Like it or not, one of the peskier facts of life is semantic drift. Consider the evolution in meaning of such words as ‘liberal,’ ‘unique,’ ‘gay’ or ‘egregious.’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, hold onto you hats. Bishops, secure your miters. The new springtime heralded by John Paul and his successors is dawning and its sweeping and salubrious breeze is building. Change is in the wind. And, one change will be the definition of ‘pontificate.’ No longer will it be a derogatory term meaning to sermonize pompously. Its new implication will be more edifying: to evangelize passionately.
The Nazareth Fund at the National Catholic Community Foundation has recently been established to enable donors in this country to support the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Even then sensing the spreading erosion in family life, Pope John Paul created this Council in 1981. Two years ago Pope Benedict appointed the energetic Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as its president. Now under the urgent pleas of Pope Francis, this globe-trotting Italian is raising alarms around the world – not so much about the plight of ‘the family’ within the world as much as the plight of the world without ‘the family.’
The archbishop does this by addressing national and international bodies such as the United Nations, universities and episcopal conferences. In June, he spoke to our U.S. bishop’s conference in New Orleans. Last week he was in Malawi. Next, he is off to South America. His impassioned speeches are riveting. While unsettling they are both indisputable and hopeful for they link the reality and indispensability of the family to the truth of scripture and the joy of the Gospel. Particularly disturbing though is this: as the Pope’s emissary Archbishop Paglia identifies loneliness as the gravest threat facing humanity.
With forceful conviction, he exhorts his brother bishops to promulgate the Christian (indeed shared by most religions) respect for the institution of the family and its critical role in both individual and communal well-being. In our increasingly globalized and urbanized world individual independence is prized while committed interdependence is shunned. The dictatorship of individualism where ‘me’ and not the family is the fundamental unit of society will vitiate the benefits accrued over millennia by the heretofore universal respect for the role of the family. Quoting Pope Francis, the archbishop writes: “The family is the engine of the world and of history.” Its decline portends the end of civilization.
Can you sense the breeze intensifying? Under these recent pontiffs, the Pontifical Council is not, as some might cynically expect, a reactionary defense of the institution of the family against the attacks of nihilism and “egolatry.” Rather it is a Gospel driven apostolate, a loving evangelization which reveals the family as an essential and peerless source of nourishment for the individual and for the world. Change is in the wind. To pontificate has a new meaning.
Do you think anyone advancing the Kingdom is lonely?
Dana Robinson is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.