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Retreat Conference given by Mr. Christopher Stokes

The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood and Fatherhood in the light of the Order

I will once again be so bold as to change the title of this talk to

The Order of St Charbel in the light of the Apostolate of Holy Motherhood and Fatherhood, for it is indeed the Apostolate, which is shining a new light on Community life. For a number of years we have been using a shoehorn to try and lever families into the centuries old mould of religious life. We are now coming to realise that it is indeed religious life that needs to be redefined to accommodate the truly varied requirements of married and family life.

And yet this apostolate of motherhood and fatherhood is not a new idea. It has always been the plan of God for families to operate thus, but as with all things we lose sight of the truth and complicate what was so simple. This apostolate is another "little way" it reminds us that the anonymity of the work of mother and father is a secret work.

If you look at the recognised saints how many were Fathers or Mothers, 4 , 5 percent - and of those that you can think of, how many were recognised for there devotion to spouse and children, in fact some of the best examples of fatherhood and motherhood amongst the Saints come from nuns, brothers and priests such as John Bosco and John Baptist De La Salle, and yet for example and inspiration, Mothers and Fathers need look no further than Our Holy Mother and St Joseph.

Our Holy Mother:

"…An Apostolate of Motherhood … which will be an apostolate of prayer and duty in the home done in accord with the Will of God and for the love of God…. I will be the model for these mothers in their daily lives, and they will imitate My virtues…"

Ask yourself who and what was our Holy Mother. She did not preach to crowds – she only gave quiet counsel, no miracles were wrought by here hand, only by her prayer, she never entertained royalty yet she was herself queen of queens, she had no servants or nannies – she delighted in cooking and cleaning for, and teaching her little Jesus. She was plainly and simply a mother and wife.

And what of Joseph, he did not fight in a holy war, he did not paint great works of art or fashion gold into sacred vessels – he worked with wood to create simple furniture, he did not write emphatic apologies nor is he revered as a great doctor of the church. He was a father and a husband.

The essence of the Apostolate is this:

"Motherhood has been forever exalted by the sublime nurturing that Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, received in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in the Bosom of the Holy Family. God wishes for the exaltation of the glorious vocation of Motherhood as exemplified in Mary - for the exaltation of the glorious vocation of Fatherhood as exemplified in Saint Joseph, and for the dignity of each little child as a reflection of the Christ Child, to be everywhere made known, understood and followed".

Motherhood and Fatherhood can be expressed singularly as a relationship to a child, a giving of self for the physical, intellectual and spiritual development and wellbeing of the most vulnerable of human life. And yet both motherhood and fatherhood are expressed most perfectly when joined, when man and woman have come together as husband and wife and the relationships between them and their children form a triangle, an image of the relationships in the blessed trinity.

Once again the most shining examples of married life are Mary and Joseph and yet as a couple we can overlook them because in our minds we think of them as Holy individuals, pure virgins who were more companions than spouses. This is simply not true.

[From the Poem of the Man-God, book 1 P69….]

Mary and Joseph give us the perfect example of marriage, not because they withheld the gift of themselves from their union. On the contrary, this gift, of total self was given, <pause> but never opened.

Our Holy Mother to Mariamante:

"They (mothers) will love their children and their husbands and their homes above all else except for God and myself, and they will be shining examples to all those around them. Their interest will be in the home, and they will not seek to aspire to anything except perfection in the most noble way. They will put their children far above themselves and all others, and they will love their husbands deeply in a holy Christian love"

In the Rule and Constitution our founder has this to say:

"…It is to be noted that the most prominent part of the Charism of this New Form of Consecrated life is the lifting of family into the realm of a special religious expressed vocation by (the) taking (of) minor vows……" and further, "……….People living a vowed life bring forth the fruit of a Mystical Union and Spiritual Foundation in the Mystical Body of Christ.. Furthermore, the married state of life is a Community of its very own, and by joining this special love between husband and wife into the bosom of the Community Religious Life, it too brings forth fruit that is desired and expressed in the Mystical Body….."

I believe that as things currently stand there are incompatibilities between the Order and the Apostolate. With so little said in the Rule and Constitution about the workings of family life, we have adapted them to a Benedictine style rule. We have taken the individuals in families and made that the focus of their relationship with the order. Families generally will not function like this for long. Unless we accept families as a collective the order will fail in its objective to incorporate them into this new form of consecrated life and it will become as so many other "old" forms of consecrated life.

