Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time.
Likewise we hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues. Moreover, they should regard it as an essential part of their skill to make themselves fully proficient in this difficult field of medical knowledge. For then, when married couples ask for their advice, they may be in a position to give them right counsel and to point them in the proper direction. Married couples have a right to expect this much from them.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 26-7
Reflection – I would like to focus on the first of these two paragraphs, the one on the family apostolate. This is for the simple reason that I am neither a doctor nor a nurse nor a patient nor a married person trying to find decent medical care from a health care professional who respects Catholic values, which I understand can be quite a challenge.
On the other hand, I have almost twenty years experience working in the family apostolate, both in the Cana Colony run by Madonna House for well over fifty years now and in the Nazareth family apostolate currently operating a week long summer vacation retreat for four weeks each year out of a camp in Quebec. Incidentally, they still have openings for this year, especially for the first week, July 13-19.
Both of these camps, which are quite similar in their essential structure, are very much in the model of like-to-like apostolate in which married couples minister to each other out of their shared experience of the struggles and joys of marriage. The priest in these situations is there for sacramental ministry—daily Eucharist and availability for confession—and simple presence and friendship which is itself a beautiful thing. But the core of it is family-to-family ministry. Families need families; married couples need other couples to encourage, support, advise, and simply befriend one another.
We got into the family camp business in MH due to a papal mandate to Catherine Doherty, believe it or not. She went to Rome in 1951 for an international congress of the lay apostolates in the Church, and had a private audience with Pope Pius XII. She also had a meeting with Cardinal Montini, who later became Paul VI. It was Montini in particular who encouraged her to have MH become a permanent committed vocation with simple promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience, a major change in our communal life that gave a solidity to our apostolate. The Holy Father enjoined her to remember the family in our apostolate and always do something for families.
And so we do—for six weeks of the year, we host eight or nine families for a week-long experience of Christian community, recreation, and spiritual renewal. It has been a fantastically spiritually fruitful apostolate, in part (I believe) because it is the one thing we do that actually was at the request of the pope, but also because it is such a vitally needed and rich field for apostolic work. Nazareth has been equally fruitful in its years, and is just a wonderful place—fun, spiritually refreshing, and very beautiful. Both are in rustic settings, which is part of the experience—get out of the city, away from the noise, and into the silence of nature.
One of our priests was lamenting at a recent meeting that, while all that is true and all of us MH priests experience to greater and lesser degrees the blessings of family ministry… it really is too bad that there aren’t a dozen such camps, or a hundred. Cana can accommodate at most around 50 families; Nazareth, more or less the same. So that’s a hundred families a year… and there aren’t too many more such apostolates that we know of on the whole North American continent. Cana has a long waiting list each year. And of course, families can only travel so far for these things, so we are limited mostly to Ontario and the north-eastern part of the USA.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every diocese ran a camp like this, if there were family camps where this kind of like-to-like apostolate could occur in every province of Canada, every state? MH sets up and keeps Cana maintained, but the families who run Nazareth are just good ordinary people who somehow manage to do it in the middle of their own family lives, and are themselves deeply blessed by the experience.
So I’m just throwing it out there—our experience has proved that there is an incredible thirst for solid formation and spiritual enrichment among married couples, and that the whole family is genuinely blessed by camps such as the ones we are involved in. So… how about it? Anyone want to start a family camp? Try it, just for a week? Why not? E-mail me, and we’ll talk about it—hey, I’ve got twenty years experience!