The tug and pull of apostolate and family life

The tug and pull of apostolate and family life

A little-discussed but very real issue for those involved in lay Catholic apostolates is the stress and strain that it puts on marriage and family. Peter Vere and Jacqueline Rapp discuss the problem from the viewpoint of canon lawyers who see the effects on people they see in a professional capacity. Perhaps the most visible example of this was the very public breakup of the marriage of Bud and Bai Macfarlane, which resulted in Bai’s mission to have the courts recognize the Church’s teachings on marriage recognized as a contract and covenant that prevents the use of no-fault divorce for Catholics.

But the problem is more common and doesn’t always take such a public tack or result in divorce. In many cases, there’s a private stress and tension that takes its toll on the marriage relationship and on the kids. Most lay apostolates pay little enough as it is (there are very few “professional” Catholics, as some people call them, making the big bucks; most make a quite modest income) so that financial worries are added to frequent absences from the home for various ministry trips and even interruptions of the home life for ministry-related business. And don’t think this just affects people who make their living in apostolates. It affects volunteers as well, and perhaps even more.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to let ministry invade one’s private life. There is always one more soul in need of hearing the Gospel, one more wounded individual in need of comfort, and one more baby in need of rescue from the abortionist’s scalpel. When confronted on a daily basis with such heart-wrenching scenarios, laypersons heavily involved in apostolic endeavours can forget those whom God has placed most in need of their attention: their families. We often attend to the needs of the stranger while neglecting those of spouse and children. As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta once noted, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

Many people start with good intentions. They know that the number one priority in their lives is service to God and that’s true. But what does that mean?

It doesn’t mean that whatever apostolate you’re involved in comes before all else, no matter how important or vital you think it is. No, it means that in order to serve God above all, you must fulfill your vocation, and if you’re married, your first vocation is as parent and spouse. (Incidentally, this is yet another argument for a celibate priesthood, which Vere and Rapp bring up too.) All else comes second to the needs of your family. Granted, this doesn’t mean that you must do all the sacrificing. What it means is that your involvement in any apostolate must be the decision of the whole family, because it is the whole family that is involved. And if you find it to be a burden on your family, well, you have your priorities.

Remember, first of all, that God doesn’t need you. He doesn’t. If the needs of your family mean you have to quit your vital and important apostolate, then you need to have faith that God will raise up someone to take your place. After all, He’s the one who decided that your duty to your vocation comes first.

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  • The tug and pull exists for all parents no matter the profession and vocation, though being involved in a lay apostolate does have a unique and perhaps public perspective.

    This blog post reminds me of a local priest who was complaining about the increase responsibilities he had because the diocese had fewer priests. He stated there was a lot happening and it was challenging to catch one’s breath.  I could not help but think of the demands that come with parenthood, which are 24/7, and wonder why some would call for married priests (yes, I know they exist but as an exception).

  • The primary lay apostolate is to support our families by doing the work of the world in a way that sanctifies the world and to sanctify our spouses and all the children God wishes to send us.

    For most of us these responsibilities together with prayer claim all our time and energy for the greater part of our adult lives.

    If we are single or our children are grown or we are retired or we are independently wealthy, God may call us to some sort of formal lay apostolate. He may also call us to an informal apostolate in our extended family, our neighborhood and our parish or to a more intense life of prayer.

    Very few people will ever be able to support a family on an income derived from a formal lay apostolate. This is why celibacy is such an important gift to the Church.