Our Lords speaks on the necessity of family unity in the Poem:

"A family is necessary: it exists and must exist. There is no theory or progress capable of destroying this truth without causing ruin. A shattered family can but yield men and women who in future will be more perverted, and will cause greater and greater ruin. And I tell you most solemnly that it would be better if there were no more marriages and no more children on earth, rather than have families less united than the tribes of monkeys, families which are not schools of virtue, of work, of love, of religion, but a babel in which everyone lives on his own like disengaged gears, which end up by breaking."

The Rule and Constitutions has much to say concerning the Vocation to the Religious Life in the Order and its expression through the Priesthood, the Brothers and Sisters of the First and Second Branches, it has much to say on the Common Life of Prayer and Work , but it is almost silent on the Sublime Vocation of Motherhood, Fatherhood and Family Life in the Third Branch.

This singular omission has allowed a culture to grow in the Order, wherein "devotion to duty" is seen by many in the Third Branch, as putting Community Life before Family Life. Corrections to such expectations have been issued by our Moderator, but they have been more in the nature of band-aids, to help mothers and fathers with family commitments to allay conflicts of conscience. Many families have suffered through this conflict of conscience, feeling that on different occasions they have had to place aside duty to their loved ones in order to fulfil community duty. It would seem from the promptings of Heaven that is now time for Family Life in the Order to be thoroughly addressed. By asking for the "…adoption of the Apostolate into the Way of Life of the Order …", Our Blessed Mother is clearly telling us to reconsider our priorities in the Third Branch, and through the Divine guidance offered in Her Book of Holy Motherhood, the inspirations Heaven is giving to little souls, and our beloved Moderator, the Little Pebble, the Rule and Constitutions of the Order will be redrafted to embrace Family Life in the sublime Vocations of Motherhood and Fatherhood in Holy Matrimony.

However in doing so, we need to be careful that we don’t "pigeon hole" families. That in an effort to fast track the process of documenting what is considered to be appropriate for families, we create a box, put in the bare necessities and pat ourselves on the back that we have incorporated family life into the order.

We are often creatures of formula

  • we look for the promises that come with particular devotions so that we can mark them off against our list
  • we prefer chaplets and litanies over contemplative prayer
  • we rather check ourselves against the ten commandments than assess ourselves with the first two commandments of love.

The order does not need to itemise the do’s and don’ts of daily family life, it need only set out the foundations for families, who can then construct their "little community" according to the needs and personalities of its members and the direction given directly by God through the parents.

It is Our Holy Mother’s express wish that Family Life in the Order of Saint Charbel be exalted, and that the Apostolate of Holy Motherhood as revealed to Mariamante, be the basis for a new understanding of the priorities accorded to motherhood, fatherhood and family life in the Order.

One of the problems that we face in explaining the apostolate to people is that because it all seems so obvious and simple, it is easy to dismiss it with "yeah we do that already". This is not just about actions, it is about attitudes, which can be far more difficult to explain or define and even more difficult to change.

The following are some quotes from the book The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood, they are Our Holy Mothers and Our Lords words.

Firstly on the prayer life of Mothers and Fathers:

"…They (mothers) must seek to fulfil their daily duties, that is, as mothers and wives in an exemplary manner of holiness by pursuing the contemplative life in their homes… "

"…Those of you who are housewives will find that contemplative and mental prayer are well suited to your station in life. Many laymen in the workplace will also find this most compatible with their occupations"

"…I urge you to pray always. Make your life a prayer, a hymn of love for God that he may be glorified in all you do. Offer Him every moment of the day in love and reparation and atonement for the sins of the world"

On home duties and the primacy of familiar love

"… I wish all mothers could know and understand this, the importance and sublimity of their vocation. The children which God has given them must be first in their lives, even at times coming before their husbands, but of course, never before God. The more that you love God, the more you will love your husband and children…."

