Many of the forums which comment on the current situation affecting the traditional family speak of it as "under challenge", or of it being "severely tested" by a society which is often "at war with its values". Indeed, many of the apparently unrelated changes to society's concept of the family appear to have the hallmarks of "psychological warfare". The Macquarie Dictionary defines psychological warfare as "the use of propaganda and tactics in a hostile situation to influence people to accept a particular belief, undertake a course of action or weaken their will to resist".
The quantity and type of the propaganda being distributed by those who wish to "re-work" the traditional understanding of the family unit have been very influential in the last ten or fifteen years in redefining, in a social sense, the concept of what constitutes a family.
Much of this has been achieved as a result of the coercive tactics employed by various pressure groups at recent United Nations conferences. As a Catholic community, we have slowly become accustomed to accepting a course of action that is purported to be much more "sensible and tolerant" than that which prevailed previously. We have been encouraged to regularly accept "minor" changes to factors that have proved to be key influences on the ability of the traditional family to survive and flourish.
These factors include the following: changes to language (e.g., the preference for the androgynous concept of parenthood, the advent of homosexual "rights" (particularly concerning the adoption of children), the dissociation of the link between sex, love and procreation, and the rejection of the principle that the traditional family is a reflection of the "Creator's design" for a complementary social unit.
We are therefore, faced with the reality that Catholic families are inextricably enmeshed within a situation that involves inevitable conflict. As a result, the best chance of success may lie in ensuring that efforts are carefully focussed and that appropriate "alliances" are formed for mutual support. In a very special way, Pope John Paul II has called upon Catholic families to do just that: to associate in order to serve one another, to evangelise other families, to challenge the "culture of death", to be a "sanctuary of life," and "builders of a community of life and love".
One organisation which has heeded the Holy Father's call is the National Association of Catholic Families (UK). This was founded over a decade ago in response to the need for a body, which provided an opportunity for Catholic families to give one another mutual moral, spiritual and social support and thereby promote the family as the "sanctuary of life" within the culture. It has links with the Pontifical Council for the Family and parallel organisations have recently been set up within Australia.
These local associations (in Melbourne and Wagga Wagga) have been developed to promote the welfare of Catholic families according to the vision expressed in Humanae Vitae (Paul VI), Familiaris Consortio (John Paul II), the Charter of the Rights of the Family (John Paul II) and the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church. They have a simple, practical emphasis structured around the conduct of regular "Family Days" every two months. These days involve the recitation of both Pope John Paul II's "Prayer for Families" and of the Rosary and also incorporate a brief talk on some aspect of family life. Speakers have included Archbishop (then Bishop) George Pell, Monsignor Peter Elliott (Episcopal Vicar for Religious Education) and Mary Helen Woods (Australian Family Association Vice-President).
However, the essential character of these days is that they offer Catholic families the opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of each other in an atmosphere which enables us to follow the Pope's call: "Families, be what you are". The unifying element is not perfection but determination. A recent ACF (Melbourne) weekend gathering at Assumption College, Kilmore, proved to be a wonderful opportunity for Catholic families to listen to a series of talks on Catholic teachings concerning the family and to also share in those aspects of the fullness of life that only games and children's concerts can bring.
The Association of Catholic Families believes that the key challenge which lies ahead is to resist and overcome the culture of individualism and relativism which surrounds us. It has no choice other than to engage and to fight - it is confronted with a culture which is promoting the destruction of the family unit.
Hence, the nature of the challenge which lies ahead demands that associations are established to ensure that Catholic families can assist one another, particularly in the shaping of the spiritual and moral character of their children. In this way, those families that choose to resist the current efforts to 're-engineer' the concept of the family and to re-define its role will have a greater chance of success. It is a battle in which Catholic families have to participate and in which they must ultimately prevail - only because they cannot afford to lose.
Chris and Mary Clare Meney, President Couple, ACF (Melbourne). Further information on the ACF can be obtained from either Mary Clare Meney, ph. +61 (03) 9544-9977, John Tilley, ph. +61 (03) 9720-2934, or from www.netlink.com.au/~ccclib/acf