What’s a Covenant?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) highlights God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses as leaders of the chosen people, Israel.
In the Old Testament, He revealed his law through Moses and prepared his people for salvation through the prophets. In the New Testament, Christ established a new and eternal covenant through his own sacrificial death and Resurrection.
It’s a Surprise How Often Family Services Is Requested
One of the things that has surprised us at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington (CCDA) is how often pastors ask us to bring a counselor from our Family Services Program to house the clinician at an office on the parish campus.
It is our most commonly requested service.
Even though we have 10 parishes with this service, there are about half dozen more in discussion with us to meet the need and we cannot keep up.
To be honest, I thought it was just a sign of the times. Families are in deep distress, we have Catholic-oriented clinicians who understand and implement the Catholic anthropology and it was just a good business decision on their part. They have a need, we have a service. Let’s draw up the MOU.
More than a Business Opportunity
Reading Pope Francis’s words, I realize that something more profound and deep is going on here. This is not just business.
This is the Holy Spirit telling us to get to where we need to be to fulfill the Church’s covenant with families, in this case with troubled families.
Recently, I was at an event introducing the parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception (and others) to Catholic Charities services in the Fredericksburg region. We were in a beautiful room at St. Mary’s with pastor Fr. Rooney overseeing the proceedings. It was a wonderful event talking about our mental health presence on the parish campus.
Earlier Fr. Rooney had blessed the expanded basement so more people can be helped. We talked about more than counseling, including helping refugee families that the state department sends to the area with our Migration and Refugee Services and our coordinated support with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Spotsylvania to provide a Baby Closet for moms with young kids and very little means.
It was a great evening clarifying our mission and works and eliciting support. I thanked Fr. Rooney for his tremendous support: giving us a house on the parish campus to conduct our counseling where we have seen over 500 people (many of them Spanish speaking and very poor) in the last year. It is a tremendous resource for us to have such a space to help people.
When it was his turn to take the microphone, he stated candidly that such support is what he is supposed to provide. He said this almost as if it was no big deal.
Fr. Rooney is saying that of course his parish is helping poor families. His “of course” might have been alluding to Pope Francis’s take on things: That is the covenant that the Church has with families. That is what the Church does: it supports families, particularly those who are troubled and hurting.
Who We Help
He was delighted to hear that 40% of those we help are not even Catholic. He is aware of how many non-Catholic persons are investigating our parishes. They are on the search.
In this case, the bridge is seeing a clinician providing loving and professional care at a Catholic Church.
We have 29 clinicians trained in the anthropology of the Catholic Church serving our Diocese through our Family Services Counseling Centers.
But it is not enough.
Families are hurting, and the poor in particular think they cannot afford to seek counseling, so problems get deferred and often worsen. The need in the Diocese for counseling is greater than what we can currently address on our own. That leads to longer waiting lists and discouragement; this is part of the reason we advocate expansion for family counseling services.
But we have the will to do more if only we had the resources to hire more. As Pope Francis reminds us: we must deepen the covenant between the Church and families.
Our Vision for CCDA has set a goal to have a Catholic Charities clinician within an hour of everyone in our Diocese by 2020. It is a bold goal for such a large diocese. And there are more than a few pastors out there reading this and wondering when their clinician will come to their campus.
At Catholic Charities, we have our role to play in the covenant between the Church and families. We remain open to the Holy Spirit to figure out a way to help us deepen this covenant.
For more information on our locations and mental health resources contact Dr. Michael Horne at email@example.com or at 540-371-1124 X106. To help us reach our goal through volunteering or donations please go to ccda.net.