"…There is a need today for families to seek out time to be together and to do things together, and particularly to pray together…." "….Many men of today do not understand the importance of the spiritual path and are living too much in the world. Let St Joseph be their guide and patron…"

"…Your husband must be made to feel needed and important. Help him to have greater respect for himself and for others. Kindness will accomplish this. Be careful not to let him feel left out…"

On the understanding of and patience towards Children:

When Mariamante’s writing was interrupted by her children Our Lord had this to say to her: "… Be at peace with your daily duty. This does not distress Me, why should it you … Be at peace. Do not be angry. This is sometimes a test of the renunciation of your own will in keeping with your daily duty…"

"…Be kind to your children. This is of utmost importance. They need your undivided attention when they are small …."

"…A mother must be available to her children when they need her and not busy about less important things. "

Yesterday, Little Pebble spoke about the value of a soul, our Lords desire for every soul to be with him. What parents give to their children by way of love, nurturing and example will have the greatest effect on them as adults, in other words, children who experience God positively in their homes will wish to be with him throughout their lives. This is the fundamental role of parents, to bring souls, the souls of their children, to God.

Mothers and fathers be always involved in your children’s lives. Encourage them in the development of their talents; music, art, even sporting prowess can be used to give glory to God. Take control, it is your right and duty to direct them in all matters. Others will always give advice, and at times attempt to coerce, but remember, you know your children. You understand the way to achieve the best from them. You know that for this one encouragement is always needed, for this one stronger discipline, and for this one patience. As Mother and father you need to work together for the spiritual, physical and intellectual wellbeing of your children.

The following passage from the Poem demonstrates three important points.

  1. As Parents Mary and Joseph had complete authority under God
  2. That authority was used for the wellbeing of their child
  3. Mary and Joseph were of one mind

[Read from POEM OF THE MAN-GOD our holy mother as teacher – book1 p202.]

Husbands and wives, it is important to reflect often on why God brought you together. God gave you and continues to give you the love and grace to become one. When called to holy matrimony the couple make serious and binding vows. So serious in fact that what God has joined MAN MUST NOT DIVIDE. These vows must be not only the desire of the couple to uphold but must also be raised by the attitude and spirit of our order. To settle for anything less means not striving to the perfection of the vowed life for the couple. These vows in the marriage are then strengthened in the order of St Charbel through the minor vows, but can only be so through living these vows in the light of the Apostolate of holy motherhood and holy fatherhood.

I would like to leave you with a short story that I have found, it is an analogy of not only the gift from God of marriage, but also the beautiful call to sacred vocation that marriage is.

A good king who lived atop a great and beautiful mountain wished for his subjects to join him in his palace on the plateau atop this great mountain. The journey up this mountain was a hard one but by no means impossible. The king required that those who would make the journey to join him could only bring one thing along. A certain man who desired very much to join the king prepared himself for the journey. When he was about to depart he noticed a rose plant with a most beautiful flowering rose and asked the king if he could bring the Rose. The king was most pleased, for this rose was dear to him. He told the man that this rose would adorn his kingdom atop the mountain and he gave his blessing to the man. The man carefully removed the rose from the ground and placed it into a pot, he then set out on his journey clutching the rose under one arm. This left the man with only one arm free to assist with the climb, but he was strong and the rose was light. After some time the rose began to produce more offshoots, each growing another flower, it was most beautiful but the plant became heavier and made the journey slower. The man persevered but the mountain became more rugged and the plant heavier with the growing flowers. The man became disheartened. He wished so much to be atop the mountain with his king but now the journey was difficult and the rose plant heavy with flowers. He arrived at a small outcrop where he stopped for a rest and seeing some good soil and that there was plenty of sun, he decided to plant the roses here and continue the journey alone. Free from his burden he was able to hasten his steps and using two strong hands was able to easily overcome any impediments. He continued on to the top full of joy that his journey would soon be complete. When he arrived at the top he stood up and looked at the marvellous kingdom that lay in front of him. The king with many of his other subjects came to greet the man and the king was full of joy. He then asked the man to show him the rose so that they could enter the kingdom and plant the beautiful flower in it’s rightful place, in the royal garden. The man smiled and said "my king, the rose which you gave me brought forth many other beautiful flowers, it was a magnificent sight, but it became heavy and difficult for me to carry, so I found a beautiful outcrop with plenty of sun and good soil and planted it there and was therefore able to arrive here much quicker. The kings face became grim, he called his palace guard and sent them to find the roses and bring them safely to the palace, then turning to the man he said "I am sending you to work in my fields until you find favour with me again for you have failed to listen to my words and understand, when you chose to bring the rose to me, it became the very purpose of your journey".

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